Is Viral Marketing a Good Strategy for Associations?

A womne shrugging her shoulders questioning if her association can go viral

In an online world, it can be challenging for organizations to stand out from the crowd. Consumers are no longer tied down to local businesses and organizations. They can reach far and wide to have their needs met. For associations, that means a larger pool of potential members, but reaching those people can be much more difficult. Getting your content to go viral might make things easier. It could allow your messages to be shared throughout your existing network in a short period of time, and, with any luck, it could go far beyond that.

Yet, going viral is not as easy as it sounds, but that’s a good thing. If it were easy, the value of viral marketing would be decreased. Still, viral marketing may not be available to every organization, but it’s definitely worth investigating. To help your organization decide if it’s for you, we’ve put together some information about viral marketing, highlighting what it is, how it’s accomplished, and what it can result in.

Why Things Go Viral

While people and organizations everywhere are looking for the key to virality, content may go viral for a number of reasons. Sure, some material has a better chance to go viral for the average audience than others, but for marketing purposes, virality is a little more tricky. In general, however, people share and participate in viral content because they want to be part of a larger community of people with shared interests. They want to be seen, heard, and accepted.

Social media and viral content go hand-in-hand because people naturally want to be early adopters of popular content and want to help others, but they also want to be noticed while doing it. When content is destined for virality, it starts to get popular and picks up steam. At this point, more people share, comment, and post about the content because they want to be part of the trend. If the content is expressing a specific opinion or mindset, people may participate in the movement as a way of co-signing the material.

Understand your Audience

To use the capability of internet media for marketing purposes, organizations need to identify and understand their target audience. When trying to get your content to reach and move through your audience, you need to know what drives and inspires them. The best way to find this information is to observe and participate. Track what your audience responds to and what type of posts they share on social media. Watch your competition or other associations in a comparable industry. See what works for them and think of ways to translate that into your field.

If you know what appeals to your audience, you can cater to your content to satisfy their needs. The more you know about the important communities in your industry, the more on-point your messaging will be. It’s important, however, to stay true to your brand. The messaging in your viral content should be consistent with your overall goals, or else it could be counterproductive. This will also improve the odds that viral brand awareness may also lead to new members and consumers.

Provide Real Value

Modern audiences are clever and skeptical of anything that might be construed as purely marketing-driven, so organizations need to change their sights to focus on another target when setting off on a viral adventure. Pure marketing should be an indirect goal. Nix the endless self-promotion and create something truly valuable for users. The organizations that can fully commit to this path will experience the best results. 

How to provide value really depends on your audience, but some of the common triggers for viral content are emotion, positivity, practicality, and unexpectedness. People also love a good story, so if you can create a compelling narrative that injects some of these elements, you’re off to a running start. Moreover, the more current or novelty-based the content, the more people will be excited to join and ride the viral wave.

Make it Interactive

Viral marketing is participatory at its core, but by adding more interactive elements to the content, organizations may increase the effectiveness. There are countless ways of making viral marketing more interactive. For example, the interactivity built into live streams makes them strong possibilities for going viral. Associations may also make their material actionable. They can start a viral movement by having members record themselves participating in or demonstrating something. Give people an excuse to have fun or do something positive and share it with their friends online. 

You may even choose to incentivize participation in some way. This may be something as small as trying to respond to or communicate with each participating member on social media or providing a benefit to sharing or joining in. Think of ways that your association can incentivize members to help spread your message. In essence, your viral content should have inherent value that people want to share, but it can’t hurt to help make it worth their while.

Find Your Primary Supporters

For the most part, viral content really doesn’t pick up steam until it gets picked up by a large and influential account. These people usually have a massive network with large swaths of followers. When they co-sign or share something, it gets seen and supported by their respective community. Members of that community then spread the word beyond the reach of your organization and help accelerate the viral process. 

If going viral is the goal, your association should try to get your content in front of these supporters in any way possible. You can incentivize them or support the influencer, hoping to get mutual support back in return. You may also seek out influencers who share similar values or goals as your association. If your target audiences overlap and your content holds true value, these influencers will be much more willing to help spread the message.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

Creating original content is hard enough as it is. Creating original content that goes viral is a behemoth. Don’t get too caught up in originality. In fact, by looking at what has caught on in the past, your association can get a good idea of what has the potential to work in the future. Now, you never want to copy or plagiarize, but there’s no shame in following in the footsteps of another organization. It may really help to piggyback on current trends. Leverage the popularity of a fad to generate more interest in your material. Give it a unique twist if you can to spice it up.

Yet, as we said off the top, viral marketing is not available to everyone, and that’s ok. If you can’t create something yourself, share other things that deliver your ideal message. Find positive and meaningful content that appears bound for massive popularity and share it with your audience. It may not be as effective as creating the content, but it’s a close second that can still help build brand awareness.