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Developing a Viral Content Strategy

April 10, 2009

As I waited to get my haircut a few months ago, I read an article in Rolling Stone magazine called, The Death of High Fidelity. It was rather depressing. I grew up in the age of high fidelity. Large speakers with overpowering amplifiers were the norm for some of us attempting to get the very best sound from our records. Now, because of signal compressed MP3s, record companies and producers aren’t as concerned about high fidelity as they are about volume. Why? Because of consumers like me who mostly listen to our music with our earbuds. Unbelievably, some artists are producing records once again because the quality is better.

It’s been similar for video. I used to produce and direct videos. I used to teach television and film. The power of the visual image wows me. The storytelling language of film and video is still a passion for me. But after all we’ve learned about the importance of visual quality, we get YouTube and its videos that we view on our computer screens and cell phones. But that’s the way it is now, and that’s great news for all of us as we build marketing strategies for higher education.  Think viral.

The idea of viral marketing has been with us since the mid-1990s with the advent of the Internet. Now with the changes in technology that allow everyone to be a video producer, and with the explosion of new media, focusing on viral marketing makes more sense than ever for colleges and universities.

Jesse James Viral

On a recent episode of Celebrity Apprentice, the two competing groups were producing viral videos for All Detergent. Both videos that were produced were rejected by the brand managers because of what they felt was inappropriate content for their customers. While both celebrity groups could have produced better and “cleaner” videos for All Detergent (ha!), how exactly was All planning on using the videos in the first place? Where in the virtual world are their customers? Perhaps the celebrity groups should have used funny pets in their videos.

On the other hand, higher education marketing is a perfect industry for viral marketing. The demographics are perfectly aligned for new media. It is the customers of higher education who have been fueling social media.

Think of it.  Your university has on its campus hundreds or thousands of “video producers” who would jump at a chance to produce video content about their school. They’ll spend time in social networks circulating your student-produced video or video game, they’ll share photographs on Flickr, and they’ll talk authentically about their school. This is a no-brainer.

Developing a viral content strategy will require you to adjust your marketing plan and allocate your budget dollars differently. You may need agency dollars for micro websites. There will be more dollars for student wages. But it’s a transition you need to make.

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