Simplicity: engaging with your campaign should be easy and intuitive. Most of us have too much to think about already: deadlines at work, paying the bills, juggling schedules—interacting with a viral campaign isn't something we should have to put a whole lot of thought into. If your concept requires too much thought, the only people it will catch on with are those who have nothing better to do.
Originality: if an idea feels too familiar, it won't go anywhere. There are about a zillion variations of whack-a-mole games, for example. This concept was very clever the first time, and perhaps moderately clever in a few of the first variations. Now it's a yawn.
Entertainment: while widgets which are practical rather than entertaining can go viral, the most successful viral campaigns are either fun or very amusing. That's why "how to create a viral YouTube video" has had about 17,000 views, while Harry Potter and the mysterious ticking noise has had 54 million.
Speed: people worth reaching tend to be busy. They'll take a short diversion break, but unless your campaign is extremely engaging, they'll shut it down if it's too time-consuming. That means you either need to make it fast, make it brilliant enough to keep their attention away from other priorities, or make it flexible enough that anyone can engage quickly, while those with more time can interact at a deeper level.
Respect: most people understand that if you've created a viral campaign for marketing purposes, especially in the b2b world, you're going to ask for contact information at some point. That's fine, but ask only for the information you really need. If your initial interaction is going to be by email or phone, for example, you don't need to ask for physical address.
Relevance: ideally, your viral campaign will actually have some relation to your product or service, so that it attracts people who are actually in your target market and reinforces your value proposition. How many times have you remembered a very funny or creative TV ad, but forgotten what was actually being advertised? `Nuff said.
Sharability: very simply, the easier it is to pass something along, the more likely it will be. Embed code, "email this" and social bookmark site tagging buttons are examples of simple ways to increase pass along.
I recently received a press release about a viral campaign for a new movie. While the concept sounded clever, it turned out to be confusing, unnecessarily complex, time-consuming, and worst of all, it required participants to give up not only their own privacy, but that of their social network connections as well. Bad idea.
On the other hand, there's the Interstellar Pizza Express game from Minneapolis-based web hosting provider Visi.com. Players choose web hosting options to maximize their pizza sales. The high scorer each month wins an iPod. While there's no guarantee this campaign will go viral, it does have most of the right attributes for potential viral success: it's relatively simple (though some of the options could be made more clear); definitely original; moderately entertaining in a geeky sort of way; quick to play; extremely relavant to Visi's business web hosting services; and asks only for pretty basic contact information. One area where the campaign could have been improved is on sharability—an email-this button and badges for social bookmark sites like Digg and StumbleUpon would have simplified pass along.
Still, the Visi campaign exemplifies many of the key requirements for going viral. Whether your next viral campaign is a home run or more of a strikeout, however, the most important tactic of all is to keep swinging.
Contact Mike Bannan: email@example.com