Daniel Beulah

How to Craft a Viral Campaign in 3 Steps

October 21st, 2014

In 2012, only half of Americans knew of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after one of its most famous victims. The ALS Association, a nonprofit committed to raise money for research and patient services, raised a combined total of $19.4 million for that year.

Fast forward to today, and the ALS has raised over $100 million this year alone, most of which has been raised in the two month period of July and August.

As many of us know, it’s all due to one viral campaign: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge, in which one records dumping ice water on themselves or donates to the ALS Association, has been shared over 1.2 million times on Facebook and 2.2 million times on Twitter.

The campaign was so successful that critics started to worry about how the challenge would affect counties under severe drought watches.

Why did this campaign, out of all the others floating around on the Internet, go viral?

There’s not a lot we have control over when it comes to the “viralocity” of an image, video or idea. However, according to Malcom Gladwell, there are three elements that increase the probability:


The law of the few (Know who to target)

Malcolm Gladwell states in The Tipping Point, “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”

Gladwell calls these movers and shakers of the internet realm “connectors.” These are people with the extraordinary gift for making friends and acquaintances. They have a multitude of followers on social networks, and when they mention something on Facebook, it is immediately shared 100 times.

These connectors can be people, a website or a news organization. People want to be connectors.

While in today’s society a connector can translate their social network directly into money or political power, most people simply want the rush they feel when their idea or link is liked or retweeted. A good idea in the hands of a few can spread like wild fire.


The stickiness factor (Good content)

The two reasons the ALS Ice Bucket challenge succeeded was because it was for a good cause, and it was easily repeatable. At the end of their individual challenge, the participant then had to challenge three of their friends to replicate them. As the campaign gained momentum, it even grew to include big-name celebrities, such as Oprah, Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg, taking the plunge.

The stickiness factor correlates to your core content, cause or campaign. Is it well thought out? Is it for a good cause? Will it make a difference in someone’s life? More importantly, is it memorable? The more memorable the campaign, the higher the stickiness factor, and the faster it spreads.


Power of context (Timing)

We don’t live in a social vacuum. Our behaviors are strongly influenced by those around us. The popularity of an event or campaign is, according to Gladwell, “… sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.”

The growth of the ALS challenge happened so quickly because of its timing. We live in a world where people can easily upload and share videos of themselves performing the challenge while challenging three other people to do the same.

But, because this was a viral epidemic, it quickly reached a saturation point and donations sharply decreased. There will never be a viral hit like the ALS challenge again. The social Internet has built antibodies against it. It’s been “played” out. Timing is everything.

However, it’s possible, with a bit of luck, to create a viral hit.

You can directly target connectors to spread your idea or campaign, or you can increase your stickiness factor by making the campaign interactive with built-in sharing vectors, i.e., challenge three other people you know. The connectors will find the campaign on their own and share it with their followers.

If you have the right timing, your probability of having a viral hit increases.

Remember these three key points:

  • Target your audience.
  • Provide them with a reason to share it
  • Release it at the right time and in the right context


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Categories: Viral Marketing Tags: , , , , , ,

  1. June 26th, 2015 at 00:58 | #1

    Your term “viral epidemic” is brilliant. I’m curious to understand what the saturation point was, and what that meant for donations. Would you have any data that you could share about this?

    The ALS challenge campaign was a one hit wonder. The anti-bodies that form make it increasingly hard to innovate around. Yet such campaigns create unrealistic expectations from many management teams about what can be achieved through design, and worse yet, what “designed for sharing” really means.

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