If you have supplementary content that either extends the story or allows more people to participate in it, you can boost a viral phenomenon. Focus on fanning the flame already lit, not competing with it.
Jeremy Mullman, Olson Engage
For as long as dogs have ridden skateboards, PR people have cautioned clients that “viral” is not a tactic, but rather a desired outcome. And yet, despite all those warnings, it’s striking how rarely brands and companies are prepared to fully capitalize on the opportunities presented when a campaign earns its way to massive reach. Below are some tips to ensure your next viral opportunity isn’t squandered.
Include a call to action
Start with a simple question: What are you trying to compel people to do, aside from saying, “This is awesome”? Have you engineered it accordingly? Sometimes mere awareness is the point. However, when there’s a product to sell or a perception to change, it’s important the story doesn’t end with a video.
A recent example of this is, which we at Olson Engage had a chance to work on, was Heinz’s Mayochup campaign, which offered to bring an only-in-Dubai mayo/ketchup hybrid to the U.S. if 500,000 people voted for that outcome in a Twitter poll. The story moved beyond “wow, this exists” to a heated debate about whether it ought to come here. (Spoiler alert: It’s coming.)
Amplify your wins
A decade ago, if you wanted to place content on a national morning show, you’d have to promise the producer exclusivity. Today, the first question they ask is whether it’s gotten any traction online. They’d rather cover “something everyone is talking about” than be the place where it launches.
As campaigns gain traction, it’s critical to have a plan in place to amplify wins. This includes media relations and boosting social posts with paid media. It shouldn’t stop there, though. If you have supplementary content that either extends the story or allows more people to participate in it, you can boost a viral phenomenon. Focus on fanning the flame already lit, not competing with it.
Accept that you’re not in control
Consider how many of the best viral-content campaigns didn’t actually make their own content. The Ice Bucket Challenge relied on your friends’ willingness to douse themselves. Our agency’s One-Chip Challenge incentivized adventurous eaters to document what happened when they tried the world’s spiciest chip. And State Street’s Fearless Girl campaign revolved around how people interacted with an inspiring statue. Those campaigns grasped that what goes viral is not so much a video or image, but a story. Equip consumers with the tools to make it their own.
Embrace the unexpected
As campaigns gain momentum, the scale they achieve creates unexpected outcomes that can extend your story if you embrace them. Successful viral campaigns inevitably bring out critics, parodies, and even cease-and-desist letters, among other things. These aren’t always obviously positive at first, but it’s important not to confuse unexpected with damaging. A neutral development that extends a positive story is a gift.
And, of course, you can’t pounce on unexpected opportunities if you’re not actively monitoring for them. Having your social team engaged and equipped with a well-constructed response matrix is critical.
Remember: it isn’t normal
A few years ago, we saw our very first activation for a new client “go viral.” The program, which had a low-five-figures out-of-pocket cost, earned more than 900 million media impressions and increased sales in the market in which it was executed by almost 18%. That was great, until we realized the clients saw this less as a glorious fluke and more as a baseline for the next program. The moral of the story: Manage expectations accordingly, or risk becoming a victim of your own success.
Jeremy Mullman is SVP for media engagement at Olson Engage.