Rowan Dean
Smarter Writer

Rowan Dean is an award-winning creative director, social media commentator and advertising guru

Rowan Dean
Smarter Writer

Rowan Dean is an award-winning creative director, social media commentator and advertising guru

It is possible to create your own viral story, here are the core ingredients necessary to do so.

When a story or a picture goes viral, it can be a wonderful marketing tool if your business is associated with it. When Bradley the lamb and Kevin Bacon the pig were stolen from a Sydney cafe called The Grounds, it made headlines around the world. It ‘went viral’. 

There were so many entertaining elements to the story. The name of the pig for starters; and why did a cafe have a pig and a lamb in its backyard anyway? And what sort of person, or persons would go around kidnapping a sweet little piggy and a cute lambie? 

A ‘no-questions-asked’ $5000 reward was offered, there was CCTV footage of the thieves and the NSW Police asked anyone knowing the whereabouts of Kevin Bacon and Bradley to call Crime Stoppers. There was something in this story for everyone.

illustration of farmer and farm animals

According to the cafe owner, the interest and awareness of his brand, and what it stood for, was dramatic. The amount of publicity this story generated, advertising agencies can only dream about. So how do you create your own viral campaign?

Firstly, don’t fake it. The above story was not a publicity stunt and at no point in the ensuing media frenzy did The Grounds cafe attempt to highlight a commercial message into the reporting; they simply allowed the story to speak for itself.  If an event occurs that impacts on your business and is an interesting story in its own right, be quick to capitalise on it. Contact your local TV, newspaper and radio station, set up a Facebook page, use Instagram, send out some tweets; in short, get the story ‘out there’ as quick as you can. And then let it run its own course.

But can you manufacture a viral story? Of course you can. Many people have tried and many have succeeded, but if the story is sprung as a hoax, the negative backlash can be disastrous.

Posting a video is quick and easy, but here are a few tips for making it viral 

In 2009 a fashion chain attempted a viral story about a Sydney girl finding a guy’s jacket in a cafe and was trying to trace its owner via a public plea. She spent so much time in the video talking about the “really nice” jacket with its “beautiful silk lining” that it raised suspicions. The stunt backfired badly when it was exposed as a fake.

In-between these two extremes, it is possible to create your own viral story. If a staff member has been involved in an exciting but unrelated event, publicise it. Even if your brand name is only peripheral, it is still valuable exposure. Look for stories that have genuine human interest – somebody conquering a challenge against all odds. People and the media will always be interested in real stories just so long as you don’t push your commercial agenda up front. 

Affiliating your business brand with local or political agendas that are in line with your values can increase the likelihood of a story going viral. Being involved in an event, doing something unexpected for the local community, coming up with an original use for your products or services, all can be told in an engaging and creative way. Posting a photo or video is quick and easy. The tools of social media are there. Use them. The more emotional buttons your story pushes, the more likely it is to be sent on from person to person.

How to create your own viral campaign

Do's
  1. Be opportunistic. If a good story comes your way, grab it and promote it via your brand.
  2. Actively seek out interesting online content that ties-in with your brand values.
  3. Be creative. Think up unusual ideas that can make your story work as your own online ad.
  4. To be worth going viral it must either be humorous, surprising, intriguing, or dramatic and must be quick to understand.
  5. Always keep the commercial angle of any story (pic or clip) to the barest minimum.
  6. Give people a reason to forward your updates/pics/tweets. Always ask yourself: what’s in it for them?
Dont's
  1. Don’t fake it. Hoaxes have a nasty habit of backfiring. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Don’t attempt to overtly insert your commercial message. Punters spot a contrived ad a mile off.

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