Getting Your Brand Viral on Facebook: What to Post to Promote Sharing

Written by James GunterMay 10, 2011

The word “virus” comes from Latin and indicates poison or other harmful substances. Many viruses are harmful to the human body, making us sick and in some cases killing us. “Virus” is also a term we use to indicate a malicious piece of software that has invaded our computers, making them run inefficiently or installing malware that can steal our personal information and give it to criminals who want to steal our identity. Interestingly, “virus” is also the term we use to indicate an internet meme or particularly cool and catchy piece of the web that gets passed along through email and social networks—like a virus.

In the last couple of years, marketers have noticed the “viral” phenomenon and have attempted to capitalize on it for marketing purposes with both success and failure. In fact, in today’s marketing atmosphere, people talk about creating a piece of viral advertising—or a promotional piece that is cool or interesting enough to be spread through social networks. However, despite the efforts that go into creating viral marketing buzz, many viral campaigns are unsuccessful.

The cool thing about real viral memes is that they are organic. They grow out of the human weirdness wasteland that is the internet. No marketing executive could have come up with Charlie Bit My Finger, Star Wars Kid, or a sneezing baby panda. And rarely do branded videos, graphics, or games even truly go viral like the organic stuff. Chances are, your company is not going to see the success of Angry Birds overnight. But that’s okay. You don’t have to be the next Rebecca Black to get your message passed through Facebook. You simply have to create quality, sharable content that your targeted fans and consumers will enjoy and pass to their friends. And you can use the qualities of organic viral memes to help you accomplish your goals.

Why Do People Share?

To understand how to engineer our Facebook content for sharablity, we need to understand why people share in the first place. The internet—and social networking in particular—have made it insanely easy to share all types of content with just about everyone we know through just about every channel we can think of. In fact, there are now entire applications whose sole purpose is to help users compile, aggregate, and share information from a multitude of sources to a multitude of networks. The fact is, people like to pass along information to their friends and the people they care about.

Although, as a society, we have become more isolated and segmented, we still enjoy sharing experiences with each other. And if we can’t share experiences in person (because of distance or time restrictions) we can at least share them through the web. That is, when you watch David at the Dentist, you want your friends and family to see it too so that you can create shared experiences and context together despite not being physically present with each other. These shared experiences create bonds and build relationships. Thus sharing cat videos through Facebook helps us, in some small measure, connect with the people in our social networks, fulfilling our need to build stronger, more intimate human relationships.

As a brand, your goal is to create content that your fans will want to share with their friends in order to create stronger relationships. But keep in mind that not all relationships are the same, and not everyone bonds over the same types of content. So part of what you need to figure out, as a brand, is what type of relationship you can strengthen through the content you create. Then play to your strengths.

Pick Your Content

In general, there are two types of content that gets shared through social networks: that which is useful and that which is entertaining. Within these two categories, you can customize your own content to fit the needs and sharing preferences of your intended audience.

Be Useful

Think about the last time you got on Facebook. What were people sharing? Most Facebook users will have a few hundred friends and their group of friends will be fairly diverse. There will be parents and singles, those with college degrees and those without, friends who work in finance and friends who work in construction, sports fans, music aficionados, motorcycle enthusiasts, and more. So, chances are, you’ll see a diverse set of perspectives and shared links—i.e., everyone shares what is important to them and what they think will be important to others.

Although we spend a lot of time focusing on funny videos that get passed around Facebook, on a daily basis, you’ll probably see many more shared news and blog article links in your personal Facebook feed than viral videos. People like to share links to useful information around the web.

When you are thinking about creating sharable posts on Facebook, don’t shun the idea of simply posting good, useful information. You could share links to your brand website that offer tips and tricks for getting the most out of your products. Or you could give away offers and coupons. Or you could simply link to relevant, useful information from around the web—news stories to opinion pieces can all be useful and sharable, depending on your particular audience. If you think that your fans will find what you post interesting, share it with them. If they find it useful, they’ll pass it along to their social graph as well.

There’s a reason infographics are so popular on the internet. They take a large amount of information, boil it down to a few interesting graphics, and provide new perspectives and insights into facts and figures that no individual user would want to comb through on their own. You can provide the same utility to your brand followers. And you’ll reap the benefits when they pass along your great content to others.

Be Entertaining

This is the principle that most companies focus on when they talk about creating a viral marketing piece. And there’s a reason. Charlie Bit My Finger alone has over 300 million views on YouTube. That’s some powerful brand exposure, if you can harness it. The latest brand to get some real viral buzz is Old Spice, with its inventive “this is your man” commercials. The most popular of which has over 30 million views on YouTube.

However, creating viral content like this clever Toyota music video (almost 9 million views) takes a lot of time and effort that may not pay off. For instance, this CocaCola viral effort, which clearly took a lot of time and money to make, has only garnered a little over 90,000 views. For a big brand like Coke, that’s a bit of a failure.

The point here is that expensive, entertaining viral efforts are a large gamble, especially for small businesses. So, if you can’t take a loss like Coke, instead focus on creating other types of entertaining content, like blog posts, photos, or simple entertaining status updates. Skittles has done a good job of creating an entertaining Facebook feed, without an expensive budget.

Of course, what constitutes entertainment will vary according to your brand and customers. Remember that each viral effort needs to be tailored to your individual needs and circumstances. And just because Toyota has success with a clever music video, doesn’t mean the same tactic will get you a lot of Facebook shares.

Be Viral to Your Audience

All in all, creating sharable content is not about being the funniest company on the block; it’s simply about providing value to your followers in the form that they need it. Whether that be through news commentary or a music video, take a look at your audience, find out what they value, and give them content that they would be most likely to share with their friends. In other words, don’t focus on viral. Focus on quality, and the viral will happen all on its own.

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