Spontaneous Strategy: The Art of Viral Content

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Apparently unplanned, successful viral content requires major strategy.

Turns out unplanned success of a viral video takes a lot of strategy.
Viral content may seem spontaneous but in reality requires a detailed marketing strategy.

Viral content has the reputation for being a spontaneous, unplanned form of content marketing that gains its own momentum.  But as CEO of Virool.com Alexander Debelov explains in this lucid Q&A, behind most viral brand content there are detailed, marketing plans.

Why should viral content be a goal for marketers and their campaigns?
Viral content should definitely be integral to marketing campaigns. But I think there's a misconception [about viral content]. First is when we think of something as viral, a lot of people tend to think of this element of surprise or something unexpected. Or we think viral content is something that simply took off [or gained momentum] on its own. Things do go viral, sometimes, on their own. But generally, [viral content] stems from a very defined process with steps in order to become popular on the web.

The challenge for marketers today is to get people [in their target audience] to share brand-related content with their friends. Basically [marketers] enable consumers to become brand advocates for them. Traditional messages—TV or radio—don't do this. Viral content does.

So, can you define viral for us, and explain the varying degrees of viral content?
The way that I look at viral content is any content that gets the consumer to engage and then share—particularly on social media. It also means some level of high engagement, either in great numbers or resonance among a specific audience.

As for varying degrees, there really are a number of levels in which content can go viral. Articles, videos, and other content can go viral without mass numbers but reach a goal of a particular sect of people in a particular region. And on top of that people share that content. You don't need millions of people sharing it—just the people in your target demographic. You have to understand that markets are limited. You can create content with mass appeal, but there's equally effective content that is more niche.  It's that niche content which can appeal to a particular community. And it's those people in that community who become brand advocates.

How important is a viral video in an omnichannel campaign that has several moving parts?
That depends on the marketer and what the goals of the campaign are. The role of a viral content plan depends on the campaign that the marketer is planning to run. If you have a successful piece of content and have several channels available in an omnichannel campaign, use that content's success to your advantage.  Look at [the channels] where the most engagement takes place and strategically position the content that you would like to go viral into those channels. This is great strategy to get the word out. People will begin to recognize and relate to that content right away.

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