The Dos and Don’ts of Viral Marketing

If you spend any time on social media, you’re likely to have come across viral content one way or another. Maybe it was a meme, video, giveaway or gif. You probably shared the content to your friends or followers or simply chuckled to yourself for a moment or so. Chances are that you may still remember that content today. 

Take ALS’s Ice Bucket Challenge. The phenomenon that took over our social media feeds back in 2014. The idea was simple enough – get participants to record themselves pouring a bucket of ice water over themselves and nominate others to also undertake the challenge. The charity’s aim was to drive awareness and donations for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). As a result, ALS received $98.2m – compared with $2.7m donated during the same period last year (BBC). 

It’s easy to see that the power of viral content is undisputed. It’s no wonder brands are scrambling to create the next big social media trend or jump onto the current popular topic on social media.  But what exactly is viral marketing and what best practices should marketers keep in mind when implementing it? 

What is viral marketing?

The term viral marketing refers to brand promotion through popular or trending messages that encourage consumers to share information online.

The idea is that the content is shared extensively, far beyond just your followers. Although some strategy can be behind viral content, the truth is, in many cases it is a matter of chance. This is because with viral marketing, you are relying on others to distribute your content and so taking a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. 

Essentially, it can be a very lucrative tool as it is generally low cost but yields great reach and awareness.  

So how can marketers effectively implement viral marketing ? Here’s a few dos and don’ts you may want to consider:

The dos of viral marketing 

Viral content tends to have these few things in common; relevant, timely and fresh. So when planning to implement it within your strategy, social listening is key. It’s imperative to be aware of trending topics, the latest memes etc. Using this information to anticipate future trends will do wonders in getting your brand in front of a large audience. 

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‘Salesy’ marketing messages simply won’t work when it comes to viral marketing. Content is much more likely to engage with a wider audience and go viral if it is authentic, ’human’ and invokes an emotion which encourages consumers to share it across their network.  According to Forbes, “most of the world’s effective viral campaigns usually inspire strong emotional reactions from viewers – whether it’s shock and awe, genuine sympathy, surprise, envy, curiosity, or astonishment.”

The don’ts of viral marketing 

Viral marketing can yield great results for your brand but in an age where we consumers are always looking for the next bit thing, brands need to look beyond the one-time only approach. Focusing on short-term and long-term strategies is key.

It’s worth noting that for the most part, the results of your viral marketing campaign will be out of your control as this channel relies heavily on consumers input. This means that marketing messages can be easily misconstrued or misunderstood. It’s necessary that marketers take extra care when implementing viral marketing in order to avoid this. 


To conclude, viral marketing can result in great reach and expsure for your business. However, extra care is to be taken in order to ensure that messages are timely, authentic and easy to understand. While this can be a great and cost-effective approach for short-term growth, long-term growth strategies should also be implemented in order to maximise chances of long-term success.

For more on the latest digital marketing strategies and best practices, you can get my latest book, Digital Marketing Strategy.

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