5 Keys to a Viral Campaign

You’ve probably seen it 1,000 times on Facebook: Everyone, it seems, is dumping buckets of ice water over their heads.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has taken over social media this month as Americans have risen to the challenge to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a condition of the brain and spinal cord  that robs its victims of muscle control and speech.

The challenge asks that you make a donation to the ALS Association or dump a bucket of ice water over your head. As of Friday, the online campaign had helped raise more than $50 million toward research for this terrible condition.

Interestingly, the same things that have made the Ice Bucket Challenge a hit can be instructive for business owners and solopreneurs in their own online marketing efforts. The Ice Bucket Challenge employed five important steps to viral success.

1. Capitalize on what’s trending. Several “challenges” have been popular lately on social media. Other trending videos on Facebook have been less productive—like the “fire challenge” in which some misguided youths have recorded video while setting themselves ablaze. The Ice Bucket Challenge put its own spin on the challenge craze. Find what’s popular and employ a creative way to take advantage of the buzz.

2. Keep it simple. The Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t ask people to participate in something dangerous or time-consuming. Whatever your call to action, keep it simple.

3. Make people feel good. A recent study by the online content analysis tool BuzzSumo combed through more than 100 million articles looking to find the essence of virality. It concludes that content invoking awe, laughter or amusement is most successful. If you can create a campaign with a message or call to action that will make people feel fulfilled or involved, your message will be more successful. Giving back makes people feel good about themselves, which is exactly why the Ice Bucket Challenge has been so successful.

4. Use social media (and video). Project A.L.S didn’t just post the campaign on its website and hope people would notice. The campaign instead was hosted on social media, and adorned with an easy-to-remember hashtag (#IceBucketChallenge). Video is a major component: The most popular content on social media is visual. Users are more likely to watch a video or look at a picture than read something when scrolling through their newsfeeds. Once you’ve figured out the basis of your campaign, use social media to promote it and use visuals as much as possible.

5. Use multipliers. Many celebrities participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, from Bill Gates to President George W. Bush, Justin Bieber and Shakira. Getting celebrities to help promote your campaign isn’t something everyone can do, but having a multiplier is important. If someone in your network has thousands of followers on Twitter or many connections to others, they can share your campaign and increase the likelihood of others seeing it. All it takes is one share or retweet to expand the reach your message can have.

So, there are keys to viral content—but can you ensure success? Find out two viral veterans’ takes on what they think makes something a hit.


Jessica Krampe is the digital managing editor for SUCCESS.com. A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Jessica has worked for news, entertainment, business and lifestyle publications. Outside of the daily grind, she enjoys happy hours, live music and traveling.

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