Viral Marketing Insights Featured in New Report :)


A recent report on India’s Digital Marketing Landscape (published by kstart-YourStory) included an article I wrote about Lessons on Viral Marketing. No nonsense insights from basics of content marketing to tips about how startups can make it fast, cheap and viral. Find the article below and here’s the full report PDF. Happy reading :) Feel free to ask questions in comments or join my mailing list for updates on killer content marketing and the upcoming book – cheers.. Aashish

A Happy Accident

In February 2014, I made a video that documented the last day of the infamous Gurgaon toll plaza. The video was about creating a happy memory, and so I decided to pay the toll for the person behind me and capture this random act of kindness in a video.

That day, I discovered two things: It costs just Rs 21 to make someone smile, and that if content is topical, newsworthy, and inspires action, it could go viral. That video was shared across Reddit and featured on Storypick, NDTV, IBN Live, Buzzfeed and put me on the radio the next day. Even today, more than two years later, a search for ‘Gurgaon Toll Surprise’ on Google throws up links to the video across the first two pages.

Before this, a viral video to me was nothing but a ‘happy accident’

Before this, a viral video to me was nothing but a ‘happy accident’, when the stars were in line, your luck was shining bright, and you had the blessings of a guru. That one video started my journey in learning the method to the madness in viral videos. And as I kept going, I kept recording the learnings on the notes app on my phone. The learnings from the first, I applied to the next video, which again went viral. I conducted some experiments, and another went viral, and went so big that it blew my mind. A video made in August of that same year, clocked seven million views in a few months, was shared by 3.5 lakh people and reached 25% of Facebook‘s internet user base in India! The same video became Asia’s most shared branded Facebook post and went on to win awards. The notes in my phone kept increasing, and I knew at the back of my mind that the day these virals stop, that’s the day I’ll be done, back to the rat race. So learnings and experimenting became an obsession. In a span of one year, multiple videos went viral, hit millions of views, and some even went far beyond our borders and went viral in China!

Today, these videos have garnered over 130 million views, and have been shared by over 3 million people.

Venturing into content marketing was a natural evolution after years spent in social media and website development. I realised that everything revolves around remarkable content, to the point that every brand today has become a media company.

So what makes great content? I have a five point checklist from two years of research. To make a share-worthy video, the ideas should be inspirational, useful, topical, celebrate the viewer’s life, or change the world. If the content falls into these buckets it’s a go, otherwise I trash it. I believe virality can happen as long as there’s compelling share-worthy content. Piggybacking on Internet trends is one way to increase the chances your content will go viral. News jacking gets your content super-fast reach and engagement when done right.

Focus on the user! Make their life easy and they will come in millions looking for you, downloading your apps and becoming your evangelists.

Content Marketing 101

Content marketing is like a rocket ship, you need fuel every day for it to go further and sometimes you need nuclear fuel to take it light years ahead! Start with images as everyday content and invest time and resources for the nuclear video once in a while. It’s true that videos offer a more immersive experience, but if your resources are limited, it’s best to stick to memes and images. Your top priority should be kick-ass storytelling. Don’t worry about production value since most of your content would be consumed on mobile devices and you don’t need fancy production to make an impact on that tiny screen.

Be so good that they can’t ignore you.

It is crucial to gain initial traction when you release your content: we target 100 shares in the first 10 minutes. It gives the content a jump start. One way is to reach out to blogs and news sites to pick it up. Cultivate relationships with blogs. If one focuses on creating kick-ass industry-leading content, they will seek you out.

The Magical Metric for Viral Content

In January 2016, we launched a video for ixigo, which became so big, it almost broke the internet. It was a video experiment using images and it hit 50 million views in a few weeks, was shared by 1.3 million people and sky-rocketed app installs for ixigo, the elusive ROI we’re all after. We replicated that success in multiple videos and crossed the 10 millionmark. It proved my belief that powerful content can catapult a brand and give it the reach of a TV ad on ridiculously low budgets. And when the ROI baby starts to dance, it’s a good day for everyone. :)

The magical metric I use is to track its shares and then reach.

Success for a viral video is decided by these two factors, in my experience. Also, the game just got tougher; now, only if a video hits a million it’s considered a hit; last year it was just 100,000.

Tracking ‘shares’ on Facebook is easy, but when we share it on WhatsApp there’s no way to find out how far it went. Until we get analytics for WhatsApp, I use the old-school formula to test whether the content has gone viral. The only way to track WhatsApp is to share something in a user group first, say your company group. If it comes back to you from your family or peers, then consider it a hit.

I do not subscribe to the view that incentivising viewers will increase virality. Your content should be compelling enough for people to share it. In my experience, incentivising hasn’t worked. The real goal must be to have you ‘share’ out of choice, not by a mail from your boss or arm-twisting by a friend.

Choosing The Right Platform

The more you re-package and distribute your content, the better. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Slideshare, mailers…build an audience base wherever you can, and remember, the rules are different for each.

Success on YouTube requires a solid subscriber base, which will take months or years to build. However, when Facebook opened up to video content, it opened the floodgates for distribution, since many brands already had a fan base on their pages.

I feel Facebook has sharing in its DNA; YouTube not so much.

Right now, Facebook is dominating the videos space and is injecting more videos in your news-feeds; it makes sense to experiment with video and reach millions organically. ‘Shares’, in my experience, make or break a video.

LinkedIn can also be a platform to generate more views for your content. Super value content with actionable insights is widely shared on Pulse, LinkedIn’s version of the newsfeed. At the bottom of your article, create an option for people to subscribe for more via email. This way, you’re collecting users from LinkedIn only. As you start building that list and distributing content, you start getting shares in the LinkedIn ecospace, and it attracts more views and shares.

In the end, pick a platform that makes sense for your business, where your users hang out most. If you’re in the B2B space, think Slideshare or LinkedIn. For anything B2C, kill it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and now the rapidly growing Snapchat.

Future of Video Content in India

It’s raining videos everywhere – from Facebook news-feeds to family groups on WhatsApp. More than 50% mobile traffic is already dominated by videos. Also, with 4G expected to become mainstream in 2016-2017, Facebook will start injecting more videos in news-feeds (as it does in other countries). In the coming years, I see videos taking over in a big way, replacing local language content in India with more visual storytelling.

There’s an incredible growth happening in India right now: mobile numbers are sky-rocketing. And it’s not just Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi, but tier II cities that have maximum momentum. An entire generation of users has completely skipped the desktop era and is experiencing the internet for the first time on their mobile devices. We have seen mobile native videos work best, and videos that add value to their lives – not blatant ads – get shared by peer groups. Until the early ‘90s, there was just one TV channel and the idea of a remote control didn’t exist, but when multiple channels came on the scene, the BS radars in our minds evolved and we switched as soon as we saw ads. Users today have BS radars so evolved that as soon as there is a hint of an ad, they bounce off to the many options available. When the videos are authentic, add value, respect users’ time and attention and engage in the first 3-6 seconds, and are native to tiny mobile screens…that’s when the magic happens.

Startup Tip: How To Make It Fast, Cheap And Viral

There are three surefire ways to market your video content effectively. First, pick kick-ass topics. Research and curate, and use the five buckets of picking share-worthy topics. Second, find a video/content that comes close to what you want in terms of sensibility, so you have a creative yardstick. Third, either get your video guys to shoot or hire filmmaking students. They are skilled and passionate, and you give them direction, in terms of ideas and sensibility. This keeps the costs low, ensures good quality, and has potential to be shared like crazy.

Do 10 such experiments, and two will work, just like movie studios. We have two teams in our office: one that spends money and gets results, and then there’s us who get results without spends. To me, spending is easy, but getting there organically is startup swag! My number one growth hack is simple: Focus on the user! Make their life easy and they will come in millions looking for you, downloading your apps and becoming your evangelists.

(Copy credits: Anisha Abraham, Growth Hacks India)

Aashish Chopra is Head of Content Marketing at ixigo. He was named DMAi Content Marketer of the Year, at the Direct Marketing Association India (DMAi) Awards in February 2016. He recently was part of the ‘Ask Me Anything on Facebook’ event hosted by Growth Hacking India where he answered questions on everything from creating viral content and choosing the right platform to marketing content effectively. He blogs at