How Small Businesses and NonProfit Organizations Can Use Viral Marketing

How Small Business and Nonprofit Organizations Can Use Viral Marketing 

Viral marketing campaigns are some of the best promotional tools available to small businesses and non-profit organizations. Viral videos and content can generate enormous brand awareness, promote positive public/consumer sentiment and increase company sales. While there are many tactics (and lots and lots of luck) that bring viral marketing campaigns to fruition, we wanted to share some attributes that great viral marketing campaigns need to have to be successful (along with great examples of companies that did it right.)

Viral marketing campaigns must create emotion

Great viral marketing campaigns need to contain content that’s so intriguing, interesting and personal for audiences, that it creates an emotional trigger compelling viewers to react. In most cases, this equates to sharing the content.  In fact, if your viral marketing campaigns–particularly those that use videos–resonates well with audiences, they’re even that much more likely to share it! It doesn’t really matter which emotions you trigger, unless those emotions are anger, or reflect poorly on your organization, but for the most part, responses that generate positive emotions are proven to drive users to take action. 

Viral marketing campaigns must tell a story

Great viral marketing campaigns should always tell a story. The story can be based on company ideals, missions or visions, or can highlight a cause the company is passionate about. These messages often have very little branding and are created to entertain, inform and engage viewers about measures companies are taking to meet needs or provoke change.  One of my most favorite segments for story-telling is Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous,” a mini-series that spotlights a local, organic farmer fighting to stay alive against big factory farms.

A cause close to my own heart, Farmed and Dangerous is a four-episode satire that explores the very real state of our declining and sometimes controversial agricultural food sector. Chipotle’s business model and mission is devoted to providing customers “food with integrity,” so it’s no surprise they’ve elected to create awareness around industrial agriculture that essentially highlights their “food with integrity” mission.

Viral marketing campaigns must be easily shareable

Successful viral marketing initiatives can flourish depending on how shareable they are. In the social media age, consumers share content they’re passionate about; however, it’s got to be easy for them to do so. Don’t make it difficult and don’t require users to fill out contact forms or sign-up for email newsletters just to share your content. DO offer Twitter and Facebook “share” buttons with the content so your audience can quickly and easily share it. You want it to spread fast, right? That’s the whole concept of viral marketing.

Viral marketing campaigns capitalize on trends or current events

Viral marketing campaigns that capitalize on current trends and events are great ways to help drive customer interest and brand awareness about your company. Finding a way to infiltrate your brand/service around a current event creates opportunities for companies to engage with consumers without being overly “salesy.” Over-the-top branding is a no-no in viral marketing campaigns. While there should be some indication of company involvement, it can’t be the focus of the campaign.  

One of my most favorite recent examples is WestJet‘s Christmas holiday surprise spectacular! In this example, WestJet– an airline company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada–set up a real-time “video Christmas wish line” for customers, where fliers could “tell Santa” what they wanted for Christmas before they got on their flight.

Once wishes were made and the flight took off, the WestJet team and partners went to work to truly make a miracle happen, surprising all the passengers with gifts when they arrived at their destinations. A worldwide spectacle, the touching video was featured in 1,600 unique news stories, received more than 35 million YouTube views and garnered over 328 million media impressions in just over three weeks.
Talk about joyous brand exposure! 

Please share your thoughts about what makes a successful viral marketing initiative with me below!

Thanks for reading,



2 thoughts on “How Small Businesses and NonProfit Organizations Can Use Viral Marketing

  1. Laurie, you have clearly expressed some of the characteristics of viral marketing. These are so many various elements that could make a marketing campaign become so popular. Many of the popular campaigns that I have enjoyed definitely evoked emotion, or were humorous. They also told memorable stories that engaged the audience making them want to share the element with friends. Enjoyed your post thoroughly.


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