How To Go Viral - 25 Ways To Go Viral with examples
Lessons Learned From Publishing Over 100 Viral Marketing Case Studies
What’s Viral Marketing?
Viral marketing is a marketing strategy that relies on people organically sharing information about your business through word-of-mouth to spread with an accelerating speed.
What make things go viral?
Things that evoke high arousal emotions in us are the ones we share the most often.
The more emotions we associate with certain events, the greater our desire to share them with others in order to „relive” those high arousal emotions again and again.
High arousal emotions are:
- Positive: awe, excitement, and amusement or humor, usefulness;
- Negative: anger, anxiety
How to go Viral?
1. Frame your product differently - Blendtec
Blendtec (blenders producer) with a $50 budget, created a youtube video series in the humoristic theme, showing off the prowess of their products by blending various items that aren’t meant to blend, like marbles, BigMac, iPhones, and many more.
It was an instant hit, within the first 5 days it went viral reaching 6,000,000 views.
2. Provide a mystery to solve - The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project (a documentary-style movie) provided a mystery - a purportedly true story of 3 missing students allegedly kidnapped by the 200 years old ghost of a Witch. The whole campaign went so well millions of people believed it was true.
The $60,000 budget movie made over $248,400,000 making it the fifth highest-earning independent film of all time. The movie is also considered one of the first viral marketing campaign ever.
3. Make it bizarre - Exploding Kittens
Exploding Kittens is an absurd card game about Magical Enchiladas, Weaponized Back Hair, Rainbow Ralphing Cat, and many more. There’s no better way to stand out, than using bizarre, funny concepts!
The creators of Exploding Kittens new pretty well on how to go viral and collected over $8,000,000 within 30 days on the Kickstarter campaign.
4. Combine contradicting concepts in a new way - Old Town Road, Lil Nas X
From a broke 19-year-old to a worldwide phenomenon, within 2 months - that’s the story of Lil Nas X who combined catchy country tune with some rap.
Twitter and TikTok played a huge part in his virality, but that's a whole different story.
The controversy around the mixed themes (hip hop and country music) of the Old Town Road brought a lot of attention to it.
The song went viral and broke Billboard's record for longest-running hip-hop song on the charts.
5. Fill the void - Dad, how do I?, Youtube channel
The idea for the “Dad, how do I” youtube channel was to reach out to those who needed that “father figure” in their life. A father who would give them advice on: how to shave, play football, repair, and many other things a normal father would teach his kids.
This theme touched millions of lives. People hopped in and made the channel go viral, which resulted in gaining over 2,000,000 subscriptions within a week.
6. Present old, well-known concepts in a new way - Among Us
The Among Us game was inspired by a well-known party social, deduction game, "Mafia", which is alternatively known as "Werewolf" or "Secret Hitler". Multiplayer games like this one, were a huge hit during the pandemic, when people were stuck at homes.
The old, well-known concept, packed in new way, along with great timing resulted in virality and over 250,000,000 downloads worldwide.
7. Ride a viral trend (Real-time marketing) - istheshipstillstuck.com
In 2020 the container ship “Ever Given” got stuck in the Suez Canal. This event has lead to a traffic jam of over 200 vessels which lasted 6 days. It is estimated that this event had created collective global economy losses for as much as $59 billion.
The creator of the website spotted a chance on how to go viral and take advantage of the buzz around the topic.
The website answered the popular question “is the ship still stuck”, leading to bringing over 50,000,000 visits to the website within 5 days.
8. Gamify experience - DoNothingFor2Minutes.com
The donothingfor2minutes.com website provided an almost blank page with a statement "do nothing for 2 minutes" and a counter. Each time a user moved a mouse or clicked the keyboard the counter restarted. That's it.
There is something unexplainably compelling about competing against one another. Some scientists argue, “competitiveness” is a biological trait that co-evolved with the basic need for survival. Simple rules create the most engaged players. The website provided a friction-free challenge right away you visited it. In our ever-rushing world, many wanted to test themselves.
The website attracted over 2,000,000 users within the first 10 days.
9. Hack the system - The Shed at Dulwich
Oobah Butler was a mastermind behind the non-existent restaurant that went viral because it became TripAdvisor's no.1 in London. He took advantage of TripAdviser’s loophole which allowed him and his friends to massively produce high-quality, fake reviews to a non-existent place he registered earlier.
This led him to worldwide fame and interviews in the mainstream TV channels all over the world.
10. Tap into already established audience - Airbnb's Obama O's & Cap’n McCain's
During the 2008 elections, Airbnb's founders created a limited edition, election candidates themed cereal boxes called “Obama O's” and “Cap’n McCain's”.
Their cereal boxes went viral and made over $30,000 in a week.
11. Tap into nostalgia - PokémonGO
PokemonGO app made few generations of Pokémon lovers go crazy about catching their favourite pocket monsters in real life using AR. It was an instant hit from the very start.
It's a book example on how to go viral and make your project successful.
The game made over $200,000,000 in the first month.
12. Create a buzz/controversy around the founder - Elon Musk, Richard Branson
Founders like Elon Musk or Richard Branson make a buzz around their companies by creating controversies around themselves and viral stunts.
This worked wonders, as Tesla is now worth over trillion dollars.
13. Labour illusion - People value things more when they see the work behind them - Beeple
Beeple is a creator who published a high-quality artwork every day for 5000 consecutive days. He updated his audience regularly through social media.
The last picture, that was made out of those 5000 artworks was then transformed into an NFT and then sold for $69,000,000.
Who doesn’t like little, constantly moving objects? Fidget spinners took advantage of our quirk - the need to mildly stimulate our brains to engage fully and maintain focus on the primary activity we participate in.
There were cases of teenagers who made more than $300,000 in 6 weeks from this craze.
Fidget Spinners are a perfect examples of a FAD that went insanely viral within a very short amount of time, and then died a few months after that.
15. Change people's perception of themselves - Faceapp
Faceapp is a photo editing mobile app that used AI to transform people’s faces to look young or old. It took advantage of our internal desire of exploring different facets of ourselves. We want to see, how differently can we look, what can we change.
This single feature made people download this app 63,000,000 times in a single month, and 150,000,000 times overall.
16. Having an audience - MrBeast Burgers
Nov 19, 2020, Mr. Beast, a YouTuber with the fastest-growing channel and over 65M subscribers, opened Mr. Beast Burger, a restaurant chain. With literally no advertising except branding, the restaurant’s app quickly went viral and became #1 on App Store.
Mr. Beast approximately made over $720,000 in a month from this gig.
17. Influencer marketing - Nerdy Nuts
A small, family-owned peanut butter business collaborated with 2 TikTok influencers who had over 500,000 followers at a time.
This single collaboration got their business from $7,000 to $1,000,000 in 4 months.
18. Waitlist - Robinhood
How to go viral with a commission-free trading app? Robinhood did just that. A year before the app was launched, the founders Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt have created a simple waitlist with a sign-up form, saying "Commission-free trading, stop paying up to $10 per trade”.
In the first week, the waitlist collected over 50,000 emails. After a year, when the app launched, the waitlist already gathered almost 1,000,000 users.
19. Apple store pre-order - Poparazzi
The Poparazzi app went viral by leveraging the Apple store pre-order feature, which allows new apps to build demand before they officially launch. Pre-ordering an app means that the users will be notified when the app becomes available, and it will be downloaded automatically within 24h from the release.
Within 2 months, Poparazzi collected over 500,000 people in pre-orders. When the app launched, it got downloaded by all the people who pre-ordered, taking it straight to the top #1 spot in 24 countries.
As you can already assume, this made the app go even more viral. And 2 days later, Poparazzi app got valued at $135,000,000.
20. Consistently providing viral quality content - Logan Paul
Logan Paul learned how to make viral content on a daily basis. The compounding effect made it grow faster and faster with every video he uploaded.
The result was a whooping 10,000,000 youtube subscriptions within a year.
21. Networking effect - WhatsApp
Apps like WhatsApp need at least 2 people to make it work. You can’t talk to another person without them having this app on their phone. The more people got WhatsApp, the easier it is for users to use it, making the user both a promoter and beneficiary of the app.
WhatsApp reached over 250,000 users within the first 6 months.
22. Referral programs - Dropbox
Dropbox introduced a 2-sided referral program very early on. The referral program offered an additional 500MB for both you and each referred friend. Other than this, every user had easy access to the information about the status of their referrals. This made them more involved in the referring process.
This referral program made Dropbox box viral and attracted over 4,000,000 users in less than 2 years.
23. Visible to everyone - Hotmail
Hotmail was the first FREE email service. Launched in 1996, it had its first 100 registered users just in the first hour of being on the run.
An important matter was that Hotmail added a viral feature which was a short tag in each email's footer, no matter who sent it to whom. This way, every active user „advertised” HotMail just by normally sending emails to friends and family.
This simple viral strategy boosted Hotmail's visibility and granted them a $400,000,000 valuation within 1.5 years.
24. Make people famous - TikTok
TikTok is the easiest platform to go viral. There's a ton of examples where people reached 100k followers within the first month or even a week!
Lil Nas X, Charli d’Amelio, Khaby Lame and thousands of other creators owe their fame to TikTok.
Making creators famous helped TikTok gather over 100,000,000 users within the first 500 days.
25. The party is here - tbh app
Tbh was a social media app providing polls for young teenagers. The app was addictive, but what's more important it had a restricted access based on location.
The vibes of exclusivity made the app go viral and created a huge demand for this app among teens.
Within the first 2 months Tbh app hit 5,000,000 downloads and got acquired by Facebook for $30,000,000.
The biggest viral projects included more than 2 strategies at once
PokemonGo app included at least 6 viral strategies:
- It brought nostalgia - Pokemon were invented in 1998.
- Tapped into already established audience - Pokemon brand has dozen millions of fans around the globe.
- Presented old concept in a new way - Every Poke maniac had a moment in their life when they wanted to be able to catch Pokemons in real life. Now they had their chance.
- It was visible to everyone - You could very easily see people catching pokemons on the streets.
- The party was right there - People didn't want to miss a chance to be a part in this. The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) was huge!
- Gamified experience - PokemonGO app is a one huge gamified experience with at least a dozen gamified features.
Among Us included at least 4 viral strategies:
- Presented old concept in a new way - Among Us game was inspired by a well-known party social, deduction game called Mafia. They just moved this game into a virtual world.
- It used influencer marketing - Among Us was first promoted by the Korean streamer named Kevin Choi. Later on more and more influential gamers started to market it.
- It had implemented networking effects - To play Among Us you need at least 3 people, but the fan begins when there's at least 4.
- It filled the void - During the pandemic lockdown people were looking for some ways to interact with their friends in a playful manner. Among Us filled this void.
Window of Opportunity
Viral marketing is achievable if you know the right frameworks, and you don't need a huge budget to do it.
At the same time, going viral even once, can change your business and life entirely. That's why it's always worth a try.
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