Creating Viral Content
If you have not done so, it is recommended you read over Part 1 – Introduction To Social Media first.
This is the second unit in the social media tutorial series in which we will begin investigating the concept of using social media as part of your overall marketing strategy in the most effective and profitable way possible in a little more depth.
However, before we start looking at the exact ways you can include social media in your marketing efforts, we’ll start by looking at how the two-way nature of social media interaction is not always a good thing…
As suggested in the first module of this tutorial series, the element of social media that sets it apart from earlier manifestations of the Internet is that there is a degree of interaction between users of social media resources.
In other words, these resources allow you to get out there on the Internet in a variety of different ways to tell your story.
This is not always a good thing however, especially if you get things wrong from time to time (which we all do).
For example, most regular Facebook users are very protective about what they see as their site. Blatant marketing is therefore a major-style, almost cataclysmically bad mistake to make.
The problem is that we all see or interpret things differently.
For instance, I have seen examples where information that has been posted to Facebook as helpful content has been flagged by users as ‘aggressive marketing’.
The danger here is that by putting yourself out there on the Internet in an attempt to use social media to expand your business reach, you also expose yourself to potential risks at the same time.
It is therefore essential that you have a network in place which enables you to know exactly what others are saying about you and your business before any major damage is done.
The first tool that you set up for this purpose is Google Alerts.
Make sure that your name, that of your business and any products that you have created are ‘alerted’. As suggested when this resource was highlighted in the previous tutorial, you can receive your alerts as regularly or rarely as you like.
However, given the serious potential damage that detrimental or adverse comments could cause your business, I would suggest that you receive your e-mail at least once a day so that you can keep a close eye on what is going on.
When you get e-mails that are ‘red flagging’ a particular link, open up your delicious account (open a new one for this very purpose if you don’t have one) so you can bookmark each of these links to keep an active eye on them.
Tag each of your bookmarks with the appropriate name (your name, that of your business etc). Make sure that you refer to each of these tags on a regular basis to see what is happening so you can take preventative measures as necessary.
With Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, log into your account at least once a week so you can search for your name and/or that of your business to see whether others are commenting about you or your activities.
In every situation where people are commenting about your activities in a manner that could be damaging, be prepared to engage them – remember that social media is all about interaction, both good and bad – but do so in a friendly, approachable manner.
Present any counterarguments or mitigating factors that you have in a reasonable, well balanced fashion and try to get sense to prevail.
Sometimes it will but sometimes it won’t.
In this case, accept that it is just one unfortunate aspect of using the Internet that you cannot control what everyone thinks or says about you and that the more you put yourself out there, the more you are standing there to be shot at. All you can ever do is present your arguments and evidence for the consideration of others and leave it at that.
The main thing is, whatever you do, do not get involved in a slanging match (no matter how tempting it might be sometimes!) and do not allow any Internet user to goad you to public anger no matter how unreasonable or ridiculous they might be.
Instead, always present a reasonable, well-balanced professional persona and image to everyone you engage with and just accept that you can’t please everyone all of the time!
There are two ways that you establish authority and expertise, or more accurately, there are two ways of doing so that are essentially two different aspects of the same strategy.
The first step towards establishing niche authority is to build a site that looks like an authority resource as far as Google and the other major engines are concerned.
For example, the site should have 10-20 pages which should feature unique content that is all tightly focused on different aspects of your niche market. There would be a professional site map that visitors could use to navigate around your site quickly and easily, with corresponding links to all of the important ‘legal’ pages featuring on your homepage.
If your main site is not a blog (and given the flexibility of WordPress nowadays, there is no reason at all why it shouldn’t be), then you need to make sure that the main site links to a blog page where site visitors can leave comments and suggestions. Remember that social media is all about interaction and without a blog, interaction is very difficult.
Okay, so once you have built a site that is an authority in the niche, what you do next is promote that site by posting information about your content to external resources like major social bookmarking sites.
The actual mechanics and specific requirements of submitting information to the different sites varies from one to the other, but the central essence of submission never changes.
You go to your social bookmarking account to add information about your most recently added site content. You would add the title of the piece, a description of the content and a list of tags so that anyone searching the social site for information like yours finds a link to your site with a tag search.
Using Digg as the example once again, what you want after you have added details of your content to the site is for other people to give that content a ‘thumbs up’ (you want them to ‘Digg’ it). If enough people do so, it pushes your content link onto the homepage, which is when the traffic deluge hits!
It also represents another very significant step towards being regarded as an authority or expert in your niche. If you start getting onto the homepage of any of the leading social bookmarking sites, it is absolutely certain that other social site users in your niche will regard you as a ‘go-to’ guy or girl.
From this point on, the whole thing tends to take on a snowball effect.
More people hear about you and your expertise, they visit your site, subscribe to your mailing list and the whole thing grows virally with little or no further input from you.
From this, one thing should be clear. Whereas in ordinary online marketing terms, you will often hear it said that ‘content is king’, in the world of social media promotion, it is viral content that is the undisputed champion.
Sometimes articles can go viral (my Digg homepage example in the first tutorial was an article). However, articles are not especially viral by definition, especially when compared to other forms of site content or offerings that are far more so.
If you want to take maximum advantage of promoting your business through social media channels, being able to create content that goes viral easily is a major plus point.
Let’s consider some ideas about how you do this.
There are many different forms of content that you can create or design that is naturally suited to taking on a viral life of their own. Listed below are a few of my favorites.
Everyone loves a quiz because human nature dictates that we all want to know how we compare with whatever the quiz is testing.
How else do you explain the popularity of all those ‘Test Your IQ’ cartoon pop-ups that randomly appear when you are browsing so many popular newspaper, magazine and other media sites?
They appear because they work – no matter how many times they see them, people still try again – and advertisers make a lot of money as a result. You can do the same with your own quizzes.
There are many different ways of handling this.
At the most basic level, you can post an article with a quiz in it, ask people to select their best response (usually an A, B or C or a ‘True’ or ‘False’ choice) before providing a link at the bottom of the page to the correct answers. Then you add comments on what the results show based on their score.
The next option is to download a script or program that allows you to install a quiz on your site.
The final option if you have graphic abilities or access to someone who does is to create something a little more exciting visually using Flash.
Incorporating graphics in this way helps to make these quizzes addictive and fun, (often) nonsensical using ‘trivia’ questions that really don’t tell you anything.
But they are fun and meant for sharing, which is of course exactly what you want when you are trying to ‘hook’ others to your site by word of mouth. This is a good example (and look at how many people have given it a Digg at the top left hand corner!):
This is another variation on the same theme. Ask one or two questions and post them out to your list members or through any network that you are a member of asking them to go to the social site concerned to post their answers.
Offer a prize (or a few if you have them) and you can sometimes get hundreds of people involved, especially in a contest that requires a bit of imagination and/or humor.
For instance, I used to run regular weekend quizzes where I’d take a phrase – often something related to a news story – and reduce it to acronyms. Site visitors then had to guess the story and the first correct answer (or the nearest) won the prize.
So this headline from the London ‘Times’ this morning becomes ‘VDCRTL’:
People guess and the closest to the right answer or maybe the funniest gets a prize. If you have any good quality PLR software programs on your machine, they work great – software is always seen as a value offering – and they do not cost you a penny.
It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you give people an incentive to come back to your site every week and you encourage them to bring their friends.
If you can find really touching, appealing, shocking, scary or funny images to add to your site, this is another very effective way of drawing viral visitors to your site.
As long as the images promote a genuine reaction from those visitors, people who visit your site will ‘bookmark’ or Digg your content and thereby encourage other social site members to do the same.
For example, I’ve had a series of images of a tiger killing a massive croc on my PC for a long time because it’s the kind of thing you aren’t going to see very often (and yes, the tiger did get croc delight for dinner!):
It’s memorable, the kind of thing people would be saying ‘hey, did you see…?’ about. It will therefore send viral traffic to your site.
Tools and applications
Giving away free tools and applications is another excellent way of making sure your content goes viral because Internet users increasingly love these things.
This is especially true if you can come up with something that is simple but nevertheless effective for shortcutting the time people spend doing a particular online job.
For instance, a standalone resource like this which helps you find suitable domain names quickly and easily could save anyone searching for a bunch of domains a heap of time, and it’s free:
Similarly, if you create (or outsource the creation of) an application for one of the better known social site API’s like those for Digg, Twitter or Facebook, a tool that makes it easier or more enjoyable for an enthusiast of these sites to use them, your take-up rate will most likely terrify you!
WordPress widgets and free plugins are also extremely effective tools to give away when it comes to attracting viral social media traffic to your site too.
I guess that list postings are almost a cliché in online marketing circles but the fact is that, clichéd or not, they work. If you create a top 10 or 20 list about something or other and throw is some controversial or questionable choices or ideas and invite comments or suggestions about the list, you’ll sometimes get them in their hundreds!
What is most important however is the fact that when you post your content to Digg or wherever it is, you must ask people to get involved in the description that you add to your post. It might be something like this:
‘What do you think? Do you agree with me? If not, who would you include? What do your friends think? Do they agree with me or you?’
This is important because with all of these ‘viral baiting tactics’, you cannot afford to assume that someone who sees your post will do what you expect. They won’t, so you have to tell them what you want them to do.
If you don’t tell the reader what to do, your visitor numbers will be a lot lower than they should be irrespective of how interesting, exciting, useful or unusual what you have to offer is.
This is a question that many marketers ask because the commonly accepted wisdom of using social media is that the traffic it sends to your site can be untargeted.
There is an element of truth in this but at the same time, suggesting that all social media traffic is untargeted is well wide of the mark.
It also tends to vary from social site to social site whilst the degree of ‘match’ between your site topic and the general theme of the social site in question is also extremely relevant.
For example, in terms of ‘mainstream’ social sites like Digg and StumbleUpon, the latter of the two sites does tend to send traffic that is better targeted than then former.
You will for example notice that it is not unusual for Digg-driven visitors to read the story that sent them to your site and leave whereas the visitor from StumbleUpon is likely to hang around for longer.
On the other hand, Digg really can send a huge tidal wave of visitors to your site if you get a story that ‘hits big’ and they will be targeted to an extent as the nature of the content that brings them to your site must have attracted them in the first place.
Furthermore, whilst sites like Digg and StumbleUpon are ‘general news’ social sites, others are far more focused. If the social site focus matches that of your site, then the traffic will automatically be far more targeted.
For example, Connotea.org is a site that is primarily for the scientific community, a site where free members can share information and research data:
If you had a site that focuses on this niche, the traffic that connotea would send to your site would be extremely well targeted.
And all of this ignores one vital aspect of using social media sites to boost your business. By posting your information to these sites, you build up a network of randomized incoming links, some of which may be relevant to your site content and some of which will not.
Nevertheless, a good quality story published on a site like Digg or StumbleUpon will generate a large number of top-notch incoming editorial links which is something that is very valuable, something that cannot be bought.
Furthermore, the fact that you can gather links from these top-level sites ensures that Google very quickly begins to recognize your site as an authority.
In effect, these links transfer a degree of trust that Google has for sites like Digg and Delicious to your site even though they may not be entirely ‘on topic’.
This acquisition of Google-recognized authority will inevitably increase your traffic numbers as other bloggers and webmasters take the view that if Google thinks your site is an authority, they’d better check it out.
Links from social media sites are especially important whilst your site is still young or new because this is the time when it is hardest to get good quality links. However, if you submit enough quality content to social media sites (and quality is always the key) to ensure that they publish your stuff and therefore create links, you get the ball rolling.
Moreover, the fact that you do so by ‘borrowing’ a small degree of the credibility of these major sites also helps to get your site established far more quickly as well.
After completing this tutorial, you should have a better insight into exactly why incorporating social media resources into your online marketing activities is so important. In simple terms, it can be summed up in two words – ‘traffic’ and ‘links’.
In the next module, we’ll look at some more specific aspects of using social media in your marketing efforts.
It is now recommended you proceed on to Part 3 – Social Media Traffic.