Going viral is the dream of many a social media user, including businesses, but when there are hundreds of millions of new posts competing for eyeballs, likes and shares every day, how do you make yours stand out?

Viral content often comes from everyday people (or, usually, their kids and pets) doing funny, interesting or unusual things – the yodelling Walmart kid is one of the most recent claims to internet fame.

However, a few businesses have also been successful at creating content that busts through to viral reach. In 2014, Purina commissioned BuzzFeed to produce one of the most successful – in terms of reach – content marketing campaigns in the world, – a 13-part video series called ‘Dear Kitten’. At the time of writing, one video alone has achieved more than 30 million views.

According to Forbes, the majority of content that achieves strong viral reach is relatable, useful, easy to digest, and (very) well distributed, but it turns out, the tone also plays a huge part in shareability.

In 2017, Fractl found that, of the top 1000 most-shared articles, 69.3% conveyed a positive tone, while negative pieces only made up 7.7%. Viral content also tends to evoke specific emotions, including trust, joy, surprise, sadness, or disgust.

Why Going Viral Doesn’t Guarantee Social Media Success: Methods and Metrics You Need to Know

Yet, creating the content and watching as it performs brilliantly is only half the work. In order for the campaign to be successful beyond vanity metrics, companies will need to prepare for an overwhelming response by reinforcing their server capacity, fulfillment capabilities and customer service teams.

Here are some of the main things to consider when designing a campaign you’re hoping will achieve viral reach.

1. Have a strategy, based on your goals

Just like every building needs a solid foundation, a successful campaign needs a well-planned content strategy. While some marketers believe that any competition or free item guarantees viral status, what really drives internet success is high-quality content. In fact, most viral content doesn’t offer anything for free; it becomes popular simply because it strategically captures users’ attention.

One great example of this is Coca-Cola’s #shareacoke campaign. In 2011, Coca-Cola stole our attention by putting 150 of the most popular names in Australia on their Coke bottles and cans, turning them into personal items and a new form of self-expression. Their catchy call-to-action encouraged fans to share their Coca-Cola related stories and create custom, virtual bottles. The campaign has since been rolled out globally. Part of Coca-Cola’s success relied on user-generated content (UGC), allowing them to create a built-in trust factor. When users see actual customer-supplied footage, it makes them more interested in the content since it’s from real people just like them.

If you don’t want to go the UGC route, consider using humor, or unique visuals to make your campaign pop. N2 Extreme Gelato does a great job with its Instagram page. They share visually appealing, modern shots and capture what’s trending online, so their Instagram posts are regularly shared by other users. Their user base gives them an opportunity to not only grow ongoing engagement, but to have a built-in audience for special promotions and announcements about new menu items or seasonal promotions.

Whatever form your campaign takes, you need to start with a goal for what you want your content to accomplish. Is it to attract more followers, increase the number of email subscribers, or improve sales? Then work backward to figure out which metrics would best track these goals. For instance, if a 25 per cent increase in product sales is your goal, a high click-through rate (CTR) to your product page may be a good metric to track – just remember that tracking sales doesn’t always show the whole picture. Increasing follower count usually coincides with increasing user engagement, so be sure to track the metrics that matter most to your goals as you build and roll out your campaigns.

2. Align social and email

Email campaigns work in tandem with social media campaigns to create a cohesive push towards your end goal. Use the same branding and visuals in your emails to reach users with similar messaging in multiple mediums. This helps ensure that users who may not have seen your posts on Twitter will see something similar in their inboxes. For users who have already engaged on social media, this repeat messaging can help increase conversions and brand recognition.

Companies often don’t realise their social media efforts aren’t working with email to drive brand recognition: they’re working to drive email subscriptions themselves. Here, marketers can use drip campaigns – a series of automated emails sent to customers at specific intervals after they complete certain actions, such as subscribing to an email list after clicking through a social media post.

At each step of a campaign, tracking metrics can help determine which aspects of the project are doing well and what needs to be improved or scaled to a greater focus. Email metrics that need to be tracked include open rate (the percentage of users who open the email), click-through rate (CTR), and conversions (are users doing what you want them to?).

3. Optimise your landing pages

For promotional social media and email content that drives users to complete a specific action, such as buy a product or enter a competition, the landing page is key.

Landing pages should be designed and written to perform against three key metrics:

  1. Increased time on page: The more time a user spends on a landing page, the more likely they are to buy the product (or perform the action you’ve deemed a conversion).
  2. Increased conversion rate: If a landing page is optimised properly, the ratio of visitors to sales should increase.
  3. Decreased bounce rate: A landing page should be intriguing and inspire users to explore other pages on the site.

To further improve your performance on these metrics (such as conversion rate), include a call-to-action on every landing page. Most marketers place a CTA button or banner in the middle of the page and at the end, though it can also appear in the text, depending on natural fit and length.

A good landing page can help make your social media content, especially any viral posts, turn into something worthwhile for the company. While a great viral video or tweet is good for brand awareness, it may not always translate into revenue. Set up a directive for your social media content in the form of a conversion goal, and then build the email campaigns and landing pages to support it.

4. Brace yourself for viral success

Some brands may not be prepared for their own viral success. When you build your content, landing pages, and email campaigns, make sure you have the proper resources in place to handle the possible load that millions of views, visits or retweets could have on your brand.

Three areas to prepare include:

Website hosting

Before launching your campaign, make sure your hosting plan and provider can support a sudden influx of traffic. Many well-intentioned brands can’t handle the load on their website, which causes it to crash. Check you have the back-end resources to be able to scale hosting as needed to handle higher-than-average traffic. Ask the experts what resources you need in order to scale properly.

Customer engagement

A viral campaign leads to more questions, comments, and interest in your business and its products. Prepare your social media and customer service staff by developing a robust process for handling popular posts and ensuring they have enough support. This will also help you strengthen the rapport you’re building with customers by ensuring they’re being heard and answered quickly.


Your campaign may take off with more enthusiasm than you expect, so it’s vital you have enough inventory to support your promotion. Try to estimate the amount of product you’ll need for a best-case scenario ahead of time.

If you only have limited inventory, listing a cap at the beginning of your campaign can help manage customer expectations and appeal to FOMO. For example, “We only have 1000 jumpers at this special price” gives a greater sense of urgency than “We have jumpers on sale for $20”.

Additionally, you’ll need to make sure your business and its offerings are prepared and able to scale to your dream heights.

5. Keep up the momentum

A successful viral campaign will have launched you to new heights, and now you can use the insights and momentum from your promotion to optimise future campaigns. Take a look at the data and feedback to see what aspects of your campaign worked well, and where you can improve.

For example, if your email campaigns achieved better conversion rates than Facebook ads, you may choose to spend more time and resources on email campaigns than social media ads next time around.

Further, if you achieved a high conversion rate, but also experienced a high bounce rate, you could consider making a few related offers or pieces of content to drive users to other areas of your site. For example, if your competition received a lot of entries but not a lot of engagement, you could offer bonus entries for social sharing or user-generated content.

Finally, keep experimenting based on your data to help you stay at the front of people’s minds and ensure long-term success.

Want to learn more about how you can achieve greater marketing success? Check out our Fifth Annual State of Marketing Report.


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