Igniting Viral Campaigns: SES Chicago

The Wi-Fi has totally choked and it’s making everyone cranky. Also, I do not believe that most of the people sitting at the front “press only” table are actually press. (See, I told you there was cranky going on.)

It’s up to our panel to make things better. For that we turn to moderator… that’s not Tessa Wegert. I don’t know who it is. Oh, okay, here’s Tessa. Hi Tessa!

Anyway, our speakers are Greg Finn, 10e20; Denise Chudy, Google; and Jennifer Evans Laycock, Search Engine Guide.

[Randomly, it bothers me that the tagline for the San Diego viral conference is “Get out of the cold and into the know.” Why not “Get out of the snow”?]

Gregg Finn at SES Chicago 2009

Greg Finn spent most of last night trying to convince me to go easy on him during his presentation. I don’t know where people get the idea that I’m the mean one. He’s up first.

You need pants-grabbingly awesome content. How do you identify that content?

Humor, educational resources, comprehensive lists (not top 10s but actual lists, Top 100), breaking info (exclusives and leaks), infographics!

Identifying Viral Content

What to do:

  • Ensure that content has proper formatting.
  • Make sure content is easy to consume.
  • Be sure the content is very visual
  • Look for a social tone. You’re a human talking to humans.

Viral Mediums

Utilize popular destinations:

  • FunnyOrDie
  • Break
  • eBaum’s World
  • YouTube
  • Flickr

Social news sites:

  • This is the largest source for igniting your campaigns.
  • Be as non-corporate as possible.
  • Make sure you are a part of the community before trying to participate.
slide by Gregg Finn at SES Chicago 2009

Digg: Not just for video games and gadgets
StumbleUpon: Niches for the win!
Reddit: A shadow of its former self

Niche Social Sites: Finance, sports, women’s news [Raven SEOTools has a great list of niche sites http://raven-seo-tools.com/blog/1151/the-ultimate-list-of-niche-social-networks]

Social news and network: Corporate bad. Supporting and talking good.


  • Create tabs that promote your content better than your wall does.
  • Make sure you have approval on promotions.
  • Make the content easy to share.
  • Spend money on Facebook.
    • Send traffic to your page.
    • If promoting a viral campaign with dates, then use events.


  • Make it easy to tweet your content.
  • Allow for easy retweets.
  • Promote during peak hours.

It’s more than Facebook and Twitter. Entice others to ignite your campaign. Reach out to bloggers.


Fanning the viral fire. Stagger approaches for optimum visibility. Provide alternate ways to share on social networks, and cross-promote to maximize exposure. Use buttons because people are lazy. Use Digg buttons, Tweetmeme, Facebook share, etc.

Leverage viral mentions to continue momentum. Repeat underperforming campaigns with fresh “coverage content”. Point to other’s coverage of your campaign to harness new interest.

slide by Gregg Finn at SES Chicago 2009

Final takeaway: Learn from your mistakes.

Jennifer Laycock is up next. She says people do viral without any idea of why they’re trying to do something viral. Know your goal.

Possible goals:

  • Build your brand
  • Drive sales
  • Drive traffic and links

The goals can all overlap and support each other. Read Convergence Marketing by Richard Rosen. It’s what she’s based this presentation on.

slide from Jennifer Laycock at SES Chicago 2009

On the extreme brand side, where it’s purely about awareness, there’s something like the Dove Evolution campaign. It wasn’t about an offer — it was just about the brand.

The next step up is something like the back to school for pennies campaign that OfficeMax did. It was funny and provided awareness, but they were also selling something.

Tipping just over the middle to the selling side is something like the Big Knit campaign in the UK. Buying a smoothie donates money and knitting a hat provides interest.

Will It Blend is further up the selling side. (Do I even need to explain this one?)

All the way to the buy now side: Send to a friend offers on Shoebuy.com. It not only sends coupons to your friends but also to Facebook, Twitter, etc.

How quickly do different campaigns affect the bottom line? On the lower end of the scale, it takes a while and it’s a long slow build.

slide from Jennifer Laycock presentation at SES Chicago 2009

On the more direct sales side, it’s more immediate.

slide from Jennifer Laycock presentation at SES Chicago 2009

You can slide your ideas up and down the scale. For example, you could film the Thriller dance and send it out to the customer. Move it up the scale by rewriting the lyrics to fit the service or product.

On the other side is something like giving out free movie tickets at an old historical theatre. How do you make that more brand focused? Host a tweet up, make it a special movie showing, or play up the history of the place.

Denise Chudy at SES Chicago 2009

Our last presenter is Denise Chudy from YouTube.

What’s a viral video? It’s exciting, compelling, interesting.

Some videos get tens of millions of views but they’re the exception not the rule. You need to think discovery, not viral. There are 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, which means that it’s harder and harder to have a breakout hit.

How to you get your good videos discovered:

  1. Make them findable.
  2. Use offline to seed.
  3. Leverage existing networks.
  4. Leverage recognizable people.
  5. Use advertising.

1. Findable

  • YouTube gets 3.6 billion searches a month, making it the second largest search engine.
  • Use SEO techniques for natural results, which will appear on YouTube and possibly Google.

2. Offline to seed

  • SNL’s recent music videos have gone viral a lot recently.
  • Another example is the E-Trade baby outtakes. [I hate that baby.]

3. Existing networks

  • Metallicats = Metallica + LOLcats
  • 409k views, 7.4 percent from an embedded player, 2.6 percent from external links

4. Recognizable people

  • Celebrities, industry experts, YouTube level celebrities
  • Kobe jumping over an Aston Martin: 5 million views on the original videos, 8 million including copies, 14 million including derivatives

5. Market your videos

  • Buy ads. There are 40 million visits to YouTube each day.
  • The home page is high end, expensive but you can advertise more granularly too.

How do you decide which videos to advertise on? Use the video targeting tool on YouTube. You can sign in through AdWords. Publishers can choose whether or not to accept ads on their videos.

[As an aside, she keeps calling this an SES conference, which… yes, but she means SEM or SEO. It’s confusing.] [Don’t worry, Susan! Just rest your weary liveblogger head for the evening. There’s one more day of SES Chicago coming at you tomorrow! –Virginia]

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent Digital Marketing Optimization posts is better than the last!
Bruce Clay on January 22, 2024
How To Optimize Content for Facebook and Instagram
Bruce Clay on December 14, 2023
SEO vs. PPC: How To Choose
Bruce Clay on October 16, 2023
7 Proven Strategies To Increase Website Traffic for Your Business

One Reply to “Igniting Viral Campaigns: SES Chicago”

Thanks for the roundup for those of us who couldn’t make it.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Serving North America based in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Bruce Clay, Inc. | PO Box 1338 | Moorpark CA, 93020
Voice: 1-805-517-1900 | Toll Free: 1-866-517-1900 | Fax: 1-805-517-1919