When is the last time your boss or client asked you to add a “social” component to your upcoming campaign or create something that will go “viral”? While it is easy to create content that can be shared, it still remains a challenge to make something that catches the attention and imagination of the public enough to create a viral sensation.
It is sometimes easy to forget how memorable stories, advertisements and other details of our lives used to have to wait to be shared. The water cooler used to be more popular in those days. But because of the limited reach of those conversations, and a troubling lack of Internet connectivity of most water coolers, advertisers and marketers didn’t approach campaigns in quite the same way back then. With instantaneous communication, brand followers now have the ability to share whatever they desire, from wherever they are, thus giving rise to the “viral campaign.” This is, in my opinion, an often-uninspired manner in which the concept of word-of-mouth is approached.
Don’t get me wrong – there has never been an advertiser who didn’t think that getting people to talk about their campaign or product in a good way was a bad thing. But the concept of virality has taken on a different meaning with the invention of the share button. What I want to discuss is how the approach of simply making something easy to share is not at all the same as making it worth sharing.
If your digital strategy for a campaign that’s about to drop next week uses the Facebook “Like” button as its core “social” component, you might want to just skip this article because it’s too late for you. But if you are interested in true engagement with a great idea, let’s get started. Here are the four ways to make your campaign worth sharing:
1. True brand advocates want to be a part of the things they love, not just watch them on TV
This has been true since well before the Internet existed – think Star Trek conventions or Renaissance Fairs - but now the barrier to entry is lower than ever. Clicking “Like” or “Tweet” is lazy, but effectively simple. It might be all you get out of some of your less engaged audience members, but your true advocates are out there and they want to be immersed in an experience that adds something to what they are interested in.
This can be seen in many examples where the line between the physical and virtual worlds is crossed. SCVNGR built a business on making it easy for organizations to create scavenger hunts in the real world that translate to online rewards. The agency 42 Entertainment takes great length to create immersive online and offline experiences for audiences, including the much-mentioned “Why So Serious?” campaign for “The Dark Knight” that won a Cannes Lion a few years back.
Creating an alternate reality world is not necessarily an option for every brand (or even movie release) out there, but even taking the growth of cause marketing in recent years, we can see that people are willing to give more when they know that the brands they are engaging with are giving something back. That could be free stuff, virtual or physical, or it could be donated time or money. Or it could be that immersive experience your fans want. Either way, you are giving more than you are getting from a single individual, but because of the global virtual reach, the returns are many-fold in your favor.
2. Getting “Likes” is a tactic, not a strategy
Adding a “Like” button doesn't make something shareable. It is simply a tactic that makes the process easier. We know this because plenty of people talked about what they found remarkable, or funny, or simply bizarre, long before it was so easy to share it on a social network.
Your digital strategy needs to incorporate an idea that is by its very nature experiential. This experience might happen completely online; it could even happen entirely within a channel such as Facebook. But the difference is this: rather than the goal being “x” amount of “Likes,” the goal is to insert your brand into a conversation that is already happening. Or (slightly more daring) create a brand new conversation that you are the center of. You will get plenty of “Likes” from this, but you will get much more than that.
You have to include easy ways for your audience to share and participate with content in multiple aspects of your campaign. But you also have to trust that if it’s effective enough to capture your audience’s attention, they will start to find their own ways of sharing, both online and offline.
Thinking beyond the tactic of getting people to click a “Like” button, create multiple conversations that people can have about your campaign. This could involve multiple mediums – like videos on YouTube – combined with a contest on Facebook and a mobile app. Or it could involve user participation, like requiring users to enlist their friends’ help in order to solve a riddle or support them in achieving a goal. This not only engages the initial user, but it also gives their friends and colleagues a reason to pay attention to what they’re doing, and everyone is willing to give more because they are getting more out of the experience.
3. It’s simpler than you think
It is time to redefine the idea of making your campaign “social,” and the good news is that it's easier than you think. At one point or another, a client or colleague has told us all that they want us to make a campaign that “goes viral.” There is obviously no formula for a viral video or else someone you know would have shared it with you already. And that formula itself would probably have gone viral.
The only secret to creating content that generates true word-of-mouth momentum is this: create great content. Great content is engaging, memorable and inherently shareable. A great idea is worth talking about with others and it starts conversations. So is a funny story or a novel way of looking at an existing problem. I’m not saying that it’s easy to create good content, but the formula for virality is a simple one.
This is an area where I feel a lot of digital agencies get it wrong. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can create a technically complex application that uses the latest tech buzzwords and APIs doesn’t mean that you’ve created any content that justifies being shared by anyone, but tech junkies of course.
Think about it. The Old Spice YouTube campaign wasn’t successful because it used novel technology, or even because it allowed people to suggest ideas that could be filmed in near real-time. It was successful because they managed to make it funny and memorable. Great content wins over novel technology almost every time.
4. Don’t tack on a social component
If you've already brainstormed and planned your campaign, and think “now I need to figure out the social component,” please just stop. Either you have a good, compelling idea that’s inherently social, or you don’t. If you don’t have an idea that is going to get people talking the next day, trying to think of the social media component now is not going to help much.
I'm not going to say that every advertising campaign should aspire to be the next Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, but to neglect a key (and often free) aspect of your marketing and promotional strategy until halfway through the creation of an idea is not a smart approach. Start your creative process knowing that your audience wants to talk about things that are interesting, funny, shocking or connected to them in an emotional way, and moreover, they want to participate.
At the advent of the Web 2.0 era of social networking, it was often enough to build a campaign around the idea that everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame and would gladly participate for the opportunity to have their picture out there in the world. That’s simply not enough now. There are so many places to put your picture, your comments, connect with friends and share what you love that there needs to truly be something “in it” for your audience in order to get them to share.
When you create great content and involve your audience in a participatory role in your campaign instead of as spectators, you’ve moved beyond tacking on a social component and created a truly engaging, social experience.
There is no going back. The Web 1.0 era, a logical extension of the mass advertising era, is over. Again, the goal of every marketing effort is not to “go viral,” nor should it be. But the reality of the times is that people who follow brands are more likely to purchase, people who follow brands are more likely to share content, and people trust their friends' recommendations.
There isn’t a magical formula for creating viral content, but it is as simple (or as complex) as making great content that is engaging enough to capture attention and involve your audience in a participatory role, giving them more than just a chance to click a share button. If it’s done correctly, the “social component” will happen on its own.