The recipe for a viral social media marketing campaign seems like it should be pretty easy, right? Just put together a unique concept with the following ingredients:

  1. Make it simple and easy to execute.
  2. Show a sense of urgency, maybe even a bit of peer pressure.
  3. Have it be fun or silly and allow room for creative freedom.
  4. Ensure it is backed by an authentic and compelling organization and/or cause.

And voila—millions of shares, likes, increased donations or sales…success! But even though 72% of internet users have a social media account, this recipe calls for a dash of magic to make a social media campaign go viral. The following marketing campaigns mixed these ingredients just right and spread their message, fundraised for a cause and made marketing #History.

The ___ ______ Challenge: Did you read “ice bucket?” We thought so. Who knew that such a simple, fun idea as dumping freezing water on your head in the height of summer would catch on like it did? The challenge was clear: post a video of yourself getting a bucket of ice water dumped on your head and donate a small amount to ALS research, or choose to forgo the ice bucket component and up your donation to $100. The video spread due to the request that each participant challenge three of their own friends, thus allowing the cycle to continue. The challenge appealed to many people’s competitive spirit to make a better video, to donate more than the person who challenged them, and even donate the $100 and still dump the bucket. Once celebrities got involved, the phenomenon was unbeatable. By the end of the marketing campaign the ALS Association had raised over $115 million in a period of time which typically raises under $5 million.

Human Rights Campaign: Change your profile picture or simply share an altered (red and pink) version of the Human Rights Campaigns’ equal sign logo to show your support for marriage equality. HRC.org states on their website, “Within 24 hours of the logo being uploaded on Facebook, the post received 189,177 shares, 95,725 likes, 18 million newsfeed appearances, and more than 10 million impressions, generating hundreds of news stories. Facebook recorded a 120% increase in profile photo updates and deemed it the most successful campaign in the site’s history.” All this with a Facebook page of less than 2 million followers… Gaining momentum from celebrity and big business supporters like Beyoncé and Bud Light, the #time4marriage campaign made a big impression. With the impending DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) vote going before congress there was a limited amount of time for people to show their support. With the addition of HRC Logo memes like the well-known bacon and cat versions, supporters were able to show their creativity and have fun in honor of an issue they strongly believed in. On June 8, 2012 the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, granting federal rights to same sex couples, translating into a successful resolution on top of an already incredible campaign for the HRC.

Bra Color Status Campaign / Movember Foundation: Mentions translates to awareness and that is what these two marketing campaigns set out to do. While the Movember campaign was carefully crafted by the Movember Foundation, the Bra Color Status Campaign is a mystery as to how it began, but the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation reaped the benefits. Prior to the 2010 marketing campaign, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation had a difficult time connecting with their audience via social media with only 135 fans, but by 5:30 pm the evening the campaign began they had 135,000 fans according to Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post.

The Movember marketing campaign poses a basic challenge to its audience. Grow a mustache and help raise money for men’s health every November. There are no surprises when the Facebook pictures and Twitter hashtags start to fill your newsfeed and many find themselves getting excited when November rolls around and the mustache war can begin. As a great cause, support has grown exponentially over the last few years as shown by salesforcemarketingcloud.com that in 2011 there were 937,817 posts as compared to the 1,382,268 in 2012. Both of these marketing campaign ideas are simple, grow some facial hair or quickly make a status update. Both campaigns are fun, an excuse to grow some wacky mustache and incite curiosity from friends with a statement about color. And while neither boasts an intense sense of urgency, they do make you want to participate before you are the only one who hasn’t.

Got an idea for a social media marketing campaign for your own company or organization? Run it through the viral ingredients list and see if you’re set up for success.

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