The other day, someone at work circulated a relatively harmless photo of a colleague taken the night before at a social outing. Within minutes of circulating it to a couple of people someone had made an offline webpage out of it, topped and tailed it with a couple of captions, and passed it from one person to the other. The end result was an email which had circulated round the whole firm of 300 people.
This got me thinking - what was it about this email that made it so popular? Are there any lessons that can be learned for viral marketing?
Firstly, humour is always going to play a big factor, but the humour has got to be tailored to the audience (making it almost an 'in' joke). To get the most out of the viral, the feeling of inclusiveness related to this type of humour must be something which the target audience can relate to - a relevant subject or concept.
The second factor in this particular email was that there was an aspect of gossip. Humour alone is not enough of a pull to spread the email so widely, it must be combined with something that people will want to talk about and will want to share with their group of friends. I believe that this was the biggest reason that the email was circulated.
Thirdly and most possibly importantly, it was timely. The email was sent directly after a particular social event which the whole firm was aware of. If it had been sent a month later in all likelihood the email would not have spread quite so far and would have not been so popular. Proactive virals are good, but reactive virals must surely be better.
So humour, relevance, gossip, and timeliness may all be major factors to think about when setting up your viral campaigns... Well that's my two cents anyway!