First and this should be obvious before any viral launch you should have a set of metrics and goals you are looking to achieve and track. Whether that is sales, traffic, leads or links. What is it that you are looking to achieve as a result of a viral campaign? I am going to manly talk about learning from your mistakes to make future virals better as well as links and traffic as that is the most common/general goal of successful viral marketing.
1.) Feedback: Believe me there is very few things more painful then reading through hundreds of snarky comments left by the social media middle class, but beneath all the noise there may be some useful feedback. Look for repeating trends left in the comments regarding actual constructive criticism, these can be learning opportunities for you to better prepare your next piece. You will often see actual feedback about your site, regarding your design, layout or even how dumb your bio pic looks. Hopefully you can gather which feedback might have some merit and make some definitive decisions regarding your site or content. Again this will be “needle in a haystack” but if there are certain things on your domain that do not sit well with your audience you may want to change them before your next piece.
2.) Analysis: We will talk about referring domain data below but first you will want to pay attention to some things like what time of day the piece “went viral” or what day it did? How long did it take to reach critical mass on the social sites? How many Diggs, Thumbs Up/Reviews, Tweets/RT’s? Every piece is going to be different but it can help you plan and execute later if you know all of this. I know some people that only launch on Tuesdays or only start the process at a certain time of day. I like to plan things for Tues-Thurs and so they are aimed to reach critical mass for mid day. You need to find what works for you.
3.) Conversions: What type of conversions were you looking for if any? More RSS Subscribers? More Twitter Followers? Comments? Newsletters? Leads? Sales? All of these things can benefit from successful viral marketing. If you were looking to get one or more of the above, did you? If you did, why do you think you did? If you didn’t, why not? Maybe you need to make your call to action more prominent, or maybe less prominent? Maybe you need to make your RSS Button bigger or have a reminder at the bottom of the post instead of just relying on your Orange button on the side nav? Maybe your Twitter account info needs to be better located? What type of content brings more of the goal you are setting out for? Does a more specific list/tips type post get you more leads? Does an informational type post get you more Twitter followers or RSS subscribers? You need to test and test and pay attention and make note as to the answers to all these questions.
I have seen posts literally bring hundreds/thousands of new RSS subscribers or Twitter followers. I have seen virals bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business within days. I have seen them bring thousands of leads, and it is important that I know why, when and how. *Tip make sure you use analytics to track what referring sources brought these conversions. You can use BLVD Status to track out going clicks and other stuff more specific to viral success.
4.) Referring Traffic: There are really two parts to this section; first, traffic counts from the different social sites/blogs that you targeted and second, traffic counts from sites/blogs you did not target and otherwise didn’t really expect. You may know how much potential traffic Digg can bring (just had one last week with more than 200k) StumbleUpon can get up into the 30-50k range now, Reddit is often 9-20k and I have seen Twitter do 10-20k, I know it can do more and on avg I see it do about 3-5k (*Twitter specific articles usually get the most traffic on Twitter). It is good to note how much each one does, but the gold nugget here is the second part, which is to watch for the traffic sources that surprise you. Did you know that a foreign site similar to Digg/Reddit can bring over 20k to your site without breaking a sweat.
There are numerous blogs and social sites you might not frequent that can do serious traffic and link damage. Make note of these and if your next viral does not get submitted there, then submit them yourself or find someone you know that uses those sites. Either way it is a quick way to build your arsenal.
5.) Rolodex: This is saved for last cause it is so simple yet most people I talk to never do it. Generally speaking gaining high quality relevant links that you couldn’t otherwise get through any other means is the main reason for the majority of viral campaigns. This is a legit reason, I have gotten hundreds of thousands of links that you could never get any other way, no matter how big the link building team or how much money you had. If you want a link from WSJ or NY Post, Newsweek, USA Today etc. you gonna get those from a link broker (notice how I kept Forbes out of that list :)? Creating something truly viral and useful is the best way to get links from the big dogs. And getting links from the big dogs is what may be the difference between you out ranking your competitor.
One of the most important things you can take from this post is this; if you get a link from a big dog site, contact them and thank them. Put that author/editor on your radar, tweet their good stuff, comment on it, build a relationship and the next time you have a viral that is worthy of the big dog love send them a link. The only thing better than a link from the largest most trusted site in your industry is two links from the largest most trusted site in your industry. I am in no way suggesting you should spam and bug these people, I know how annoying it is to get asked to blog about stuff. What you are doing is finding someone that likes the content you create and you are establishing a relationship with them that can be beneficial to both parties. It is a business contact that you create, nourish etc. and it is so simple and it works well and the next time your piece gets buried and gets sub par traffic you can still come out on top with some killer relevant links. After all isn’t that the reason you started out building the content in the first place?