Written by Deb Smyth on November 8, 2012
in Social Media Marketing

Politics is a goldmine for social media pundits – even more so when a gaffe or unscripted moment occurs. This year’s race to the U.S. White House provided many such moments, including Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” remark from the second presidential debate. Romney uttered the now legendary words when describing how he tried to hire more female cabinet members while he was governor of Massachusetts.

Before the debate had even finished, the remark went viral – launching parody Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts that amassed thousands of followers in a matter of hours.

Romney’s team may have been cringing at all the unflattering attention, but marketers everywhere were likely taking notes. To spread a message so fast and so furiously is every brand’s dream – but how do you make sure the pebble you toss into the pond creates the ripples you’re looking for?

The key seems to be authenticity. Truly viral content – whether it involves hundreds of retweets, thousands of Facebook likes or a million views on YouTube – usually spreads fastest when that content authentically captures a unique experience or moment in time that a significant number of people instantly connect with.

Even if the content is created as part of a marketing campaign, if it sparks an emotional connection with its audience – either through humour, pathos, or even anger – it is more likely to be shared.

The most successful viral marketing campaigns do just that, with content based on several key precepts:

  • Understand the core spirit of your target audience.
  • Be prepared to lose control.
  • Focus on the story, not the product.
  • Keep it real – and honest.
  • Make the consumer feel like an insider.
  • Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience.

The last point is a crucial one. For when a company thinks it can “fool” the public into sharing their content by posing as a private individual (such as Sony did a few years back with its PlayStation Portable videos, for which they have since apologized) or by producing something flagrantly shocking, it can backfire and result in a huge PR failure.

And there are surely binders full of those…

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