What’s the new face of viral?

newfaceofviralIt used to be the word “viral” conjured images of a certain precocious prairie dog. Then, Facebook and Burger King caught our attention this year with the fast food chain’s controversial campaign that allowed Facebook users to “defriend” 10 friends in exchange for a Whopper. These kinds of campaigns are bringing new meaning to the word “viral,” but are there safer ways for brands to tap into viral engagement?

Kraft’s Facebook app took a more positive approach than Burger King’s by offering meals to hungry families for every friend a user gets to post their application. Over a two week period in December, over 25,000 users added the app to their profile. However, enaging customers in non-traditional ways doesn’t have to be limited to a Facebook app either. Viral content can take the form of slideshows, images, blogs, and mock websites.

One of the tools we feel encompasses this evolving viral engagement (and which regular readers will recognize from previous blog and newsletter articles) is StumbleUpon. Stumble Upon is an online tool that moonlights as a social network, dabbles in semantic Web concepts, and allows users to discover content from deep within the Web. Images, poems, articles, videos–all content has the potential to spread like wildfire among the rangs of SU users, their associated groups and friends. The site allows users to rate, share and send to their friends from within the toolbar–without having to logon to the site or send via email.

Recently, Stumble Upon’s VP of Business Development  paid us a visit, and our suspicions were confirmed: Companies of all sizes are turning to StumbleUpon to drive traffic to their sites, and make content go viral. Already the company claims over 7 million users, handily broken up into self selected segments of age, gender, geographical location, and hobbies and careers– engineers, marketers, journalists, film buffs, etc.

For marketers, the trick is to develop highly compelling content that drives traffic inadvertently towards their cause. In a distinct departure from traditional online marketing, there are no banners, or click-throughs.  Brands can tell StumbleUpon who they want to target and which page they want to drive traffic to. An example of a site that would resonate in this environment is WarnerBrothers’ WhySoSerious campaign which was developed to market the opening of the Dark Knight.

For a look at what’s being passed around via StumbleUpon, here are some of the recent stumbles I have received:

Staircase and Slide in one

Non profit website devoted to space travel

Trent Reznor and Britney Spears share a moment

Whimsical, serendipitous, informative, viral. Are these not some of the founding principals of the Web?

Another new player in the discovery experience genre is Flip Gloss,  a Forbes Media supported venture run by former Yahoo execs. The company offers high quality photo slide shows  of designer clothes, luxury hotels, and high end furniture on their site (think sexy Vogue ads and alluring Banana Republic photo shoots).

FlipGloss CEO, Kerry Trainor says the concept is “inspired by a magazine environment” but native digital. Ultimately FlipGloss hopes their solution will “combine content and advertising as an uninterrupted stream” on websites across the Internet. If FlipGloss is successful, this will be a wonderful way for brands to play online–one that engages consumers and waltzes past the capacity of display ads and video bumpers.

When considering drumming up some viral online publicity for your next campaign, think beyond viral videos and even Facebook applications to more experiential solutions like StumbleUpon or FlipGloss, or look towards the horizon for semantic Web solutions–these and other platforms are likely cheaper and safer alternative ways for your brand to tell its story.