Before Facebook came along, viral marketing seemed like more of an abstract ideal than an achievable form of promotion. If anything, the social network has raised the bar: Now the proverbial Holy Grail is getting people to voluntarily circulate your message in their status updates.
Note the use of the word voluntarily. Using spamware to circulate a message in people’s status updates actually backfires, risking damage to any brand that attempts to try such a tactic. It’s a surefire way to piss off not only fans but also Facebook’s security team, which will kick you off the site.
Alas, we have yet to see a viral status update meme involving a for-profit brand succeed the way some non-profits have gotten their message across. And several of the most widespread repostings of status updates on the site have just been fun –and that’s largely why they spread.
Some preach that successful viral marketing requires you to think outside of the proverbial box, so with that in mind we’re going revisit the messages that spread the most on Facebook to see what band managers might extract from these success stories.
No one knows for sure whether this campaign originated from Facebook’s own female communications staff. It started with direct messages that women forwarded to each other explaining the goal of promoting breast cancer awareness: post as a status update only the color of the bra one wore that day, and don’t publicly explain what the post meant. The riddle aspect to it added fun to something that people perceived as a good cause, even though I doubt it actually motivated anyone to go get a mammogram.
This campaign less than a week before the November 2010 election spread to 316,857 users within the first couple of days. Viral marketers would classify this message as an invitation to action. Plus, this application offered a very compelling reason for people to share with friends, and avoiding specific political parties and candidates maximized the appeal.
We still don’t know who started this successful campaign in January 2010, although it’s possible Facebook might have had a role — getting the site’s management involved is one of the most effective ways to “seed” or start a viral marketing effort. This one also included a call for action that inspired people to share with their friends. One could argue that the broader message about helping Haiti continues to live on, based on the frequency of postings on the topic.
The origin of this viral reposting remains a mystery, partly due to the fact that several variations on “Like my status and I’ll” spread. Most started with those same five words, followed by a promise such as: “I’ll tell you if I’d kiss you,” “I’ll tell you my first impression of you,” “I’ll give you a random nickname,” “I’ll tell you what animal you remind me of,” “I’ll tell you what color you remind me of” and so on. All included an invitation and a bit of suspense — people clicked on like in order to learn whatever was promised, and reposted because they thought it was fun.
Reposted status updates invited friends to look up their own names on the urban dictionary and share the definition. Nearly all the definitions of people’s names involved bawdy humor — I noticed that five out of the seven definitions of my own name make me sound like someone fun to date. It’s easy to see why 1,045,658 people “like” this reference material’s page on Facebook, because sharing funny content seems like a core activity on the site.
Which messages do you think were the most viral? How might you seed your own viral marketing campaign?