People are communicators. We find things we like, and we share them with the people around us. This desire to share stems from many emotional needs: to seem smart, to cause trouble, to be helpful, or to simply feel connected. But no matter what need that desire fulfills, as marketers, we depend on it. We are constantly pushing for “the share,” thus aiming to produce shareable content that will help to spread our messages and grow our audiences.
When a follower interacts with and shares content with a friend who then interacts with and shares it, our influence spirals outward, engaging more people as it expands. This spiral is called a viral loop, and it is the result of a carefully thought-out and executed social campaign.
So how do you create this viral loop? Using these four basic principles, you can design the perfect environment for your audience to engage with and share:
1. Activate Your Ambassadors
When looking for people to share your content, the best place to start is with the ambassadors you already have. Reach out to your email list and existing fans; since they already have an interest in you, they will be the easiest to activate. Think of these fans as warm leads; you can’t expect them to share everything you post, but if you give them something worthwhile, they just might pass it along.
One classic tactic that consistently works is to host a creative contest or giveaway. As long as you offer something your fans want, they will be more likely to participate. Reach out to your existing email list and social followers when first launching the contest and ask them to share; better yet, give extra entries in exchange for shares by using a plugin like Rafflecopter.
2. Remove Barriers and Interact Seamlessly
Ease of entry can make — or break — a viral loop. Don’t expect anyone to jump through a bunch of hoops to engage with or share your content. Find out where your audience is, go to them and engage with them there. The goal is to intersect with people’s lives in a way that feels natural to them so that they want to share.
Sometimes the best way to remove barriers is to invest in technology. People will be more inclined to play your game or enter your sweepstakes if they don’t have to leave the site they’re on to do so. Home decor retailer Kirkland’s launched the Cha-Ching promotion with a game, run through a Facebook app. This allowed nearly 100k fans to play with their friends and enter to win prizes without ever having to leave the platform.
If you must pull users away to your site, make sure that the value you’re offering outweighs the trouble they have to go through to participate. Each click required of a user is another chance for that person to decide they don’t want to participate, so make sure that each step is worthwhile to the user.
Walk the walk — follow the route that your fans will take from start to finish. If you wouldn’t complete the process for another brand offering the same reward, then you have placed too many obstacles in the path of your participants. Simplify the process and check again.
3. Develop Content Fit to Share
Not only do you need to know which social platforms your audience is active on, but you must also know how they’re being used. Content spreads better when it is in line with a particular platform and feels natural to share. You may need to tweak your post to make it more shareable on each platform, such as focusing on beautiful imagery for Pinterest posts or brevity and targeted hashtags for Twitter.
There is, however, some content that is so worthwhile that it needs no incentive, and no ask, for users to share. These are posts like the Ellen DeGeneres Samsung selfie, J.C. Penney’s “Tweeting with mittens on” during the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, and the video of a possessed baby stroller terrorizing people on the streets of New York City. This content isn’t developed every day, but when it happens, it’s the holy grail of social engagement.
You can’t go viral with each campaign, but you can do your best create content that expands your reach. To do this, speak to your audience in a way that intersects with their lives and uses for each platform- even if it means displaying the message in multiple different ways.
4. Set your Sights on “the Share”
The social world relies on both content and shareability. We no longer need people in the media to deliver our messages to the masses, as we can now provide relevant content and let the masses spread it around themselves. Given the right strategy and content development, social media channels can provide as much if not more buzz than the traditional paid media outlets.
The all-encompassing strategy for creating and maintaining a viral loop is to consistently create highly relevant content that people will want to share. Take time to build your campaign through multiple relevant posts and incentives that will entice your fans and followers to pass your messages to their many friends and connections. Do it well enough, and you may get to watch your message spread — across blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, and maybe even onto the pages of the New York Times.
Nate Fleming, a creative strategist and one of the founding fathers at redpepper, provides keen insights into why we humans do what we do. His insights have also made their way to Forbes.com, ChiefMarketer.com and the highly trafficked industry blog, Adrants. When he’s not developing a new brand strategy, you can find Nate in the kitchen cooking up a delicious meal. He also doubles as a great musician, actor and photographer.