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Beginner's guide to viral marketing

The campaign can be based around humour, like Old Spice, but don't feel pressured to make it funny. It can be a character that conveys other qualities instead, like empathy, honesty or trustworthiness. It really just needs to be a likeable character that can be sustained.

Use YouTube to host and promote your campaign

You can start the campaign with a video of some sort on YouTube. Remember, this is the most democratic form of marketing there is, and it lends itself to a bit of DIY amateurism too with no need for a major Madison Avenue agency coming up with the creatives. Film it yourself, and have a bit of fun doing it.

Creating the initial buzz to kick off the campaign

You'll next need to spend some time going around social networks inviting people to interact, perhaps in the form of a contest, or by offering some free advice, or just asking people to talk to you.

This is where the magic kicks in, if you're lucky. If you ask enough people to join in, many will ignore you but some, inevitably, will take you up. It's human nature. They tell their friends, and then – well, who knows? Maybe people will end up competing to get on board with their own witty contribution. The unpredictability of what happens next is part of the joy.

It will of course help if you theme your campaign around the interests of your target market, perhaps offering them the chance to contribute their opinions on a topic relevant to that community. You can use your chosen persona to answer with your own opinions, and interest and intrigue will build further.

Getting the right subject for your campaign

The trickiest bit for a smaller business to pull off is involving a celebrity of some sort in the campaign, one who perhaps has a big Twitter following. We're not necessarily talking Stephen Fry, but is there perhaps someone local to you of minor notoriety, and of some relevance to what you do? Or can you get a well known blogger to talk about you? This would spread links to your website, which over time will increase your ranking with search engines.

But really you're just after anyone with a following you can leverage – for free. And that doesn't have to be a real-life person. One website created a promotional video for its site with an interactive Angry Birds birthday cake, the video attracted 8.5 million views.

Remember, you don't need to reach the millions that Old Spice did to be a success - just reaching a few thousand people, a hundred of whom might go and buy your product, could make it all worthwhile.