Viral marketing is a marketing exercise

Originally posted over at

We love sharing funny, moving and clever videos around the office at Melbourne. Recent ones that have done the rounds include a 999 call by a women reporting the theft of a snowman and the Cassette Boy remix of Dragons Den (possibly NSFW).

But my favourite one is an old classic from the early days of YouTube.

What makes all these videos shareable? Why do I forward them round to my colleagues over email, Twitter or instant messaging?

As Geth from Young said at last night’s Feed, the key to a making someone share a good piece of content is for it to elicit an emotional response. Whether it makes you laugh, cry or – in the case of the Picard video – simply feel bemused at the ultimate cultish geekyness, it has to do that to make someone even think about sharing it with their friends.

And that really is it. “Viral marketing” is not a panacea, nor is it something for which there’s a secret formula. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that they term “viral marketing” is an opportunistic branding of a natural phenomenon. Dan Carrol expands on this in his guest post for The Feed last week.

Content is key, always has been and always will. None of the videos I’ve linked above intrinsically sell a product – but they’re bloody funny. Anyone producing content that they want people to share is going to have to compete with these and more. Take a look at James Webb’s blog post (and inevitable associated infographic!) about the most watched and searched for terms on YouTube. With so much high-quality – and low-humour content – there’s no way that anyone can guarantee that something can “go viral”. However, latching onto the (trends of the day can definitely help users discover and subsequently share your content if it’s any good.

In short, the best way to harness the viral effect is to make something special that gets you thinking and make sure it gets found by users. Anyone that tries to sell you a “viral marketing campaign” is selling you snake oil.