Nine Tips for Deploying a Measurable Viral Content Strategy - Event Marketer

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Nine Tips for Deploying a Measurable Viral Content Strategy

In this series on measurement, we offer case studies, expert insights, fresh tips and new tools to help you measure events, design a more metrics-based portfolio and prove the power of live experiences.

In the early days of YouTube, amateur videos reigned supreme. From keyboard cats to kids still high on laughing gas after dental surgery, the most popular—and therefore most viral—videos on the web were created by everyday people with little to no professional filmmaking skills. The amateur video was so prevalent at the time that brands followed suit, too, sending brand ambassadors into the field with camcorders (remember those?) and posting all stripes (good, bad and really bad) of consumer-generated content on their websites and social channels in an effort to look “authentic” and be part of the trend.

In 2014, the viral video landscape could not be more different. No longer are the most viral videos the product of consumers experimenting with their camera phones. Today, professionally shot films and brand-sponsored content are taking over where amateur hour used to be. In fact, three of YouTube’s Top 10 viral videos of 2013 were created by brands, proving that the wild west that was is transforming into more of a marketplace that’s ripe for brand engagement—and measurement.

For event marketers, the viral marketing space is an exciting one to play in. Who better, after all, than experiential marketers to create memorable real-world moments worth capturing and sharing across digital channels. As a result, the quest for the event-turned-viral-video hit is on, as marketers look for new and unique ways to get the face and personality of their brand shared across millions of consumer devices, and just as important, for ways to track and measure the activity.

Event Marketer chatted with two of the industry’s biggest viral superstars of the past year to find out what it takes to turn a live event viral, and how to measure for success. Greg Plata, team lead-sponsorships and experiential marketing at WestJet Airlines, together with Whitney Gibson, a director at Mosaic which handled p.r., take us inside the pre- and post-launch measurement plan for its Christmas Miracle video (if you haven’t seen it yet, go look and then read on). Christy Amador, global digital marketing manager at Coca-Cola, offers her expertise and insights on the brand’s viral efforts and some surprising ways it is tracking success (check out Coke’s “Roll Out Happiness” video on YouTube for a taste of the work it’s doing).

Here, their nine strategic tips for building a measureable viral strategy:

See also:
The 2014 Event Measurement Report

1.Don’t set out to create viral content.

Sounds counterintuitive, we know, but think about it: the viral effect is actually the result of a successful activation plan, says Gibson, not the objective. “It is never something we can predict. We can create a strong piece of content that tells a great story, we can put a strong communication plan behind it, but at a certain point it’s how people interact with that content and how they end up sharing it that makes it viral or not.” Focus instead on your bigger marketing objectives (awareness, sales, perception) and think of a highly shareable piece of event content as a conduit for reaching those goals. Being clear about this distinction will help you gather more useful metrics.

What to measure: Sales. With an impressive boost in bookings (77 percent) and revenue (86 percent) year over year, the success of WestJet’s stunt turned viral phenomenon proves that this strategy can impact real marketing objectives and the bottom line.

2. Focus on the experience.

As a follow up to number one above, don’t skimp on the live experience in an effort to create a viral event video. One is not possible without the other. “It’s really important to create a true experience for the consumers—something that will surprise them, or delight them, or something they’ve never seen before. This is the way we approach viral content,” says Amador. “Their excitement and their surprise will make for really interesting content.” As a bonus, a great on-the-ground experience almost always inspires participants to grab their phones and immediately share with their social networks, effectively unleashing a first wave of awareness for the video and creating film-worthy moments for the final product. “Whenever we can, we try to capture footage of people shooting and put it in our films, or alternately, encourage them to share as an adjunct to the piece we’re putting out,” Amador adds.

What to measure: Social chatter. Whether you include a hashtag in your on-the-ground experience or not, you can track the real-time shareability of your live experience before you release the video. Hint: whatever live attendees are responding to are probably the same moments you want to capture on film.

3. Decide where you want to play.

One of YouTube’s top 10 videos of 2013 was the promotion for the movie “Carrie” that had coffee shop patrons scared out of their wits as people appeared to be levitating up the walls. While this type of “prankvertising” might be perfect for one brand, it may not be perfect for you. “They’re funny, but people are the victim, not the recipients of happiness,” says Amador. “It might get a ton of views but it’s not the type of event we would stage. It would always be positive and about making people happy.”

What to measure: Like-minded efforts. While it’s true that in the YouTube economy you are competing with everyone and their dog (literally), you can more effectively gauge where you’d like to be in terms of views and impact based on videos targeting the same audiences. How many views are your competitors getting on their videos? Who else in your category is playing in the video space and how can you map against their success?

4. Set a benchmark.

Christmas Miracle was WestJet’s third major viral video effort. Coke’s first “Where Will Happiness Strike Next?” stunt took place in 2010 in New York City and earned more than 5.5 million views on YouTube. Both brands have used their early forays into viral content to test the waters and set benchmarks for how their content will be received and shared. “I think with a few more of these [activations], we’ll start to see where our sweet spots are,” says Plata.

What to measure: Increases from your last effort. Your first effort did two million views. Your second: five. Set a goal to increase your best effort by a reasonable percentage that takes past efforts into account.

Also, think about the often-overlooked value of the scalability of the stunt. Sometimes, a viral hit can become the foundation for a very successful on-the-ground program. Coke, for instance, has grown its “Happiness Machine” stunts into a college program across 20 campuses that is filmed and shared at every activation. Amador says this kind of expansion contributes to the overall success metric. “If you can say that over 50 markets have taken the program to their streets, then you know you’ve done something right,” she says.

5. Turn your social channels into content platforms.

If your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages are dormant, it’s time to spruce them up with updated content. You can’t use your viral video to contribute to any kind of meaningful objectives if consumers get stalled along the way to becoming friends, fans and followers of your brand. “You have to think of your brand as a content creator,” say Plata. “Before, consumers weren’t looking for WestJet as a brand that would be pumping out this kind of consumable content. But now, we’re starting to build a reputation to the point that people will start tuning in and we’ll be a source that people go to at the beginning of their search.” WestJet was surprised to learn that its Christmas Miracle video drove 4.5 million views of its other branded videos. Turns out, consumers wanted to see what else WestJet had done.

What to measure: Native analytics. All of the major social media platforms offer data on traffic, subscribers, geographic location, age, sex and more to help you gauge what activity can be mapped to the start of your campaign, and by whom. You can also measure dwell time and bounce rate (Google Analytics offers both) to see if there is any drop-off once people engage with your content. That data can inform future efforts.

6. Be a good listener.

Prior to the launch of your campaign, do some social media listening. “Hear what people say about your brand or product, what is the sentiment, who are some of the key players in that conversation and how does that relate against competitors,” Gibson suggests. You can do a follow-up report at end of program to see how the initiative has shifted that sentiment. “It’s a great way to see what kind of share of voice you have within the marketplace,” she says. Coke employs social listening, too, tracking comments (both good and bad) from all of its platforms and taking that anecdotal, qualitative feedback into account. “YouTube is notoriously tough on its comments section, but if it’s not obscene, we will leave it there and let people make the comments they want to make,” says Amador. “In general, though, the positive outweighs the negative exponentially.”

What to measure: Share of voice. You’ll probably need some help on this one, so hire a reputable analyst to track keywords, hashtags, social conversations and other brand mentions in order to give you a comprehensive sense of where you fall in comparison with your competitors.

7. Create and execute a communication plan.

A lot of people think viral videos just happen. They don’t. Most of the successful brand-created viral videos are backed by strategic paid media and communications plans. WestJet did some proactive listening with top radio stations across Canada to find out what the hosts wanted for Christmas. Then the brand recreated the idea of real-time giving (as depicted in the video) for the radio hosts, delivering the gifts they’d been looking for along with a media kit. A press release went out on the wire that included the video and other content like the blooper reel so members of the media would have everything they needed to write about the video at their fingertips. Bottom line: “You can have the best piece of content in the world, but if you don’t have a plan on how you’re going to distribute it to the people you want to see it—nobody’s going to see it,” says Gibson.

What to measure: Paid and owned media. When you buy ads or a paid search on websites or social channels, those platforms should offer you comprehensive data on how your ad is performing, including click rates, open rates and overall performance trending. Paid ads obviously also let you target audiences by any number of criteria. Owned media includes your brand’s corporate website, retail stores, Facebook page—anything you own, you should leverage and track. WestJet’s website showed increases in visits and bookings as a result of its campaign.

8. Think: overall performance, versus views.

“It’s not just the views or the velocity of the views, it’s the velocity of the sharing, via Twitter or via user comments or via Facebook,” says Amador. In other words, it’s important to track momentum across all channels to see where the peaks and valleys might be, and at what moments it gained the most ground. This is valuable information to map back to your paid media or p.r. efforts, and can inform the next campaign.

What to measure: Trending and sharing. Unruly’s (unrulymedia.com) nifty viral video chart gives a comprehensive picture of Facebook and Twitter shares, blog posts, comments, buzz by language and depicts peaks and valleys since the video launched. The chart is a sales tool for Unruly Analytics, a paid service that tracks social ROI, but offers a wider view of the video’s total performance than a sheer data pull.

9. Okay, embrace the views, too.

While most brands, WestJet and Coca-Cola included, are reticent to admit that they had any specific goals in mind when it came to views of their videos, they do admit that it’s pretty thrilling when they take off. “Anything that’s 500,000 views, over a million views—those are numbers that certainly, you’re trying [for],” Amador says. “It was fun and addictive,” Plata says of the days following the release of Christmas Miracle. “You’d wake up every hour and a half just to check, and it would jump from 500,000 to a million views. Watching the way the view count went up and the algorithm was pretty insane.” Ultimately, impressive view counts tell a great story and give the campaign more life. WestJet’s big numbers earned it mentions on “Today,” “The View,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and other TV shows.

What to measure: Views. It’s pretty simple to watch the ticker go upon your YouTube page. Making that number more meaningful, though, requires a 360-degree effort.

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