How to Say Yes to the (Viral) Dress in Your Business

social hashtag hash tag public domainA friend of mine was at an NHL game the other day when a woman in the group behind him took out her smart phone and started to discuss the day’s major online controversy:

Was the dress blue and black, or was it white and gold?

Although the teams on the ice were battling each other like it was the final game in the Stanley Cup series, there was more intensity among this group of spectators who found themselves sharply divided between blue-black adherents and white-gold partisans.

It was the first my friend had heard about #thedress. The next day he looked it up on the web. If you were following this phenomenon at all, you may have noticed that people started showing up on television wearing the dress in question.

Pushing something on the web to official viral status is difficult, especially when it has such a strong commercial angle like the dress. Pet videos are one thing, but something that will drive people to push a “buy now” icon is entirely different. But while creating viral media is difficult, it doesn’t mean you should stop trying. The payoff can be huge.

Let’s break down the underlying commercial principles of viral media into their basic components and see how you can use them in your business.

Brand or product recognition. The idea is to get your company or product in front of as many eyeballs as possible. I encourage you to use any clever means you can through the social media to get this done. Many of the most productive are the epiphanies created when one of your users features you in a post that goes viral.

You can’t plan on that, but you can do things to increase your odds by creating opportunities. I know about a small local music shop that has a very cool logo design and it’s been selling that design on t-shirts for more than 40 years. One day there was a huge protest event in the Middle East and the next day people came into his shop excited that they had seen someone wearing his t-shirt in the news coverage.

Lesson: Create a great design for your company and get it out into the public. It’s been working for a certain tractor company forever. It will work for you too.

Enlist volunteers. There are many ways you can have your customers promote your products and the more strategies you use, the better odds you have that something will eventually go viral.

Organize contests that encourage your users to post photos or videos to the social media. Create hashtags to accompany events, products, opinions or anything you can dream up. Encourage your customer to post online reviews. If you have products, send them to bloggers and others who review in the media and invite their opinions.

Local viral. You don’t have to become an international viral sensation to increase sales. Many, and perhaps most, small businesses will do great if they can just get some more local “buzz” going.

To be successful at this, you need to understand how opinion is created in your community. Consider things like local sponsorships of teams and events. Find ways to get your business featured in the local newspaper. If you do a blog, get more out of it by submitting entries as guest columns in local newspapers and magazines.

The underlying idea with all of these tactics is that over time they dramatically increase your opportunity to score with a piece of content that goes viral.

Have you ever been to a high school basketball game where they give a spectator one chance to make a basket from half court and win $10,000? Let’s face it, few of us are going to hit that shot in one try, but it you let us stand there and keep trying, eventually we’ll put one through the hoop.

Don’t stop taking your shots.

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