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Stoking The Viral Flames

CampfireFire is a funny thing.

Trying to start a campfire or a grill can seem like such a chore. There are right ways and wrong ways; certain techniques to employ and a fair deal of effort and patience.

And yet, so much as stare too hard at a forest in the dry season and it seems a wildfire spontaneously catches. Sometimes even for what appears to be no real reason at all, it just happens.

It's a lot like viral advertising, when you think about it.

A Hot Topic

Viral advertising is often compared to its namesake, the viral disease. Infection vectors, properties of spreading, reach and exposure. These are all apt metaphors for understanding and predicting the model. But what can we learn when we look at it in a different light?

In viral engagement interaction is crucial to maintaining the connection between advertiser and audience. Engagement is all about listening, reacting, and speaking with (not just to) the audience. Don't lecture, have a conversation. Doing this properly helps to spread the growth of the viral campaign, and more importantly keep its viewers loyally subscribed.

A viral campaign, once well along in its development and at the stage where it is being shared by its viewing constituents, is well-to-do. It's relatively self-sustaining, perhaps even at the peak of its exposure. It's a good roaring flame, and like any inferno isn't easy to quickly put out. An established viral ad has lasting power, embedded into the memories -- if not the social consciousness -- of its participants.

Old Spice Viral AdvertisingBut getting that viral advertisement started and shared is a lot trickier. Videos, photos, and other content that have just "gone viral" are like those unpredictable wildfires.

They just happen and there's little rhyme or reason for it. Sometimes there's something prevalent in the news and that relevancy lends well to the creation of something that gets shared across the Web. Sometimes it's just something random but attractive enough to keep spreading.

This is all fine and dandy...until you try to start your own fire when you want to. It's like trying to start a campfire or a grill; what used to be effortless and almost impossible "not" to happen now suddenly becomes the world's most difficult chore. The matches just don't light. There's not enough air or too much air. The kindling burns up too quickly.

Just like with a piece of viral content intended for commercial use, sometimes it fizzles for just as trivial of reasons. Bad timing, bad audience, wrong mood, inadvertent faux paux.

Trying to start an intentional, commercial viral campaign is tricky. There are techniques that can be employed and tools to help, but it mostly just takes the same things needed to start your own fire: constant care and patience.

What Campfires Can Teach Us About Viral Ads

Firstly, fire spreads and fire burns out across its fuel. People can encounter a piece of content and share it along (a lit success) or they see it and dismiss it (consumed and burnt out). Try to light too much fuel with not enough fire, you won't have too much success. Same with viral marketing; find the right size audience to start with.

Too small and it'll quickly oversaturate, and like the all-consuming flame, die out. Too big and there's too much room, not enough content, to properly spread around without getting extinguished from thinning itself out.

If you want to light bigger fires you don't just ignite at only one source; you spark the flames at several points. In the same way, while seeding from one source (yourself) is doable seeding from many more greatly increases your chances of success.

A young fire and viral engagement requires much initial care. It must be soothed and encouraged with moderation. Too little and there's no incentive to continue the sharing chain. Too much and you squash it outright. Nudge ahead where necessary, encourage from the background but let the flames and viral spread advance on its own.

Pop Culture ReferencesCan you use accelerants? They certainly help, but without anything of proper sustenance the flames will quickly fade. You can add things to your viral content to quickly garner an audience, techniques like references to existing trends and cheap laughs. But those can get old and swiftly lose their superficial charm.

It takes something original, well-designed, or worthwhile to really stand out and survive for any decent amount of time. If your fire is all starter fluid it'll flare up but only last a moment; it needs something real to last. Like a good log or pile of coal.

Even when established and burning, a flame can still be vulnerable. It needs constant fuel, more wood or more coals, to keep going. A viral campaign that doesn't introduce new content will taper into decline once the existing content wears out its novelty. Without new additions, the audience and the flames decrease.

Fire will thrive where it's hospitable and not where it's inhospitable. Likewise viral campaigns will garner positive reactions where appreciated and negative ones where not embraced. Continue forging ahead where there are positive results. For where there are negative refine your strategies.

Perhaps you need a different approach (try a different form of the ad), try more potent accelerants (try other hooks), or perhaps you need to clear away the obstacles keeping your efforts from catching.

By this point the flames, and your campaign, should be roaring healthily. Now just rinse and repeat. Like a fire, a properly tended campaign can last for a good long while and fade gracefully when its usefulness is over, leaving only fond memories and nostalgia behind.

Only You Can Prolong Viral Fires

Keep up adding new content (fuel) when necessary. Poke and move things around to keep it fresh. Intervene when necessary, but if things are working smoothly don't butt in lest you ruin the flow. Keep the environment friendly to the campaign's existence, or refine as needed. Use accelerants to get the ball rolling, but don't throw them in once things are established lest you get flare ups (or backlashes). Always respect the flame, and it will always respect you back.

Once you have a mighty flame/campaign going, sit back and bask in its glory. And let yourself reap of its benefits.

What are some of your tips on keeping viral campaigns alive?

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