How These 10 Marketing Campaigns Became Viral Hits

Jason Ankeny / Entrepreneur.

Getting your brand noticed via social media grows more difficult with each passing day. Users upload 100 hours of video to YouTube every 60 seconds and share more than 4.75 billion pieces of content on Facebook every 24 hours. Add to that 500 million new tweets per day, and the chances of breaking through to a wider audience can seem virtually nonexistent.

But smart, savvy companies of all sizes are still exploding into the mainstream consciousness by creating campaigns that compel consumers to share content with their social graphs. Some campaigns are hilarious; others are heartbreaking. But all contain triggers that get people talking, says Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

“Emotion is one factor that drives sharing. We see lots of funny stuff go viral on YouTube, but we also see angry political rants get shared,” Berger says. “Any emotion that fires us up–humor, awe and excitement, but also anger and anxiety–drives us to share.”

Social media is also the great equalizer: Any company can cut through the clutter, regardless of brand awareness or marketing budget. All it takes is a clever idea and skillful execution. These 10 campaigns are proof.


Awareness as entertainment

Fast-casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill added some spice to its long-running “Food With Integrity” sustainable farming campaign by teaming with Academy Award-winning design firm Moonbot Studios for The Scarecrow, an animated short film and accompanying mobile game created to increase consumer awareness of animal confinement, synthetic growth hormones, toxic pesticides and other fixtures of industrial food production.

The Scarecrow unfolds in a dystopian world in which fictional goliath Crow Foods Incorporated dominates food production, staffing its factory with scarecrows displaced from their jobs on nearby farms. But when one demoralized scarecrow returns home after a brutal workday and picks a bright red pepper (an homage to the Chipotle logo), everything changes: Colors turn brighter, the music ramps up, and the scarecrow regains his zest for life. He harvests more fresh vegetables, travels to the city and opens a burrito stand. The iOS game enables users to wage their own battle against Crow Foods by transporting animals from confinement to open pastures and replanting the fallow fields of Scarecrow Farms.

The short film reached 6.5 million YouTube views less than two weeks after its September 2013 premiere, while the free game reportedly topped 500,000 downloads within about six weeks of landing in Apple’s App Store. At press time, YouTube views had passed 12 million. The game remains installed on untold numbers of iOS devices–and each time consumers open the app, Chipotle tugs at their heartstrings and appeals to their stomachs.


Real women, real rewards

Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign is the new face of viral marketing success. The uplifting promotional video generated record-breaking online interest, yielding more than 114 million views the first month. This was thanks in part to the Unilever brand’s efforts to spread its message worldwide: Dove uploaded the video in 25 languages to 33 of its official YouTube channels, reaching consumers in more than 110 countries.

“Real Beauty Sketches” aims to underline the stark contrast between how women view themselves and what others see. According to data cited by Dove, 54 percent of women worldwide confess to being their own worst critic of how they look. The video features Gil Zamora, an FBI-trained forensic artist who draws a series of women from out of sight behind a curtain, completing the sketches based on each woman’s verbal description of her appearance. Zamora also created drawings based on strangers’ accounts of the same women. In most cases, the sketches based on the strangers’ perspectives corresponded to more accurate and flattering depictions than those based on the women’s own self-effacing descriptions.

“Real Beauty Sketches” struck a chord with consumers, generating close to 3.8 million shares in its first month online and adding 15,000 new subscribers to Dove’s YouTube channel over the following two months. Its impact spread across traditional media as well, resulting in an onslaught of print features, broadcast news segments and online discussions, not to mention more than a dozen parody videos. In June 2013 Dove and agency partner Ogilvy & Mather Brasil took home the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity’s highest honor, the Titanium Grand Prix, solidifying “Real Beauty Sketches” as the viral campaign against which others are judged.


The inner child that keeps on giving

Evian’s babies are giants across the digital-marketing landscape. Danone’s luxury water brand earned its first taste of viral immortality with 2009’s “Roller Babies,” which featured CGI infants tackling extreme roller-skating stunts. One of the first YouTube-exclusive campaigns by a major brand, the clip earned a spot in the Guinness World Records as the most viewed online ad ever, with more than 25 million views in less than two months.

Evian has continued to nurture the concept of CGI-aided babies performing outlandish stunts: “Baby Inside” followed in 2011, and in April 2013 the company went back to the well for “Baby & Me,” which features adult actors who bear an uncanny resemblance to the tiny stars. “Baby & Me” notched 50 million YouTube views and 100 million total views within a matter of weeks, bolstered by a dedicated Facebook page, a sweepstakes to promote the ad and other promotional tools.

Evian didn’t stop there. In May the company introduced a Baby & Me mobile app that enables iOS and Android users to “baby-fy” their photos, revealing their inner child, and share the results across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the global hashtag #evianbabyandme. Most viral campaigns are one-and-done sensations, but Evian’s babies never seem to grow old.


Crowdsourced crunch

Lay’s created a feeding frenzy across the social media landscape with “Do Us a Flavor,” challenging consumers to create new Lay’s potato-chip flavors for the chance to win $1 million or 1 percent of the winning chip flavor’s net sales.

Rolled out to U.S. junk-food junkies in mid-2012, the campaign generated close to 4 million flavor ideas through a Facebook app and SMS. A panel of chefs, celebrity foodies and flavor experts selected three finalists: Cheesy Garlic Bread, Chicken & Waffles and Sriracha. Parent company Frito-Lay developed and released all three and named Cheesy Garlic Bread the winner in May 2013, after more than 1 million consumers voted via Facebook, Twitter or text. (The grand prize went to Karen Weber-Mendham, a children’s librarian from Land O’ Lakes, Wis.)

“Do Us a Flavor” had a twofold benefit for consumers: It let them know that their opinions matter and gave them a voice in product development. The campaign tripled Frito-Lay’s U.S. Facebook fan base and boosted sales by 12 percent nationwide. So it’s no surprise that Lay’s is double-dipping: The contest relaunched in January, allowing would-be tastemakers to choose from four flavor finalists that will be brought to store shelves, each in one of three chip styles: Lay’s Original, Kettle Cooked or Wavy.


Fighting for their rights

GoldieBlox may not have won its fight for the right to parody, but the toy startup scored an unprecedented victory in February, becoming the first small business to air a commercial during the Super Bowl network telecast.

GoldieBlox–which creates storybooks and toys designed to promote science and engineering to young girls–first proved its social media mettle in fall 2012, scoring close to $300,000 via Kickstarter to cover the costs of manufacturing its first wave of products. Late last year GoldieBlox again earned notice across the social sphere, this time with a video featuring three girls playing with its toys while singing alternative lyrics to the Beastie Boys song “Girls.” The clip earned more than 8 million views in one week and Twitter endorsements from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and former Arizona politician Gabrielle Giffords. But the Beastie Boys–who’ve never licensed their music for use in advertising–took exception to the campaign. GoldieBlox sued the Beasties, claiming the video is a parody and covered under fair-use rules; the musicians responded with a countersuit alleging that GoldieBlox infringed their copyright and trademark. (The two sides settled in March, with GoldieBlox agreeing to issue a public apology and make a charitable donation based on a percentage of its revenue to a cause handpicked by the Beasties.)

GoldieBlox is moving on. The company trumped more than 15,000 rival small businesses to win the fan vote in Intuit’s “Small Business Big Game” contest; the accounting-software maker picked up the estimated $4 million cost of a 30-second TV ad that ran during Fox’s Super Bowl XLVIII broadcast. This time GoldieBlox satirized another perennial hit, Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize,” with one major difference: The song was fully licensed.


Hero in action

GoPro’s high-definition personal cameras are synonymous with videos highlighting skateboarding, surfing and other extreme sports, but the company’s “Fireman Saves Kitten” clip set social media ablaze by documenting an altogether different act of daring.

The raw footage originated with Fresno, Calif., firefighter Cory Kalanick, who in mid-2013 rescued an unconscious cat while wearing GoPro’s HD Hero3 camera attached to his helmet, then uploaded the video to YouTube, where it attracted 1.5 million views in the weeks to follow (although the kitten perished from smoke inhalation). That fall, GoPro recut the footage, added its logo and rereleased it on its own YouTube channel; this time, the emotionally charged clip reached a far wider audience, racking up 5 million views in a week.

“Fireman Saves Kitten” succeeds on multiple levels. The clip is both heartbreaking and life-affirming, demonstrating the GoPro camera in action and underlining how effectively the product captures memorable moments. And it’s not only daredevils and cat lovers taking notice: Chinese electronics giant Foxconn acquired an 8.88 percent stake in GoPro in late 2012 for $200 million, and the firm filed for an IPO this February.


An honest plug

Madison Avenue has always struggled to market feminine-hygiene products, favoring euphemisms like “protection” and “freshness” alongside images of women frolicking on beaches in white pants. Monthly tampon-subscription service HelloFlo rewrote the rules with “The Camp Gyno,” which tackles the subject with honesty, humor and heart.

The video features a preteen girl who gets her first “red badge of courage” while attending summer camp and becomes the camp’s de facto gynecologist, distributing tampons to her bunkmates. The power trip goes to her head–“This is your life now,” she sneers to another girl suffering from cramps–but the reign of terror ends with the arrival of HelloFlo “care packages” containing tampons, pantyliners and even candy.

HelloFlo launched in March 2013 and attracted scant attention until “The Camp Gyno” hit YouTube last summer. Within 24 hours of going online, the video was named “Ad of the Day” by Adweek; other media outlets celebrated the clip’s no-nonsense approach as well. In all, “The Camp Gyno” attracted close to 6 million views in its first month online–not too shabby for a video reportedly produced on a budget of just $6,000.


The puerile principle

With revenue continuing its long, steady decline, Kmart teamed with ad agency FCB to reenergize its much-maligned brand, promoting its product-delivery program by appealing to the giggly 12-year-old in all of us.

The “Ship My Pants” online video embraces sophomoric wordplay to inform customers that items that are out of stock in Kmart stores may now be shipped directly to their homes for free. “I just shipped my pants, and it’s very convenient!” enthuses one elderly shopper; another proclaims, “I just shipped my bed!” While some viewers called it “gross” and “vulgar,” the spot racked up some 20 million YouTube views by the end of last year, at one point yielding one share for every nine views–proof positive that schoolyard humor never goes out of style.

FCB followed “Ship My Pants” with the equally punny “Big Gas Savings” spot, as well as commercials that revived “Yo Mama” jokes and featured a branded Kmart rap. The tongue-in-cheek approach convinced Kmart to retain FCB as its agency of record but wasn’t enough to boost the retail chain’s flagging fortunes: Despite the widely viewed campaigns, revenue sagged 3.7 percent in 2013.

Playworld Systems

Context through a contest

Playground and fitness equipment manufacturer Playworld Systems jumped into the social media sandbox with “Write to Play,” giving away two commercial playgrounds through its Facebook page. The contest required entrants to complete an online form with a brief essay explaining why they hoped to “bring play” to their communities and a photo depicting where they thought the playground should be installed.

After Playworld selected six finalists, consumers who “liked” the company’s Facebook page were able to vote for the community or school they considered most deserving; Parker’s Woods park in Mason City, Iowa, and St. Norbert School in Northbrook, Ill., were the winners.

“Write to Play” heralded Playworld’s first-ever social media giveaway, and the results are impressive: Not only did its Facebook fan base increase from 600 to more than 9,000 during the two months the contest ran, but as finalists rallied to gain community support for their campaigns, many local news outlets reported on their efforts, earning Playworld significant free publicity in the process.


Toilet humor

Bathroom spray deodorizer Poo-Pourri redefined the sweet smell of success with its hit viral video “Girls Don’t Poop,” which vaulted the product from kitschy novelty to mainstream sensation.

“Girls Don’t Poop” elevates toilet humor to new levels: The YouTube clip depicts an otherwise elegant young lady discussing her lavatory behaviors in intimately hilarious and oddly poetic detail, asking, “How can you make the world believe your poop doesn’t stink? Or, in fact, that you never poop at all?” The solution: Poo-Pourri, whose proprietary formula creates a protective barrier across the surface of the toilet-bowl water, halting foul odors from coming into contact with the air.

Soon after its September 2013 online debut, the clip was spotlighted on sites like The Huffington Post and Jezebel; from there it attracted the attention of national radio personalities Ryan Seacrest and Howard Stern. In just a week the video fueled 6 million views and more than 278,000 shares, meaning that about one in every 22 viewers passed the clip along to their social media followers. “Girls Don’t Poop” ultimately increased Poo-Pourri’s Facebook fan base by 354 percent.

The Mechanics of Sharing

Unlocking the process and power of word-of-mouth

Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis may never learn what the fox says, but its video posing that musical question solved a far greater mystery: the secret behind viral media success.

“The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?),” released in September 2013, received some 40 million online views in its first two weeks and scored an astounding 276 million by December, becoming YouTube’s top trending video of the year.

Silly, bizarre and undeniably catchy, “The Fox” went viral simply by provoking a powerful reaction across a range of demographics. And that visceral response is what separates viral breakouts from busts, according to Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

“There is a science behind why people share. It’s not chance, and it’s not random,” Berger says. “If you understand the underlying science of human behavior, you can predict what people are going to pass on, and you can craft your own contagious content–whether it’s messages, products or ideas–that people are more likely to spread.”

Berger has spent years investigating the mechanics behind virality, identifying six key drivers under the acronym STEPPS. They are Social Currency (e.g., sharing things that make people look good), Triggers (acknowledging that we talk about things that are top-of-mind), Emotion, Public (imitating what we see others do), Practical Value (news people can use) and Stories (information passed along under the guise of idle chitchat).

“Each [driver] is a research-tested principle that increases the likelihood that people will talk about and share things, that brands get word-of-mouth, that services get shared and that videos get passed along the internet,” Berger explains. “We can reliably say that including certain characteristics and messages will increase the number of people who share [content] and the likelihood it will be shared.”

Understanding and leveraging these drivers does not guarantee a successful campaign, however. “Part of the problem with chasing this idea of ‘viral’ is that people build content that doesn’t have anything to do with the brand,” Berger contends. “You can make a really funny video, and people will laugh, but if it doesn’t have anything to do with the service you’re offering or the product you’re selling, it’s not going to impact sales. Too many companies and organizations are chasing good content without understanding how to make it help the brand.”

In fact, he argues that small businesses should worry less about going viral on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter and more about generating buzz in the real world. “Sometimes [companies] focus too much on the technology and not enough on the psychology,” he points out. “Only a little bit of word-of-mouth is online. Technologies will come and go, so rather than getting fixated on a particular technology, you need to understand why people share, regardless of the technology they’re using. Every person who buys from you, every service that works with you, every person who goes to your website–how can you make them more likely to talk about you, share you and bring in new business? You want to turn your customer base into a marketing department. That’s what word-of-mouth does.”

February 2, 2015 / by / in , , , , , , ,
Why Your Content Isn’t Going Viral (Infographic)

PR Daily

You wrote a kick-butt blog post.

You worked for days on that video.

You stretched all of your graphic design muscles to make an infographic.

And no one shared any of it.

Ouch. You have good content, but it just can’t seem to get any shares.

It doesn’t have to be that way anymore. Who Is Hosting This has an infographic that explains why your content won’t go viral, and how you can make it do so next time. Here are a couple of the infographic’s tips:

1. Appeal to emotions.

People share emotionally charged content. To make your content appeal to people’s emotions:

Write a headline that gets people to question themselves or their habits.
Present a new angle on an old topic.
Touch your audience’s pain points, and offer solutions.
Example: The “Charlie Bit Me” video went viral because it was funny and featured children. Parents could relate to children biting each other, and the things kids do tend to make people laugh.

2. Ensure your content is shareable.

Creating share-worthy content is easier than you probably think. Here are a few ways to do it:

Provide social currency: People will share content that makes them look good to others.
Tell a story: Make your content part of a larger story or conversation currently taking place.
Make people feel special: People like to feel as though they are insiders. Giving them information others don’t yet have can make them more inclined to share.
Example: The time-lapse video of a woman being transformed by Photoshop went viral because it played into a larger conversation about the ethics of Photoshopping ads.

For more ways to make your content go viral, check out the full infographic:

Why Your Content Isn't Going Viral (Infographic)

February 2, 2015 / by / in , , , , , , ,
6 Changes Your 2015 SEO Strategy Must Focus On


By Entrepreneur.

SEO is constantly changing. New updates are released, new trends are discussed and new strategies are developed. It is something that will constantly evolve.

In 2014 alone, there have already been 13 updates to Google’s algorithm, according to Moz’s change history. These are just the notable and more public ones — there are refreshes and changes almost daily behind the scenes.

My company, Market Domination Media, is constantly adjusting SEO strategies for our clients based on a number of factors. We recently sat down and discussed the biggest changes that SEO efforts are going to need to adjust to as we enter 2015. Let’s look at six of them right now:

1. Create and optimize for mobile traffic

Back in 2012 ComScore predicted that mobile traffic would exceed desktop traffic in 2014, and they were correct. Google has always said that it feels responsive websites provide the best user experience, and recently starting including a “mobile-friendly” notation next to websites in mobile search results that are indeed mobile friendly.

You can see if your website passes Google’s mobile-friendly test by clicking here. Bing has also stated it prefers a single responsive URL.

2. Optimizing for Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo

Could 2015 be the year that some other search engines begin to take more market share? It seems like this is the million-dollar question every year, but some recent developments suggest that it could be possible.

Firefox kicked Google to the curb and Yahoo will now be the default search engine for the browser. Google’s deal is also up with Safari in 2015, and reports have both Bing and Yahoo trying to secure that spot. The option to switch default browsers in iOS 8 and OS X from Google to DuckDuckGo also exists.

With options other than Google becoming more popular and accepted it will make it important to have visibility across these search engines in addition to just Google.

3. Switch your focus from keyword rankings to ROI metrics

If you or your SEO company is still putting an emphasis on keyword rankings and determining the success of the campaign based on keyword positions, then it is time for a major wake up call. Ranking reports can be made to look pretty and some SEO companies will even target useless keywords just to say, “Hey look — you are ranking number one!”

If you are a business owner spending money every month on SEO, what would you rather hear from your SEO agency?

  • “Congratulations, you are ranking number one for ‘buy blue widgets online’ but we aren’t sure what that translates into dollar wise.”
  • “The infographic that we published last month resulted in earning 67 links and it was also responsible for 45 conversions and $22,480 in revenue.”

Do you want a fancy PDF ranking report or do you want to know what your return on investment was?

4. More focused social-media approach

Social media was once just a platform to share content, so businesses would sign up for every social platform under the sun and blast their content everywhere. Social media is now a marketing channel as well as a customer-service channel. Your social audience expects your brand to engage with them on a more personal level.

It is more effective to focus on two or three social-media platforms and be very active and accommodating. This not only helps you generate more leads, sales and revenue, but it also helps to build a very loyal following that will share your content. This can introduce new people to your brand and even present opportunities to earn links.

5. Earning links rather than building links

Through all of the updates and algorithm changes over the years one thing remains the same: inbound links are the most influential signal of trust and authority. This isn’t going to change — not in 2015 or anytime soon.

The days of building links on irrelevant blogs and chasing large quantities of links to game the search results are over. Earning a single link on a high-quality relevant website is valuable for multiple reasons including SEO, attracting referral traffic, leads, sales and branding exposure. Look for traditional PR and SEO to work closer together in 2015.

6. Targeting more precise keywords and search phrases

The days of targeting broad keywords are coming to an end. While they tend to have a huge search volume, they don’t attract highly targeted traffic and they are expensive to rank. Targeting long-tail search queries not only attracts qualified “buyer” traffic, but these terms will typically have much less competition. Keyword research along with understanding the shopping and purchase patterns of the target consumer can help to identify search terms and phrases to go after.

Businesses will always crave organic search traffic, and search-engine optimization is the vehicle to drive that highly coveted traffic. What are some SEO changes that you foresee in 2015? 

February 2, 2015 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
How (and Why) to Take Advantage of Being First on New Social-Media Platforms

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty / Entrepreneur.

Founder of MyBlogU, Brand Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas

With a few trendy social media networks having popped up recently, we have yet again faced the old challenges: Is it worth building your presence within social media startups? And how do you scale the social media early adoption strategy?

Being a social media early adopter has lots of obvious benefits. The two the most important ones are:

1. You can start building your network earlier and you’ll be an old-timer before everyone else joined.

2. You will have new and organically trending content to blog about. You can become known as an insider and an expert.

There are lots of examples of how social media power users thrive, thanks to their decision to join a network in the early days. One such example is courtesy of @dannybuntu: When Google Plus launched, Chris Brogan almost immediately started a webinar that took off like crazy because Google Plus was a hot trend at that point. Thousands joined in and actually paid to attend the webinar.

Edwin Dearborn has shared his personal early adoption success story: “I was an early adopter when LinkedIn announced their blogging format earlier this year. To date, I have written 48 articles on that format. Within that time I have gained over 1,000 new followers on LinkedIn, as well as speaking engagements offered to me from that exposure. Moreover, I have seen my followers grow in Twitter as a direct result.

Early adopters learn the ropes sooner, as well as position themselves as thought leaders. What an important branding weapon. It is not only important to adopt early, but truly become proficient within the space the one now occupies. It is not enough to simply join, one has to participate and demonstrate competence.”

Joining a social media network early is great for building your authority and discovering new connections and opportunities but how to find time for always emerging social media startups? You can’t just join, you should be there to make it work.

Here’s a four-step strategy that will help you develop an effective social media early adoption strategy:

1. Set up your profile everywhere

Greg DiVilbiss has a very smart strategy here: “It is impossible to know if a new platform is going to be viable or not. I usually join the ones I find out about at least to have a profile. Most of them fizzle out. However, if they take off I am on the ground floor in terms of knowing what is going on.”

Related: New Study Details Who Is Using Social Media and When

2. Get involved when the service has started taking off

Just being there (as Greg suggested) will let you keep an eye on what’s going on: Your friends joining and finding you to connect is a good sign the service is slowly taking off, for example.

Paul Shapiro suggests being strategic at devoting your time to every other startup you are joining: Only do that when you start seeing some activity. He wrote, “At some point though, you’ll be able to get a sense if that platform is going somewhere. If people are signing up, actually using it, and coming back frequently you might want to devote some additional resources to that network.”

3. Branch out

If you are joining startup social media networks, chances are you are not a newbie to the social media world. This means you can always use your existing, established profiles to help your new account take off.

Find your friends on new networks (and possibly connect to their friends as well). Pinterest adoption was very smooth thanks to that. They let you find your Facebook friends on Pinterest easily. Neither Tsu nor Ello let you search for your friends from elsewhere, so I started by announcing I am there on my major accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus), connecting to those who replied and going through their friends. We had a lot in common!

Cross-posting is another good way to grow your new profile faster. Both Pinterest and Tsu allow to auto-share updates to Twitter and Facebook which (if used moderately and creatively) is an efficient way to encourage your old friends to connect to you on new networks.

4. Learn to identify opportunities that benefit your career

That’s not something you’ll learn fast but once you are an experienced early adopter, you’ll learn to identify opportunities that suit your career better. I don’t really mean trying to tell if the platform is going to take off (no one can ever be sure) – I mean trying to tell if the platform will help you reach your career goals.

Brandon Schaefer puts it very well: “…right now I’m an ‘early adopter’ with some of Canva’s latest updates and it’s definitely increasing my exposure amongst my peers. Being an early adopter to large or trending companies definitely has its advantages. My suggestion is that you only take advantage of the best opportunities and don’t get stuck wasting your time with other not so relevant ‘early adopter’ opportunities.”

February 2, 2015 / by / in , , , , , , ,
Contrary to Popular Belief, These Popular Social-Media Habits Are Bad for Your Brand


Build a community around your organization. Tell your company’s stories. Humanize your brand.

Contrary to popular belief, this is all bad advice.

If you’re staring at your screen incredulously or are about to write an angry comment, hold on a minute.David Spark, founder of Spark Media Solutions, recently published an ebook filled with 50 pieces of social media advice that, over the years, has gone sour.

The book, “Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend,” lists 50 behaviors communicators should stop. Spark shared with us the five he thinks are the most controversial.

Before you come after us with torches and pitchforks, hear him out.

1. Stop focusing on your nonexistent community.

“Very few companies truly have a community,” Spark says. “It’s kind of a misnomer.”

The book explains that true communities are in places like churches, synagogues or little league teams. People join these communities because they’re passionate about a certain topic and want to talk about it.

People don’t typically form communities around brands. They follow brands on social media not because they want to talk to each other about their passion for the brand, but simply because they’re fans.

Spark uses Oreo, which has thousands of fans, as an example: “They don’t want to talk so much to each other as a community. People talk to each other to make jokes or share something here and there, but they’re not truly a community.”

Instead of focusing on nurturing a community, B.J. Mendelson, author of “Social Media is Bullshit,” recommends creating good content that can help people. He says in the book: “I don’t recommend people focus on the ‘community.’ The only thing that matters, and arguably ever mattered, was generating good material and then using the media to get it in front of the right people.”

2. Stop telling your stories.

“This is going to be a pretty controversial one, I know,” Spark admitted. He also acknowledged that for everything the book tells people to stop doing, he knows there are still good reasons to do them.

That said, Spark explained why stories are not always necessary: “There are many brands and products out there for which we do not need to know their story. And yet I’m a very, very happy consumer. People consume products and buy products all the time not knowing–never knowing–the story.”

Lisa Barone, vice president of strategy at Overit, puts it this way in the book: “Don’t assume all your customers want to be tied into your every action or that they care about you. Some just want your news, or your offers, or, more likely, your discounts to your products.”

3. Stop pitching bloggers you don’t know.

“I get these mass emails that just say, ‘Would you like to talk to our CEO of company XYZ?’ Spark explained. “And, sure, if you send a thousand of those emails, one or two people are going to respond and say yes. Kind of like if you put something on Craig’s List asking for anonymous sex, one or two people would probably come back and say yes.”

How’s that for an analogy?

Spark’s point is that you shouldn’t waste time sending generic mass emails and hoping for the best when, instead, you could be building relationships with journalists and bloggers who will then pay attention when you pitch them.

“Discover people now,” Marshall Kirkpatrick, CEO of Little Bird, says in the book. “Get to know them over time … and then pitch them later once you’re a known and respected entity.”

4. Stop humanizing your brand.

“Stop humanizing your brand” doesn’t translate to “be stuffy and corporate.” It just means you should consider the differences between humans and brands, and act with discretion.

“Humans bicker, brands shouldn’t; humans behave frivolously, brands shouldn’t,” Joe Chernov, vice president of marketing for Kinvey, says in the book.

Chernov goes on to say that humanizing a brand was good advice initially when brands acted too corporate on social media, but now, “I see brands sharing absurdist memes or making politically charged statements, and I realize it’s time to reintroduce a measure of sobriety into our corporate feeds.”

5. Stop ignoring people who don’t agree with you.

It happens–some customers aren’t always happy with your product, website, what you wrote on the blog, the way you handled something, etc. But you shouldn’t ignore them simply because the two of you don’t see eye to eye.

“If we have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with one of our users, we will usually have a fan for life,” said Ethan Austin, co-founder of GiveForward, in the book. He admits that most of GiveForward’s most loyal users were once complainers. “We treat every email, complaint, or inquiry about the site as an opportunity to inject humanity into the conversation and win over a customer,” says Austin.

“Now, granted,” Spark added, “if they respond back, ‘You’re a moron. Go away,’ don’t respond. But if it’s a thoughtful response, obviously you respond.”To see all 50 tips, you can download the ebook here.

February 2, 2015 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
How to Make Your Content Go Viral

Al Lautenslager
Al Lautenslager / Entrepreneur.

In Market Like You Mean It, marketing expert Al Lautenslager explains how you can engage your customers, create brand believers and gain fans for everything you sell. In this edited excerpt, the author discusses the amazing popularity of the uncommon videos a company produced of its very common product.

What makes you share something with someone else? Usually it’s something that was interesting, outrageous, hilarious, cool or unusual, or perhaps it was an idea that helped you in some way, saved you money or saved you time.

What really made you share, however, was a desire to have someone else feel like you did when you discovered whatever it was you wanted to share. Human nature causes us all to want others to feel like us. Products and services that connect with us on an emotional level are the ones that get shared the most. As Wharton School marketing professor Jonah Berger puts it, “It’s about the connection you build with your end user psychologically, functionally, personally and emotionally.”

Related: Why Your Content Isn’t Going Viral (Infographic)

Any product or service can be emotional. Take, for example, one of the most ordinary products sold in the kitchenware section of every department store: the blender. One company’s videos of their blender in action have become viral and so talked about that chances are good, you’ve most likely seen one. The marketing lesson here could just be a classic — it’s proof positive that any product can be remarkable and emotional.

Here’s the story: Blendtec is a company that produces commercial blending machines for use in homes, restaurants, smoothie shops, coffee shops and more. The product became popular in a huge way just as the smoothie craze began. It was truly the sharing of videos of this product in action that rocketed the company to stardom. The “Will It Blend?” video phenomenon started when CEO Tom Dickson began testing the power and durability of the drive components in the company’s home blenders. With no budget and a video camera in hand, Dickson recorded demonstrations showing the blender blending the unexpected (like an iPhone) and then put them on YouTube. The videos exploded in popularity almost overnight. Within the first five days, the videos were viewed more than six million times. To date, the blending videos have been viewed more than 100 million times.

Viewing videos is one thing, but what about people being motivated to take action as a result? Five years after the videos hit, retail sales have increased by more than 700 percent. Telling someone the blender was powerful was one thing, but seeing it blend almost anything for real was what led to the product’s explosion. It truly was remarkable–the factor that gets products and services talked about most.

Here are a few more reasons people talked about the Blendtec videos:

  • There were no limits imposed. This implies a tremendous guarantee of performance, a primary characteristic of a remarkable product.
  • The story is easy to find and share. Blendtec engages with its community on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and its blog and website.
  • What’s being shown is unique and outrageous. Add these components to a little humor, and people will talk.
  • The product stands up to the test. Marketing a bad product always ends up a disaster. Marketing–especially in an outrageous fashion–a remarkable product ends up a resounding success.

Social sharing can exert tremendous influence, and thanks to technology, it’s more popular than ever. It’s now about technical amplification connecting humans to humans.

Related: How These 10 Marketing Campaigns Became Viral Hits 

People love to pass along anything that helps others avoid pain, sleep at night or motivates them to go the extra mile. One of the immediate emotional connections that happened with the Blendtec blender demo was that the brand was humanized. Humanizing in marketing creates a connection on an emotional level. People do business with people, not icons, logos or business names. Seeing that the people behind a company are real and “just like us” gives the company the human voice and face needed to forge an emotional connection. In the Blendtec videos, the CEO engages, uses humor and is simply a real person.

Emotions should follow the marketing messaging. That means not holding back, talking about true feelings, not sugarcoating the negative, and not just showcasing the positive. The phrase “keep it real” is a good barometer of the emotional connection you’re trying to strike in your own marketing messaging. The humans involved in the humanizing should not sound like marketers at all. A customer should almost be able to forget that she’s being marketed to when viewing a video, ad or other content.


February 2, 2015 / by / in , , , , , , ,
Here are the most popular words used in viral headlines

Dwindling Newspaper Sales Echo Through Economy

By Kevan Lee / Buffer

There is no one way to create viral content.

So many different variables go into a viral post—timing, emotion, engagement, and so many others that you cannot control. There is no viral blueprint. The greatest chance we have to understand viral content is to study the posts and places that do it best, figure out what worked for them, and try it for ourselves.

Thanks to some incredible work by the team at Ripenn, we have access to headline analysis from four of the top viral sites on the web—who happen to be really good at headline writing. Based on this information—plus a little extra from our own Buffer favorites—we can get a glimpse into the science of how to write a great headline and what words to choose.

The top words used in viral headlines

The headline data from Ripenn came from four of the most click-worthy sites on the web—BuzzFeed, ViralNova, UpWorthy and Wimp. Each of these sites receives more than 4,000,000 monthly unique visits, and headlines are a big reason why.

To give some variety to the list, I added the top headlines from 20 different tech, social media and productivity sites that we find ourselves reading and sharing often here at Buffer—sites like Seth Godin, 99u, Social Media Explorer and more (the full list is available in spreadsheet form)—for an additional 400 headlines to be analyzed.

In total, I examined 3,016 headlines from 24 top content sites. Here are the most popular words found in their headlines.

(The table at left shows common words—articles, prepositions, pronouns, etc.—and the table at right shows less common, more specific words—nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.)

Screen shot 2014 03 13 at 3.32.52 PM Here are the most popular words used in viral headlinesScreen shot 2014 03 13 at 2.30.57 PM Here are the most popular words used in viral headlinesClick here to see a more complete list of top words beyond the 50 mentioned above.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

Analyzing top headlines: Which words stand out?

There’s a lot to glean from here, and everyone has a unique way of implementing data like this on their site. Although you can interpret this data any number of different ways, here are my top observations.

You and Your

Content’s No. 1 goal is to help other people. This is evident in the viral headlines examined here. “You” was the No. 5 most popular word, and we find “your” in the Top 20 as well. Combined, these two pronouns appeared in 16 percent of all the headlines in this study.

What does this say about viral headlines? They seek to add value for you, the reader. Make content about the reader, not about the writer.

You and Your examples from the study include:

  • What Would You Buy With an Extra $12,000?
  • A Chart About Silence That Will Leave You Speechless
  • 6 Things You Need to Know Today

Academic research supports this concept. A Norwegian business school experimented with different headline structures, including referential headlines, rhetorical headlines, and declarative headlines. They found that question headlines referencing the reader were the most effective.


The power of “this” is in its specificity. When you use “this” in a headline, the reader’s mind switches to a concrete view of whatever you’re talking about, as if the object in question were imminent and attainable. There is an immediacy to the word.

See these three examples of headlines from the study:

  • This Guy Sticks Household Objects in His Beard and It’s Weirdly Mesmerizing
  • This Woman’s Massive Instagram Following Helped Her Launch a Business
  • Is This the Airport of the Future?

What, Which, and When

What do all these words have in common? (OK, I kind of gave away the answer.) They are all about questions.

Here are some examples of question headlines from the study:

  • Which Countries Pay Its Teachers What They’re Worth?
  • Which Old-School Pro Wrestling Legend Are You?
  • What Happens When a Dump Truck Going 50mph Hits a Military-Grade Concrete Barrier?

Copyblogger’s Jerod Morris has preached the value of question headlines before, and his conclusions are definitely supported in this study. What are the advantages of headlines as questions?

It turns out that phrasing headlines in the form of a question … does indeed increase click-through rates. In fact it more than doubles them, on average.


This one, too, could be about questions, but digging deeper into the individual instances of “why” in viral headlines revealed that there’s more here: “Why” promises an explanation. Here are some examples:

  • Why Your Brand Shouldn’t Fear Assigning Authorship
  • Why So Many Creatives Love Working on Trains
  • Why the Best Social Media Education Might Be Right Under Your Nose

Finding out “why” is satisfying to us because of a phenomenon called the curiosity gap. Carnegie Melon University professor George Loewenstein coined this term to describe the gap between what we know and what we want to know. This gap creates something like an itch in your brain, and it can only be “scratched” by learning more (and thus, clicking on the post).

Upworthy cofounder Peter Koechley says the site uses the curiosity gap to create headlines that tells the reader enough to pique curiosity but not enough to give the whole story away.

And these headlines play a huge role in the virality of Upworthy content.

Screen shot 2014 03 17 at 7.02.56 AM Here are the most popular words used in viral headlines


As the number one uncommon word in the headline study, “people” came up a lot and very often in a similar fashion:

  • The most successful people
  • The happiest people
  • The most interesting people

The superlatives in these headlines make promises that the reader finds intriguing. We want to know what the most successful people are doing, how the happiest people live, and what makes the most interesting people interesting.

Similar to some of the single words listed above like “why” and “this,” readers enjoy discovering, learning, and challenging the details behind blanket assertions like this.


You likely know the value of video in content marketing, but in headlines specifically? Turns out that being up front that your post contains video is a good tactic to use when writing your headline.

Many places find a way to stick the word “video” into the headline naturally, but when a natural fit can’t happen, there was no hesitation to place the word at the end surrounded by parentheses or brackets. Some examples:

  • Why You Should Listen First, Market Later (Video)
  • Superstars of Psychology: 10 Best Short Talks (Video)
  • Everything You Need to Know About Facebook Buttons [Video]

The most common viral headline phrases

To take things one step further, I also looked at the top phrases that appeared in these popular headlines. The numbers were smaller here compared to instances of single words, but some patterns did develop. Let’s start with the two-word phrases.

Two-word phrases in viral headlines

Screen shot 2014 03 13 at 2.31.49 PM Here are the most popular words used in viral headlines

The Most

Like the phrase “this is,” there is a certain level of authority when you say “the most.” It also taps into a reader’s argumentative side, giving them an opportunity to challenge you as to whether or not your superlative really rings true.

Previous headline studies—like this one at Startup Moon—show that other words that indicate a comprehensive or superlative resource can lead to success.

The most viral posts also tend to include the following in their titles: Smart, surprising, science, history, hacks (hacking, hackers, etc), huge/ big, critical.

How To

You’ve probably seen and used this one many times over, and for good reason: “How to” is popular because it’s effective. These how-to posts promise a certain level of education, and provided the subject matter has value to the reader, you can expect lots of clicks.

Startup Moon also noticed positive results for posts titled with “beginner’s guide,” “introductory,” and “in 5 minutes,” showing that the blog reading audience loves to learn how to as quickly as possible.

Three-word phrases in viral headlines

Screen shot 2014 03 13 at 2.32.03 PM Here are the most popular words used in viral headlines

The notable ones for me from this list were “what happens when” and “this is what.” Both are explanatory and promise a certain level of discovery.

(And for an even deeper level of phrases, here is a chart of the top four-word phrases.)

Even more viral headline stats

I went ahead and pulled some additional numbers of elements that intrigued me. Ripenn was nice enough to open the data up to a creative commons license for anyone to use with attribution. Dig in. It’s neat to be able to see what kind of insights you can draw from such a deep well of viral data. For instance …

The average length of a viral headline is 62 characters.

To give you an idea of what that might look like, here’s a headline that is 60 characters: The Best Time to Write and Get Ideas, According to Science.

The percentage of headlines with a number was 19 percent.

This shows both the draw of the listicle and the ability of other headlines to still pull big numbers.


After looking at the initial data, Ripenn found seven key commonalities. I’ve reworded them here into some helpful headline tips:

  1. Make the most of current events: Tie your headline to news and newsmakers
  2. Break some “rules” of headline writing, like length
  3. Seek to pique the reader’s curiosity
  4. Never underestimate the emotional factor of a headline
  5. Call the reader to action with direct action words
  6. Make bold claims
  7. Sound like a human, not a robot

Play around with some of the most popular headline words mentioned above to test some new, unique combinations in your own content.

What words stood out to you in this headline study? How do you plan to integrate this with your next headline? Shoot me some links of what you come up with. I’d love to see what you come up with!

March 25, 2014 / by / in , , , , , , ,
Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Simon Sinek presents a simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action, starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers — and as a counterpoint Tivo, which (until a recent court victory that tripled its stock price) appeared to be struggling.

March 14, 2014 / by / in , , , , , , , , , , ,
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