Viral marketing: how to create and guide controversy

If you have a healthy interest in social media, it should not be surprising to find yourself spending an hour or two a day reading through tech websites, looking at controversies and discussions of the social media world.

From Facebook to Myspace, social media companies are constantly in the news, drawing criticism and controversy for their decisions. It is not limited to the major players, either. Check out any major technology website and you will see links to hundreds of small companies that are becoming involved in scandalous, controversial stories.

This constant barrage of controversy does two things to your news intake.

First, you will find each scandal’s value and importance decreasing as thousands pop up at once; and secondly, you will find that many companies breeze through scandal and controversy without a care, staying busy dealing with their business. What is most remarkable is that thousands of companies embrace this kind of controversy, for it can bring much more lucrative coverage and attention than a regular news story.

There is conclusive evidence linking the most renowned brands to constant controversy and attention. For a simple example, let us look at the marketing strategy of American Apparel, a clothing company that is constantly in the limelight, whether for good or bad.

AA invests heavily in the online world, with their brand extending into social media and online communities, but they penetrate advertising and news networks in the offline world too, mainly thanks to their dedicated controversy efforts.

Instead of focusing on good publicity alone, AA embraces publicity of any sort, with their brand being strengthened through repetition and constant exposure. This exposure is backed up with direct statements, simple truths and marketing clarifications, and a constant flow of quantity before explanation.

How can this help with your viral marketing? The first certainty of a viral marketing message is that it is inevitably going to be misquoted and manipulated. No matter what you are advertising or who you are targeting, there are going to be times when the signal does not make it through 100% intact.

By focusing on exposure before accuracy, you can tailor your message to ensure that changes and manipulations do not affect you. Take some time to analyze your message, stress-test it and pass it around before it begins to tip. Then, you can let it go without as much concern for preserving it in its original form.

The smartest viral marketers know how important it is to create a message that is easy to understand, difficult to manipulate and designed to spread.

Focus on your message tipping, embrace the snowball even if it does bring changes and compromises, and remember that you are always going to be getting exposure, even if it is controversial.

When you are creating a viral marketing message, especially an edgy and potentially damaging one, be sure to tailor it to spread first and explain later.

You can easily maximize your message after it spreads, but no message can be saved from a lack of attention.

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