Guest post by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing
Viral. Viral. Viral!
Just saying the word makes you feel powerful.
It’s what we all aspire to – we want just one of our posts, videos, tweets or ideas to go viral, and then we’ll ride the wave to super-stardom.
And yes, sometimes things just take on a life of their own and go viral, seemingly of their own volition. But often they don’t. The “natural viruses” are few and far between.
Conveniently, some viruses can be engineered.
In this post, I’m going to share what I’ve learned from engineering two separate viruses: the FIRE-PROOF Selling Series content contest that we ran in January, and the Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does! post that we ran at the end of March. Here’s a quick overview of what we did with each of them, what worked, and what didn’t:
Viral Case Study #1: the FIRE-PROOF Selling Series
We ran this contest to officially “launch” our blog, and jump-start traffic and traction. We got the idea from Peter Shallard – we wrote a seven-post series about selling, following our FIRE-PROOF selling model. We spent a lot of time on the posts, packed them with good content, and created a video to go with them, both to increase the value, and so that we could get traction for the contest on YouTube.
Along with the posts, there was a contest that readers could enter to win over $10,000 worth of combined prizes. To enter the contest, readers had to subscribe to our feed and mailing list, share all seven of the posts, and leave a comment answering a question that was posed in the post.
WHAT WORKED: The content was great, and people found it very useful. They engaged with us on the blog, shared their stories, and shared the post with their friends. I also got my first guest post on Copyblogger right after the first post went up, which did a good job of feeding the contest.
WHAT DIDN’T: We had minimal traffic to start with, so there wasn’t that much to work with. The affiliates who were supposed to help us didn’t really come through, and YouTube was a bust.
Viral Case Study #2: Why Guru Strategies DON’T WORK
This was a mammoth post about the strategy for blog growth that had been coalescing in my mind over the preceding month. Rather than turn the strategy into an e-book or paid product, we gave the whole thing away as a post, and created a snazzy PDF handout that people could get in exchange for a tweet.
WHAT WORKED: We timed the post to go live before my first guest post on Problogger, because it was a particularly good fit with the audience. I had also developed a lot more relationships in the blogging world, and was able to ask about a dozen bloggers to help me spread the word.
WHAT DIDN’T: Not much – we didn’t take the ellipsis (…) in the blog title out of the URL, which made it hard to copy and share, and prevented some social sites, like StumbleUpon, from being able to pick it up. Not too big an impact, but it was a dumb mistake.
The Results of Virality
These two campaigns weren’t the same – not even close. Here are some of the differences between them:
- The FIRE-PROOF Selling contest lasted an entire month, whereas the Why Guru Strategies DON’T WORK post was just up for a few days.
- We pretty much launched the contest by ourselves, whereas a lot of friendly bloggers helped us to spread the word about the Guru Strategies post.
- The sharing mechanisms were very different – with the contest, people had to go, share, and report back in a comment, whereas with the Guru Strategies post they just had to pay with a tweet, which takes a moment and is built into the page.
- The incentives were different – with the contest, you had to take action in order to have a chance of winning a big prize in the future. With the Guru Strategies post, you had to take an action in order to get a handout right away.
- The baseline of traffic that we had before the contest was a lot smaller than it was before the Guru Strategies post.
Despite these differences, we got pretty much the same results from both campaigns: once the traffic spike had passed, our baseline of traffic was double what it was before the campaign. Not bad, right?
Okay, okay… let’s talk about how to actually do it!
The Formula for Virality
Near as I can figure, this is the formula for engineering an effective virus:
Okay, let’s parse this formula. We know what VIRALITY is, but let’s talk about the elements that come together to create it:
EPIC SHIT: If you’re a regular reader of Think Traffic, then you know exactly what Epic Shit is – in Corbett’s words: “Write things that make people think. Inspire people. Change lives. Create value. Blow people away with your usefulness.”
This is absolutely crucial – it doesn’t matter what else you do, if the content isn’t unbelievably awesome, it won’t go viral. Think about what kind of content you would expect people to pay for, and then give that away for free. Epic shit has exponential impact, hence the small 2 next to it.
CRITICAL MASS: We’ve all heard the standard line about virality – you show something to three people, each of them shows it to three people, each of them shows it to three people, and pretty soon your server crashes from the massive increase in traffic.
Well, in real life, if you show it to three people, one won’t look, one will read it and do nothing and the third might tell three friends, and their three friends might not listen. You need to have a certain amount of attention for there to be a critical mass that can bring your content over that tipping point, and this is shown as a square root because you usually need more help than you think!
ACTION: The third element is action. For something to go viral, it isn’t enough for people to like it and read it, your visitors also have to share it – sharing is action. Sometimes, people will spontaneously share something past that tipping point, but you’ll notice that it usually happens somewhere like Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, where the reach of that sharing action is huge, and the friction in taking that sharing action is tiny (you just click on a “like” button).
We learned that in comparing our campaigns – if we had embedded a button in every contest post that said “share to enter the contest”, and it was 1-click easy, we would have gotten a lot more shares.
These are the three factors, and together they make up a recipe:
- start by creating some truly epic content
- plan out all the different sources of traffic that will feed it (guest posts are great for this, and so is reaching out to your network for help)
- make sure to include a way for people to share easily and reach a lot of people (you may want a strong call to action to encourage more sharing)
Have you had any content “go viral?” How’d you do it? Have you tried to create viral content that just didn’t work?
Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear your viral content stories.