We’ve mentioned before that using videos helps people find your business. That magical transition from awareness to engagement transforms viewer into consumer. The word on the internet is that viral videos are the way to go if you want to attract attention and bring in more customers.

What is Viral Marketing?

In the past, the word “viral” rarely (if ever) evoked positive feelings from people. There was a time when it was only associated with infectious disease. In the age of the internet and social media, “viral” is used to describe marketing campaigns that rely on internet users to share content with each other. The first form of viral marketing took shape in a campaign by email service provider, Hotmail.

Way back in 1996, Hotmail was launched as the first free web-based email service. Though a free service is enough to gain interest, the company needed a way to spread the word. They figured that the best way to get new customers was to reach out to friends, families, and colleagues of the users who already had a Hotmail account. So, they added a footer to each email sent out by a hotmail account that read, “Want a free email account? Sign-up for Hotmail today!” What do you know? They were right. By 1997, they had gained millions of customers and viral marketing was born.

How does it work?

As viruses spread from one person to another by coming into contact with each other, so do videos via social media. Viral marketing is completely reliant on people sharing content with each other. Think about all of those silly cat videos you’ve sent out to your friends and family through Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. The people you’ve shared it with then show it to their friends and family and those people do the same – so on and so forth.

Where Hotmail’s model was more of a marketing message inside an email that everyone unintentionally shared to friends and family – Modern models of viral marketing is about making engaging content that people will want to share with friends and family.

Successful viral videos

Think about the popular videos you’ve seen lately. No, not the one about the fox. Think about advertisements you’ve seen online lately. If you’ve watched any YouTube videos in the past month, then you are most likely aware of the product, Poo~Pourri. If not, take a look at their “Girls Don’t Poop” commercial.

Whether you’re impressed by the commercial or not; As of this post, it stands at number 4 of The Top Viral Video Ad Campaigns of 2013. What makes the ad even more impressive is that it was a skippable commercial on YouTube and users decided not to skip it.

If you aren’t familiar with the advertisements on YouTube, let me enlighten you; YouTube is slowly trying to be more like cable TV by forcing users to watch commercials before watching what they came to the internet to see. Typically, you’re forced to watch 5 seconds of an ad and then YouTube blessedly allows you the option of skipping the rest.  But within those first 5 seconds, the Poo-Pourri ad draws you in with the irony of a sophisticated young woman sitting on a toilet talking about the “motherload” she just dropped. Even if you’re over the age of 12, you have to admit it’s funny.

What’s more, they’ve found a way to make the video funny, informative, and memorable.

Taking the rank of #2 is this ad for GoPro.

This commercial is pretty much the opposite of the Poo~Pourri commercial. There’s nothing funny about this ad. You just witnessed a fireman discovering a kitten, taking it outside, and putting an oxygen mask on its face. The video fills you with warm and fuzzies and restores your faith in humanity. (That being said, don’t seek out any follow-up information on this kitty’s life. The results will break your heart.)

You’ll notice that nothing about this video felt like a commercial or an ad until the very end. When people don’t feel like they’re being sold something, they’re more inclined to stick around to hear your message. Even if that message is, “Look at what you can capture with our product.”

It’s worth noting that this footage was not shot with a commercial in mind. The original video of the firefighter was a viral video itself before GoPro turned it into a commercial. That’s mostly because the internet absolutely loves cats and kittens and can’t help but share harrowing tales of kitten-saving. GoPro recognized a good story when they saw it and it just so happens that it was captured using a GoPro.

Viral Marketing Requires Strategy

Coming up with engaging video is only one part of the process. In order for a video to go viral, it needs to be placed where people can see it and share it. There are thousands of hilarious or emotionally rousing videos that lay rotting in the depths of the internet because no one saw them. A successful viral marketing campaign focuses on distribution strategy – Place your video in places where it will be seen and appreciated.

So now you know…

  • Viral Marketing was born from a Hotmail email campaign.
  • Internet sharing is the heart of viral marketing.
  • Poo~Pourri is hilarious and kittens are worshipped on the internet.
  • Viral Marketing requires strategy.

If you decide viral marketing is for you, keep your expectations realistic. Don’t be discouraged if your video doesn’t reach one million or even one thousand views. It’s extremely rare for a video to truly go viral.

Above all else, be true to your brand. Don’t try to force current memes, slang, or popular dances if it doesn’t make sense for you or your business. Make something that you are proud to share.

Speaking of sharing – Let us know what you think about viral marketing in the comments below. Don’t be shy. Start a conversation!