How to Avoid Wasting Time and Money on Viral Marketing

How to Avoid Wasting Time and Money on Viral Marketing 6 min read

All too often you see companies chomping at the bit to create “Viral Marketing” campaigns. They want an explosion in growth and think this is the only way to get them there. More often than not, brands end up wasting a lot of time and money on a project that was doomed to fail from the start.


In this article we will examine some of the classic mistakes that brands make when trying to go viral. We’ll also be presenting some ideas on where to begin and giving you a few tips to help your marketing campaign be more successful.


The Best Ways to Throw Your Money Away

More often than not, when execs hear the term “Viral Marketing” a lightbulb goes off. They see the end goal — a huge expansion in product volume driven by the consumers…also known as free growth. The unfortunate reality is that only a very, very small portion of these campaigns will go Viral. It’s the digital equivalent of hitting the state lottery.


Some of the common mistakes that we have seen:


  • Viral is used as a tactic rather than an element of an overall product strategy
  • Trying to tack on “Best Practice” strategies when it isn’t really clear how users communicate through your product
  • Saying “Just add a share bar!“, no that’s lazy.
  • Products that add no inherent value to the user (not the internal marketing team) try to push features people don’t want or need
  • Pushing a campaign and not measuring its success at every step
  • Not performing A/B tests to fine tune a campaign
  • Products who weren’t meant to go viral, trying to add in a bunch of “viral” features like forced sharing to read content
  • Giving too much information from the start and confusing people
  • And finally: not identifying the target market before trying to make it go Viral


Now the obvious question — how do you avoid all of these mistakes?


How to Fix Your Viral Marketing Mistake


1.) Identify your target market

Pull out a whiteboard and think for a while on who your actual target market is. Doctors, lawyers, students, males, females?


If you’re having trouble, that’s OK. You can return to this step later.


2.) Discuss In a perfect world… scenario

Begin by asking yourself and your team: In a perfect world this campaign would… It might be slow-going at the start but eventually people will begin to step up with ideas. Remember: no idea should be disqualified at this point. That will slow your progress down and inhibit creative sharing.


Before you know it, this step will help you define your overall campaign goal. For multi-faceted projects, there may be more than one overall bucket that these goals go into. You should focus your individual campaign on a single specific area if possible. This step will also shed some light on the previous step (identifying your market) if you were having trouble with that.


3.) Determine your Viral Coefficient

You’ll need to begin with a simplified version of what’s called the Viral Coefficient. Hang in there, we’re going to do some basic math.


Author Gabriel Weinberg of DuckDuckGo simplifies this to the equation K = i * conversion percentage. K is the viral coefficient and i is the number of invites sent per user. The conversion percentage is the percentage of engagements a user participates in after receiving an invitation, notification, etc. (Example: K = 10 * 0.2 = 2. So of every 10 people who see it, 20% of them engage. Any coefficient above 0.5 is good!)


4.) Determine your attack strategy

I use the word attack purposefully here. There are so many companies trying for success here so it really is how you’re going to attack the market. Complacency won’t get you there so be prepared to actually put some work in here.


You should identify in this step how you plan to go viral — word of mouth, collaborative necessity (Ex: Google Docs), product communications (including an invite in your product emails), incentivization (paying users to share) or social sharing. This list isn’t a fully-exhaustive one but it does provide some insight as to the different strategies associated with going viral.


Note: You shouldn’t get this step confused with tactics. For example: sharing via Facebook is a tactic. Social sharing is the strategy.


5.) Ideate & Execute

Now armed with all of this information you’ve attained, you’re finally ready to begin your campaign. I can’t emphasize this enough: the previous discovery steps are INCREDIBLY important. Don’t skip them just to get here or you’ll end up repeating the mistakes we listed earlier.


During this step you’ll want to determine the various tactics and execution strategies you’ll be using to go viral — both paid and unpaid. Make sure that you’re including segmented analysis points over time so that you can gauge how effective your campaign is. If your viral coefficient is lower than 0.5, then you may need to switch up your methods.


Have questions or comments? Let us know below!

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