Viral marketing campaigns have quickly become one of the most simple and cost effective ways to increase brand awareness. But viral methods can be chaotic, and mastering strategies for controlling viral campaigns has become the Holy Grail for marketers. While there is no proven process for viral marketing, there are several strategies that can position your campaign for viral success.
At Worktank, we recently launched a grassroots, viral campaign called Embrace the Lemon. The motivation behind launching it was to inject pragmatic positivity into the world during a time of constant bad news. We wanted to bring out stories about overcoming adversity that would give others hope and ideas about overcoming their own adversity. The strategies we followed can be applied to any viral campaign.
- Understand the context and relevancy of your message. Timeliness and emotions--heartstrings or humor--are critical. If the message resonates with your audience, they will be happy to interact and pass it along. We kicked off the campaign with a video called "The Lemon's Lament " to set the context.
- Know which media appeal to your audience and how they interact with that media. Understanding where your target audience "goes" and the experience they expect there is also critical.
Provide meaningful opportunities to interact:
- For our Embrace the Lemon launch, street teams took to Seattle streets and handed out 2,500 lemons and 6,000 stickers. A video crew was on hand to tape "Lemons to Lemonade" stories, which were compiled in a video and distributed online.
- In addition to interaction with street teams, "Lemonheads" were encouraged to interact online through a collection of social-networking sites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. At EmbracetheLemon.com , people shared their personal stories, uploaded photos and videos and interacted with other members of the community who logged on to share their lemons.
- Within one week, 3,281 unique visitors had visited the site, we had 625 Twitter followers, 581 Facebook fans , and 1,178 YouTube views of "The Lemon's Lament" promotional video.
Be prepared to relinquish control of your message:
- As viewers interact with your campaign, they will also impact its message. The message will be infectious and evolve.
- Planning and strategy allow you to create a clear strong message, but once the campaign has been released, it is open to interpretation. Be prepared to enter into the conversation. Many companies sit back and watch, but engaging can produce greater impact.
- While many companies are hesitant to give up control, it's important to remember that as long as you're honest and transparent, your message likely won't be interpreted negatively.
Always leave them wanting more, and then deliver it:
- Have a plan for next steps in order to hold the audience's attention.
- Ride the viral wave as long as you can, and don't wait too long to follow up with your original message. Your audience has a short attention span, and no matter how great your campaign is, people do forget. Don't lose momentum.
- We released a video  shortly after the Embrace the Lemon launch, showcasing the event and stories of people we met who had embraced the lemon.
All of these components are essential to a viral campaign. But even more importantly, your campaign must start and end with a strong message. After all, it's impossible for a campaign to go viral if its message doesn't resonate with the intended audience.
Read more of Melinda Partin's Work Tank blog 
As CEO and co-founder of Worktank, Melinda leads the company's strategic direction with the goal of worldwide expansion to better serve our global customer base. Her vision is central to Worktank's mission of helping clients find new and compelling ways to establish meaningful relationships with their customers.
Drawing on over a decade of interactive experience, Melinda helps companies transition from traditional marketing to Web- and interactive-based channels. Her wide-ranging background includes Fortune 500 and small- to mid-sized companies in technology, real estate, corporate housing, and telecommunications, and the non-profit sector in HIV/AIDS and hunger issues. Melinda moved to the agency side after stints with Microsoft Sidewalk and Microsoft Studios, where she pushed the edge of media technology.