Your Marketing Campaign Went Viral — Now What?

by Jean Dion on January 27, 2014
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Learning how to craft a viral marketing campaign is relatively easy. Yet few companies seem prepared to deal with the aftermath, and fewer still effectively turn their viral successes into increased sales.

Consider this: In 2013, Kmart made three commercials that went viral. But the big-box retailer’s same-store sales fell by 2.1 percent in the third quarter, according to an analysis by Mashable. Similarly, a study by advertising research firm Communicus suggests that 80 percent of the ads shown during the Super Bowl, including those that have a viral impact, don’t boost sales in the weeks that follow.

So, how do you take advantage of a successful viral marketing campaign? Here are some tips for giving your efforts an opportunity to re-infect your business.

1. Have similar content ready to go. “Consistency and good planning are core to a strong social media presence,” says Jason Backus, owner of Backus Marketing & Design, a full-service web development, internet marketing, and graphic design firm in Washington state. If a new technique you’re developing results in a huge influx of customers, be sure you can back it up with similar content they’ll love.

2. Check your web server’s capacity. A 2013 survey from Brother International Corporation found that 75 percent of small business owners thought a crashed computer was more disruptive than an ill employee. What might cause a more catastrophic crash? Hundreds of thousands of people visiting your site to see your vital content. If you strike content gold, it might be hard for you to even measure your irritation, and all of that traffic on your website is wasted if people see only error messages due to a server crash. If you’re aiming to go viral, make sure your infrastructure can handle the extra attention.

3. Prepare to engage. “If you can’t manage the real-time engagement, at least for a small business, you can try to be as viral as you want, but nothing will stick,” Backus asserts. Small-business owners should plan to respond to comments, put out press releases, answer the phone, and otherwise deal with the new customers that any marketing campaign brings in. People expect that level of attention, and they’ll leave you in order to get it.

4. Monitor production carefully. Make sure you have enough product available for new customers to buy. If you have insufficient inventory, your viral campaign can’t help you increase sales. What’s worse, delaying order fulfillment could damage your business. Consider this: When nursing products supplier ABENA [PDF] placed products on back order on a regular basis, clients switched to other suppliers. Managing the supply chain properly allowed this company to get back on track. If you’re aiming for viral success, you’ll need to do this kind of deep planning, too.

If you’re thinking all of that sounds like a lot of work, you’re absolutely right. You’ll also want to plan for the added costs and risks involved (you know, in case your marketing campaign doesn’t go as viral as you’d hoped).

Does this mean that viral marketing, or social media marketing in general, isn’t worth it? Quite the contrary, Backus says.

“Social media beats the pants off of traditional media now and even more so in the future. Social media sticks because we keep it with us all day long, [and] we actively choose the brands we engage with, thereby removing the clutter of other brand messages,” he says. “Social media also carries the weight of our friends’ opinions.”

But plan your viral marketing campaigns carefully, Backus recommends. “Don’t jump in too quickly,” he says. “I would advise [small-business owners] to consider how the technique might fit their current marketing strategies, how it might fit their budget, and if they are equipped to engage all of the new potential fans or followers that might be generated by the technique.”

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