Anatomy of a Viral Social Media Campaign

Marketing professionals are always seeking new and innovative ways to reach their target audience, and event marketers are no different:  we strive to retain prior attendees while attracting new delegates to our programs.  As consumers, we are regularly assaulted by a barrage of messages competing for our attention.  Some initiatives are more successful than others, and marketers are charged with cutting through the noise to deliver a message that will resonate with its intended recipient.  Competition for attention span is fierce, and event marketing strategies must continue to evolve to successfully demonstrate a meeting’s value proposition to a prospective attendee.

With direct mail, digital marketing, telemarketing and texting campaigns in play, and yes – social media, too – how do marketers cut through the clutter to connect with audiences?  A viral social media campaign is the stuff of which social media marketers dream, but the building blocks that lead to viral success can be very elusive.  In all likelihood, no single factor will catapult a video, tweet or post to social media stardom.  A combination of elements, including a dash of innovation and a bit of good luck, will result in a viral social media campaign.

One of the most popular and well-known viral campaigns of all time was the ALS Association’s “Ice Bucket Challenge.” Chief among the factors contributing to this campaign’s success were the simplicity of the challenge and its “likeability.”  

Simplicity:  The ALS Association cast a spotlight on and spread awareness about a devastating disease by pairing a positive message with a competitive challenge centered on and in direct contrast to a light, fun and engaging activity.  Anyone could participate in this challenge:  only a bucket and ice were required!  In a complicated world, simplicity is attractive. Challenge participants could easily spread the word virally by daring and tagging friends on their favorite social media platforms.  

Likeability:  Fundraising is often a difficult task (and ask), and this initiative inspired creative thinkers to develop new and innovative ways to shed light on an important cause while having some fun:  often at their own expense.  Competitive and spirited participants could also harangue their friends by soliciting their participation in the Challenge in a very public way.

Celebrities and high-profile athletes quickly jumped on board by participating in the challenge and by sharing their videos with their large audiences of social followers.  Most of us don’t have celebrities at our disposal, but we do have influencers and leaders in our space who can fill this same role. Active support from your industry’s or organization’s leaders lends credibility to the program and the post and may also extend the reach of your message.

The ALS Association also makes social sharing easy for visitors to its webpages by including prominent social icons that link to their feeds on both their horizontal navigation bar and on the vertical sides of some pages. An Ice Bucket Challenge Progress button is also prominently featured on the website, which serves to keep the campaign (and message) visible to viewers.  While enabling often bears a negative connotation, the ALS Association’s strategic decision to enable social sharing is clear and effective.

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