So many empty promises have been made and so much misinformation revolves around the issue of Viral Marketing that I feel obliged to make a solemn statement at the start of this post that I very much hope you will take to heart and keep in mind on your way to personal branding stardom: never ever take advice on viral marketing from someone who has not had any provable viral success. To do otherwise would be tantamount to let someone give you a lift who (in the best case scenario) has studied the Highway Code but does not in actual fact hold a valid driving permit: a reckless and foolhardy invitation to disaster.
For your personal brand to reach noteworthy prominence, it will in all likelihood be necessary for you to produce some kind of content that goes viral: a blog post, a video, an infograph, a presentation or a podcast are some relevant examples. And perhaps it will come as a surprise to you that – with the exception of big brands and agencies or well-funded individuals – most of the viral successes I have personally come across including my own (my EBook is currently the most widely-read material on online reputation in the Spanish language) have been achieved with relatively few resources or specialist help. I hasten to add that this does in no way mean that you cannot benefit from expert advice, but rather than there is much more to viral marketing that initially meets the eye and that you should always check twice before you embark on a costly viral marketing initiative.
Truly no one has a magic wand with ‘the viral touch’, but the social media and its associated Web 2.0 technologies are making the dream of virality seem ever closer and reachable. Innovative applications like ‘Pay with a Tweet‘ from Innovative Thunder and similar ‘social payment systems’ make possible to offer downloadable content on your webpage ensuring that every download generates a tweet or a Facebook update that in turn encourages further downloads until the famous ‘tipping point’ Malcom Gladwell referred to is reached and your content attains the necessary critical mass to go viral. This is only one example of the available opportunities to make full use of up-and-coming technologies that are actually free or low cost and can have a massive impact.
Now that word of mouth has become more sophisticated, these are four elements that will be of immense aid to viralize your contents and your message about your personal brand:
- The conviction that your content is adding value and truly helping your potential customers, employers, peers and the overall community. At this point it is absolutely imperative that you park your ego aside and look at your production dispassionately until you are convinced that the quality and the value are there. And do not underestimate what your intuition tells you regarding that content in question: if it does not give you the go-ahead, go back to your desk and improve it until you reach that inner peace. A healthy dose of perfectionism is necessary and welcome here.
- It is highly advisable to have built a burgeoning community prior to publishing your (hopefully) viral content. That will allow you to beta-test (vital as this is for apps and tools) and in general test the waters before you jump right in. Fragments of my book, for instance, were published in blog post form and the feedback and comments I received were incredibly helpful and without doubt contributed to significantly improving the manuscript. This was only possible because I already had a faithful group of followers in the social networks and the internet.
- Do something unique, innovative and different to promote your content. Rather than going for the all-too-known and costly ‘launch party’ as most of my peers did, we decided to write an optimized press release to mark the publishing of my EBook. It was instantly picked by the most popular digital newspaper in Spanish and in less than a day more than 400 downloads had been made without spending a dime on PR. The picture of the EBook seen on an I-Pad was also instrumental in making it seem cutting edge and giving it the twist it needed to attract more and more people. How can you spice up your content and present it in the most attractive light?
- Do not just rely on inbound marketing tactics and help the viralization process with e-mail marketing, SEM, and offline initiatives that can support the spread of your content. Your personal brand needs to be consistent across several channels and there are many elements you can use to achieve this (business cards or QR codes come to mind) that will come in very handy to publicize specific contents as well.
Using these proven tactics synergistically does not guarantee that your content will go viral, but I am persuaded that it will create the right conditions for virality to emerge. The Holy Grail of viral marketing is an achievable dream: I invite you to work hard and produce a memorable piece that generates buzz and becomes viral and thus join the ranks of dreamers whose fantasies came true.