how to go viral

Viral Marketing Trends That Got People Talking

Alex Shears 7 years ago

Online campaigns are an essential part of the marketing mix, but for a majority of brands, the idea of ‘going viral’ never feels within reach. Recent stats from NetImperative suggest only 1.2% of social video on Facebook actually goes viral, which might bring home the likelihood of breaking the internet - but don’t give up just yet!

When planning an online content strategy, ‘going viral’ is often at the very top of every marketer’s wish list. However, viral needs to be thought of as an aim rather than a result of any campaign.

This leads me to my first question. Is there a formula for viral, or is it simply about creating the right content at the right time? There are certainly variables that every successful viral campaign shares in order to create wonderful infectious content.

We need to better understand these variables if we are ever to master the art of viral.

Strike when the time is right, with highly sharable content, and you have yourself some viral potential. Below is my list of things to think about if you want to get people talking. Or, better yet, have a meaningful conversation.

The viral formula:

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • Timing
  • A human angle
  • Genuine motives
  • Interactivity
  • Customer experience/journey

Media spend has changed and long gone are the days where companies don’t have online content at the forefront of their marketing strategies; cutting ad spend in favour of measurable results and transparency.

Many companies have taken a zero based budgeting approach, starting from scratch and stepping away from traditional forms of advertising. Lower spending can be feasible with viral campaigns, as the idea is that buzz-worthy content will be shared by everyone and picked up organically.

What’s trending?

You might think that taking the internet by storm is about as likely as winning the lottery, but here are some examples of brands that have made sense of the ways of viral and have managed to reach audiences old and new…

1. Southern Rail social campaign

Going viral is about getting the human angle just right and when Southern Rail enlisted 15-year-old Eddie on work experience to take over their Twitter account, they did exactly that. We all remember what it was like to turn up for a fortnight of work at the challenging age of 15. We reacted to this because we could relate it to our own lives. Content that resonates with people is content that has a chance at viral.

A genuine feel makes all the difference to a campaign, and that’s how Eddie won over the hearts of Southern Rail’s 161,000 followers, all with some simple tweeting. Eddie received over 6,000 likes within a few hours, taking the rail company with a questionable reputation to a fun-loving brand - all in the course of a day!

Viral content doesn’t always need to present new ideas or unique information. The tweets are proof that sometimes we’re just looking to have some fun.


And they soon went slightly off topic…


Likes? Retweets? Organic pick up? Check! This simple marketing tactic, whether deliberate or not, got an impressive amount of positive coverage from the biggest news outlets in the UK. The BBC and The Express both jumped on the we love Eddie train. The combined Hitwise for these placements alone meant Eddie reached over 79 million readers.

Customers go to social platforms more than ever to get information and it's one of the best ways to understand your audience. Twitter is a strong platform for improving customer experience and enhancing the viral potential of content. The increased character length also opens up an exciting approach to information sharing.

2. Stanger Things have happened

Two is better than one, and if powering up with another super brand isn’t going to get you noticed then what will? Last year, Netflix teamed up with Kellogg’s Eggo for an online campaign involving their hit programme, Stranger Things.

The clip was played at the Super Bowl earlier this year to promote the show’s second season. The teaser generated around 307K tweets throughout the game and received over 10 million views on YouTube.

Eggo received some free product placement from Netflix, but importantly, they jumped on their social channels to make the most of the exposure from the video with a series of tweets, generating over 30,000 favourites. The brand has kept a high level of engagement ever since and improved social interaction through encouraging conversations.



The tweets demonstrate a shared sense of humour and Eggo provide the perfect example of how to take advantage of trending content. Although it’s not often a huge brand mentions you for free, you should get involved in trending conversations when relevant.

While you might not have a top of the ladder brand to buddy up with, it’s always a good idea to team up with brands that hold similar values and are keen to reach a wider audience. This is an original way of pushing content, and one that’s often overlooked.

3. Evian and ASOS immerse audiences

Having a visual storytelling strategy in place is more important than ever in 2017 if you want to deliver valuable information to a tech savvy audience.

So what’s popular? Snapchat, and it’s seemingly here to stay. With more than 158 million users per day, it is by far one of the best storytelling platforms, surpassing Facebook and Twitter.

Evian recently swapped out traditional forms of advertising for Snapchat for their latest ‘Live Young’ babies campaign, which provides a unique lens, allowing users to view the world through the eyes of a baby.


Evian’s dancing snapchat filter, turning adults into babies!


The immersive journey is perfect for sharing with friends and family. It’s original, creative and requires complete user involvement. The Live Young campaign has been successful for years, but this is a great example of how brands adapt campaigns to meet their consumer’s media consumption habits.

One aspect of viral that has always been prevalent is that consumers want to portray a certain image of themselves when sharing content. Unique filters and lenses are the ultimate way to do this and provide a unique outlet for incorporating a sense of humour into your viral strategy.

ASOS is also known for taking advantage of mobile and worth mentioning when it comes to customer experience. They clicked onto the fact that 80% of traffic was driven by an audience of mobile users and created a visual search tool to find products earlier this year, continually improving customer journey in light of technological advancements.


Shazam for fashion? ASOS allows you to match items through photos via their mobile tool.


4. World lenses: brought to you by Netflix

A Snapchat advancement in 2017 was world lenses and Netflix wins again by being the first brand this year to use the 3D format. Their latest interactive push lets users explore the upside down from Stranger Things and enter the famous rooms featured on the series.

The break though in augmented reality technology is one to watch for 2018, as it’s thought many advertisers will favour this form of interactivity, opening up the possibility of drumming up business through the visualisation of products.

5. Adidas influencer collaboration

Influencer marketing grew in popularity in 2017, with more brands wanting the engagement and awareness that comes with this type of collaboration. The only issue for many companies is that this comes at a price. Influencer marketing needs some real budget behind it, but the benefits can outweigh the costs.

This year's Adidas Original campaign is a great example of the benefits on a global scale. The campaign focused on a short music video featuring the likes of celebrities such as Snoop Dogg. The clip has over 47 million views on YouTube and has formed over 500 pieces of unique content as well as trending at the Grammys.

But why was it great?

Most content has been done before, but Adidas took scenes from the past and made them original, engaging and credible. They had the edge to make it different and project positivity to an extremely wide and modern audience. They also included interactivity, forming a sense of community by asking users to share their Originals by using #ORIGINALis.

Plenty of sharing took place on Facebook, where video is becoming more popular for users and brands who can easily measure the results of a campaign through tracking interactions. Facebook has important algorithms when it comes to viral, including naturally selecting videos that target audiences will be interested in.

What’s next?


The tech revolution we find ourselves in means that consumer journeys are changing at a rapid pace. One of these advancements is voice smart technology that is becoming more accessible, affordable and requires effortless action from users.

With so many brands taking a test and learn approach with technology as discussed, my prediction for this year and for many years to come is that voice will be incorporated into more viral strategies.

Ticking all the viral boxes, the next era in computing is already being taken advantage of from brands such as Dominos, who have started using the innovation to take voice orders through Alexa.

The Internet of Things has changed the way we interact and the way we spend. Voice might be seen as a gimmick for now, but it’s in the emerging stages of becoming the next big thing to be integrated into successful marketing plans.

User interactivity is evolving and the idea that we can communicate with brands with a simple command is an exciting prospect. What’s also going to change is the way in which brands communicate with us. According to The Social Chain, direct messaging will be used more in 2018, with an open rate of 80% in comparison to 20% of email opens. So expect to receive a few personalised messages from your favourite brands. This is a growing trend with advertisers, due to the low budget approach.

For a better idea of what’s in store for viral in the next few years, take a look at my colleague’s post on the top PR and Marketing Trends to look out for.

What have we learned?

Now is always the time to experiment with your audience. Viral is about standing out in a crowded market and this often means you will need to exploit behaviours, trends and provide effortless transfer. It’s also ok to build on content that’s already out there - just make it better and deliver original messaging.

The most valuable approach to take when ‘going viral’ is to have consumer needs and desires in mind and in 2018, there needs to be a focus on keeping up with the technology.

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