Going Viral May Be Easier Than You Think

By Peter J. Winters posted 12-15-2016 12:57 PM


What makes a story go viral? If you browse through some of today’s most viewed articles, videos or even tweets, their viral success may seem unconnected.

There’s no one formula for guaranteed viral results, but there does tend to be some common denominators including authentic, inspirational or thought-provoking content. And it all starts by shifting the angle of the conversation.

If you’re looking to navigate the growing cross media market, especially the part that might go viral, here are four strategic phases to help your organization find its viral center:

Phase 1: Identify Your Storytellers

By default, many PR and communication executives tend to craft their messaging around their own perspective. But the most successful cross media (the viral accidents!) usually happen when the perspective shifts from marketing or PR to the voice of someone who can lend their own perspective on your organization — someone who could speak from their heart, or perhaps their funny bone.

These new perspectives can come from several sources including members, fans, customers, donors/advocates, employees and board members. These individuals bring higher levels of authenticity to your story.

Phase 2: Find Your Message Themes

Once you identify your potential viral storytellers, it’s time to focus on your message themes. You should start to notice some of the things that your storytellers might say, and their spin will be different than yours. It’s these ideas that your organization can benefit from the most in digital media.

Start by determining two or three message themes that have the best chance of going viral. Often, this is not the same thing as your core marketing message, market passion or mission. For example, pouring ice water over someone’s head has nothing to do with ALS, but Ice Bucket Challenge creator Pete Frates, a former Boston College athlete who was diagnosed with ALS himself, was the perfect voice for such a cause.

Remember! You only need one good idea to go viral.

Phase 3: Capture Your Content Themes

Now that you’ve found your message themes, your next step is to develop the processes to capture the content. Strategically developed capture processes may become perpetual content, an advantage that supports ongoing content publishing. Identify these opportunities in day-to-day occurrences, at events and throughout other naturally occurring touchpoints within your organization.

It can be as simple as instructing advocates to use iPhone captures every time “this” (your “capture moment” that connects to your message theme) occurs. Or introducing a new one question survey during a registration process. Or running contests that solicit ideas from a fan, customer or member base.

Everything should be thought of as a potential touchpoint, even something as static as a sign (if used creatively). People love to offer opinions, so use this to your advantage for establishing a viral media library.

Phase 4: Mobilize Your Advocates

The final phase is to gather and mobilize a team of advocates outside of your organization that can support your effort. In this “smartphone era” (metaphorically speaking), there are many opportunities to manufacture advocates who will support your marketing/PR initiatives.

Digital media is like the Wild West. New frontiers are opening at epic rates. Look at some of the incredible Apple commercials that depict people from around the world publishing anything and everything. Presumably, you have many “capture moments” so long as you can remove barriers where they currently exist.

If you can give your team of advocates direction and then step aside, you may find that “we the people” instinctively know how to go social-viral more so than you — that’s just the natural order of social. This group of outsiders also adds legitimacy to your viral content, rather than setting a tone of self-promotion.

Looking for More?

While this article only scratches the surface, we also have two process documents that may help you launch viral media plans of your own. Although both are currently geared toward nonprofits and foundations, they can easily be repurposed for any verticals to suit your needs.

One is a Digital Media Playbook, which centers on “we the people” publishing; the other is a Human Capital Scorecard that lends ideas to the types of people and channels that may help you drive viral media content.

A quick way to get them is to text me, Peter Winters, at 917-301-9100.