Adam T. Sutton

Viral Famers Show Wit, Simplicity, Fearlessness

May 30th, 2008

I just finished helping to select the winners of the 2008 MarketingShera Viral Marketing Hall of Fame, and I learned viral campaigns are strange beasts.

They’re not as straight-forward as AdWords accounts or press releases. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time and money you invest–you must appeal to the fickle whims of the Internet.

I was impressed by the simple and inexpensive campaigns. A very funny low-quality B2B video, for instance, was watched more than 100,000 times in two weeks. It looked like it took less than $50 to make.

The low-budget entries reminded me of a Sherpa 101 story, “How to Use Digg to Go Viral.” While I was researching it, I realized people are leveraging huge amounts of traffic by creating witty content and sending it out–virtually cost-free, apart from time spent.

How do you make such cheap, profitable content? Here are a few tips:

1. Study your audience

Watch the content your target audience is sharing with each other. Use it to guide your decisions on topic, layout, length and approach. Do they like numbered lists? How long are the videos they’re sharing? Do they like narratives? Analyze everything.

2. Humor works

Appeal to your audience’s funny bone. People love sharing a good laugh with friends. Don’t be afraid to be too edgy, but don’t go way over the top, either.

3. Rework the classics

There are dozens of articles that have been published hundreds of times with only slight changes. Articles on diet and exercise, job hunting, dating, and a host of others are churned out with new angles every day. Check your supermarket magazine rack.

Find new angles on these stories. Relate them to your audience and make them funny. Maybe “Exercise Tips for the Terminal Gamer” or “Job Hunting for the Fashion Obsessed.” You could turn them into videos.

4. Use Current Events

Tying your content to a hot news item greatly increases its viral potential. And you’ll be able to take advantage of hot search terms to attract traffic. The more timely the topic, the better.

5. Keep it Simple

Unless you’re aiming at a high-brow audience, keep your message simple. You want your message to reach a wide audience — not the six people who can understand what you’re saying.

6. Don’t fear failure.

If your viral content flops, hey, at least no one saw it!

Do you have viral tips? Please share!

Adam T. Sutton

About Adam T. Sutton

Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter, MarketingSherpa
Adam generates content for MarketingSherpa's Email and Inbound Marketing newsletters. His years of experience in interviewing marketers and conveying their insights has spanned topics such as search marketing, social media marketing, ecommerce, email and more. Adam previously powered the content behind MarketingSherpa's Search and Consumer-marketing newsletters and carries that experience into his new role. Today, in addition to writing articles, he contributes content to the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa blogs, as well as MECLABS webinars, workshops and summits.

Prior to joining MarketingSherpa, Adam was the Managing Editor at the Mequoda group. There he created content and promotions for the company's daily email newsletter and managed its schedule.

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