If you believe the blog posts of many Marketing bloggers today, you may get the feeling that Viral marketing has hit the Trough of Disillusionment in the hype cycle. I personally think it is more important than ever, especially for SEO and social marketing. It remains the most cost effective way to spread the word to a broad audience, a powerful tool for link building and a nice way to attract prospects to your blog or community. Just ask the marketers over at HubSpot about their creative Link Love viral video.

My blogging has been pretty sporadic lately as I’ve been traveling quite a bit for speaking engagements. Turns out this has been a good thing. It has been a valuable reality check to get out and share ideas with Marketers in the trenches. It was a handy reminder that most B2B Marketers have not embraced social media widely. There is, however, still a very strong interest in both social media and the viral marketing techniques that can drive a strong social media program,build links and drive traffic.

At one such event last night, I was asked once again about the timeline and tools used for triggering a viral campaign so I thought it was a good time to revisit the successful NetQoS viral campaign where I developed my playbook working with Porter Novelli in Austin.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the project, NetQoS executed a viral campaign in 2007 that used content that was compelling to our target audience, played down production value and branding, and then got the word out to the people who cared – technology professionals. The NetQoS viral video project cost only $6,500 to produce and generated a 6,000+% ROI. An old video case study is posted at: B2B viral video campaign.

For those of you who don’t want to sit through a full 30 minute video, here are the top 20 ways we packaged and promoted our viral video for maximum impact.

1: Set clear objectives for your campaign. Do you want to increase brand awareness, improve search rankings, break into the blogosphere in a big way and increase web traffic and leads? Whatever the goal, set specific objectives and measure your success. Nothing brings out the skeptics like viral marketing and social media, so show them it really pays.

2: Be relevant. Make sure your message and content are relevant both to your company and to your target audience and make it memorable. Because without relevant content, you may hit a home run but effectively strike out.

3: It doesn’t have to be video. Most Marketers think only in terms of viral video. Most any digital content has the possibility of going viral including images, widgets, free tools, discounts/offers, or podcasts. Why not use two formats?

4. Know your audience. And, I’m not talking about their pain points and job roles. I’m talking more about psychographics and behavioral characteristics. Understand what interests them, where they live and work, how they get their information. For NetQoS, we knew that our audience would be a great viral target—they were comfortable online, 80% read blogs or are active in blogging, 84% start their search on a search engine. Most are smart and cynical audience—marketing averse.

5: Be opportunistic. Have your FlipVideo on you at all times to capture a great idea or moment. I heard a story about one of the leading open source database providers recently. Apparently, a Marketer for that company had a great idea for a video. He Twittered his circle of contacts to round up a video camera and by the time he was ready to shoot, his competitor had already heard about the idea and beat him to the punch.

6: Have fun. As I wrote in this blog post from The B2B Lead, you should make fun of yourself before someone else does. We were extremely kitschy because we knew the quality of the graphics was not up to the realistic standards of today’s CGI. It had a very 80’s Tron like feel so we made the most of that. We didn’t just post the clip. We named it, packaged it and added humor at every turn.

7: Develop a seeding and conversion strategy prior to posting your video. In 30 days with less than $7,000, we developed the strategy and materials for a complete viral video experience including seeding the campaign, welcoming viewers and offering additional content as well as a program for building a following after the campaign. Map out the sequence of events to trigger the groundswell and then have a defined course of action for prospects to take through your website. If you are using viral to develop a social media following, make sure you think about all the ways your prospects would like to engage with you and make it easy for them to establish a permanent connection to your community.

8: In the world of viral video, production value isn’t important. In fact I would discourage it. Ours looked like some techies had cooked it up in their spare time. In fact, that’s how it started. But we did put a great deal of thought into the packaging, promotion and conversion strategy for the campaign. It is important to always provide a thumbnail image of what the viewer is getting.

9: Capture the link love. Have a clear cut SEO strategy in mind prior to launching so that you can capture the value of inbound links to your content. There’s nothing like a viral campaign to entice bloggers to link to your site and that drives up your search engine rankings. Make link building a key objective of your campaign.

10. Protect your brand. You can make fun of yourself but don’t do anything that will embarrass you or the company. Don’t take chances with controversial content or release anything of such poor quality that you create a negative brand image. Don’t use dubious tactics to get noticed or bait and switch techniques. We explained very clearly what Netcosm was (a data visualization) and was NOT (a product for sale). We also made it clear that the work was done through NetQoS Performance Labs and not beta tested.

11: Keep it short. YouTube reports that the average viewing time for videos is 15 to 30 seconds. You have a very short runway to take off. Get to the point fast, entertain and leave them wanting more. We added captions based on the old “This is brain, this is your brain on drugs” campaign. We selected clips that showed the most action and had some fun with the content. Then we offered a longer video if people were interested in seeing more.

12: Help people find your video by optimizing it for search engines. Tag it, name it appropriately, describe it, add links and compelling copy and optimize using the right keywords. If it takes off in a big way, you want as many links to your content as possible using your top keywords.

13: Use your corporate blog to trigger the viral distribution and keep the story alive. You’ve got to get the word out and a press release is simply not appropriate for viral marketing. What’s more, blogging with the full story behind the campaign helps to give your program and your company a face and a personality. Make sure that personality is one that will garner respect by being completely open and honest on your blog.

14: Build a community of interest. Don’t use trickery or bait and switch to get people to your video because you will be forgoing one of the most valuable benefits of the viral approach – the ability to quickly and inexpensively build a community of interest. The Word of Mouth aspect of viral marketing gives Marketers a powerful way to attract a following. Do this by explaining each step of the program using your blog. Tell your audience what you were thinking when you produced it. Report on the results. Give followers a way to track the momentum and keep it alive. Make it easy for them to join your community and have a strategy for future communications.

15: Seed the story with the bloggers, key influencers, your customers and friends, your social network. Want to double the effect? Include those key influencers in your content somehow. Give them a vested interest in helping you spread the word. Also – don’t forget to post it to Digg and Reddit or whatever social media site is appropriate for the topic. Twitter your followers. Leverage Social media like Facebook, MySpace, and other groups to spread the word. Of course timing is everything. Here’s a high level snapshot of our timeline:

ViralMarketingTimeline

16: Track and monitor religiously. Keep track of the results every step of the way and keep your followers and the blogging community posted on the momentum building behind your viral video. This helps build excitement and credibility around how your video is resonating with the audience. It might just convince an influential blogger that he/she should write a story about you.

17: Automate and expedite lead processing. When viral goes big, it goes really big. And, studies show that B2B Marketers and Sales reps need to follow-up on Web-generated leads within 30 minutes of a registration or the chances for conversion are poor. If you don’t have a great program for automatically scoring and qualifying leads so that you can route quality leads to your sales force instantly, you could be asking for big trouble using viral. First of all your Inside Sales team is likely to be swamped with a larger percentage of irrelevant leads. Secondly, you will miss out on a number of great sales opportunities by taking weeks to respond. We were actually given the Marketer’s Choice award by Eloqua for our Lead Scoring and Automation program that enabled us to process the leads generated by our viral campaign within 24 hours. Eloqua’s Marketing Automation was critical to this process.

18:Measure ROI. Viral video, like any other Marketing campaign, should always demonstrate a positive return. Show your campaign delivered value to the business. You most certainly will have to do a lot of convincing to get sponsorship for your viral campaign, so don’t miss your chance to prove to all of the skeptics that the idea was worth the investment. Show that the spike in traffic and coverage hit the right audience and generated brand awareness or demand. Track leads through the entire lifecycle and demonstrate a return on investment. If that doesn’t make sense, pick the KPI that do and measure and report on them.

19: Brand it, but be subtle. Don’t be afraid to brand your content with your company name, but don’t hit ‘em with a sledgehammer either. The point is to entertain and encourage people to spread the word while subtly associating your company with the content.

20: It’s not over when it’s over. If your campaign has legs, extend the life of it by repackaging content and sharing it on other social networks. You’ve done the hard work to build a community of interest, so keep them interested and the lines of communication open. Evolve your story, and continue to post updates.

Would love to hear your ideas on how to improve on this viral video playbook. Best of luck with your next viral campaign.