The Internet has been a boon for the marketing and PR departments of companies around the world. For the first time since the creation of mass media, companies can now engage directly with their target audience and customers, without relying on coverage by the news media. However, in the same way, the Internet has also changed the standards by which we judge a successful campaign. Since the audience for the Internet is the entire world, marketers hope they can create content that spreads beyond their intended audience. However, viral marketing isn't as easy as just putting something on the Internet and watching it spread. Here are three keys to creating truly contagious content.

  1. Be Original
    This may seem like obvious advice, but it is often ignored because many business owners don't understand how important originality is for Internet marketing. There are several things to keep in mind. The first consideration should be the audience. Audiences want to see the next new thing. Using unoriginal content is likely to underwhelm the people who have already seen it elsewhere. Even if the source for copied content is obscure, it doesn't take long for people on the Internet to find the original. Montana senator John Walsh is learning this the hard way after a college paper he wrote in 2007 was shown to have plagiarized the work of others. Second, even if unoriginal content starts to spread, the content's original creator is likely to become upset. This could lead to embarrassing and costly legal ramifications. It may be tough for small business owners to find the time and resources to devote to content creation, but if they want to use viral marketing, originality is absolutely necessary. Social media provides a lot of avenues for marketers to be original. According to a 2012 study from Performics, respondents indicate they were most likely to engage with branded content on social media when that content contains pictures (44 percent), status updates (40 percent) and videos (37 percent). Another study found that 78 percent of consumers believe that organizations providing custom content are interested in building good relationships.
  2. Be Positive
    The tone of a marketing message affects how well it spreads online. Several studies have shown that online audiences respond better to positive content than to negative content. The most recent example is the Facebook study that sparked controversy (overblown, since A/B tests are used constantly online), which showed that when people saw content with negative language, they would be more likely to use negative language. Marketers should always strive to be positive and humorous in their content, when possible. For example, negative political ads that included humor are more memorable than their traditional, gloomy counterparts. The same is true for nonprofit organizations. The marketing for nonprofits should focus on the positive effects donations have on solving an issue rather than depressing people by saying how hopeless everything is. Content telling donors that their $25 will help five families will perform better than content showing how many families would be hurt through inaction.

  3. Know Where to Find Your Audience
    The Internet has greatly increased the number of ways marketers can distribute their content to the target audience, but not all channels work with equal effectiveness. It's important to make the effort to learn about each marketing channel to decide which is best suited for a particular audience. For example, women account for nearly 85% of the audience on Pinterest. It is not an ideal place to directly market a new line of men's underwear. Though there may be a few women who would buy such a product for their spouses or boyfriends, the content wouldn't spread virally because of the audience mismatch. Similarly, marketers looking to reach minorities or more urban demographics may want to use Twitter more readily than Facebook, based on data from usage habits of these target audiences. Finding the right marketing channel is beyond social media. Depending on the industry and the nature of the products being sold, whole new windows of opportunity may arise that could offer amazing results. A person selling handmade goods may find their content spreads farther, and generates more business, on Etsy rather than on Amazon.

There are a lot of individual tricks and tips that marketers can use to make their content more share- worthy. But in the end, these three keys are essential to any strategy for viral marketing. Marketers should experiment with these factors to see what works best for their audience. For more ideas on creating contagious content, read this article with four research-based tips.