Back at the start of October, when I got back from the Inbound 17 conference, I wrote a blog post on the digital marketing trends I saw coming for 2018 from listening to conference speakers, and from talking to my peers at the conference. The topic was timely and well received. It went viral.
This isn't the first time a post of mine has gone viral. The first time I got reach like that was in 2012, and that was a pivotal moment in our evolution as a company, because while we got a lot of likes, shares, fans, and followers, we didn't get much of anything else. No leads. No customers. It's quite a heady experience, watching something you wrote get shared over and over and to read the nice comments from your peers. It's equally grounding to get off of that ride and realize you've got almost nothing to show for it.
That time, while we had a good website and good content, we didn't have the pieces in place to capture leads. We didn't have an inbound marketing infrastructure in place, and we ended up with little to show for going viral. This time around, after coming up for air after following up on all the leads generated, it struck me that this would make a good case study in how inbound marketing works.
In this post, I'm going to show you the numbers, and explain seven lead generation lessons learned from going viral.
Going Viral Means Different Things to Different People
What does going viral mean? That depends on many things, including how many subscribers or followers you have, and what distribution and syndication options are available to you.
For us, we received over 3,200 post views in the first week.
I submitted the post to Social Media Today, which published it a few days later, where it received over 12,000 views.
That engagement netted us over 80 leads, most of which came in the first two weeks after publication. The post continues to be one of our most popular, and will likely continue to be popular through February.
You'll notice from the image above that only 30 submissions, and 28 new leads came from the article itself. That's part of the reason I chose to write this guide - a single post can only do so much by itself. The inbound marketing infrastructure and process you have around your content, however, can seriously increase reach, and engagement, and lead generation.
Here are the lessons learned.
1. Distribute to the Proper Channels
You should have well-defined buyer personas, and be writing content that targets them. The detailed information in your personas should inform your distribution efforts to reach the right people - what social networks to share on, which influencers to connect with, and so forth. That's always the place to start. Content that's crafted to resonate with your personas, and distributed to the digital places where they hang out sets the stage for great content to go viral.
Since this was a B2B focused article, we published Thursday, October 4th to the following channels which are our defaults for B2B posts (all times in PDT):
- Twitter (x2): 10:00 AM & 1:00 PM (East and West Coast prime time for us).
- Published from my LinkedIn personal account: 6:00 AM
- LinkedIn posts to page and Showcase pages: 7:15 AM
- Facebook page: 7:15 AM
- Google+ page and personal accounts: 7:15 AM
- LinkedIn Groups (25): 5:30 PM
As with all of our posts, we published them on social bookmarking sites such as Stumbleupon, and shared the post on our Medium account.
If you're doing inbound marketing, one of your primary distribution channels is going to be your blog. Make sure your blog and your website are mobile friendly. 86% of our views were Accelerated Mobile Page views.
2. Distribute Broadly if Something Catches Fire
We published on Thursday, and by Friday morning we saw a ton of activity, mostly from LinkedIn Groups.
We immediately revised our publication schedules to share the article more frequently on LinkedIn and other social networks. We also created posts for Instagram and Pinterest to promote it there as well.
We typically share a post the following number of times in the first two weeks after publication:
- Twitter: 10 times over two weeks (six times in the first four days, and 4 times over the remaining six days.
- LinkedIn: Two times over two weeks on different days and different times.
- LinkedIn Groups: One time.
- Facebook Page: Two times over two weeks on different days and different times.
- Google+: Two times over two weeks on different days and different times.
- Pinterest: One time.
- Instagram: One time.
We tripled our share rates on all networks except LinkedIn Groups, where we shared the post only one more time.
While LinkedIn was the primary social network that drove traffic to our site related to this article, other social networks did as well. We estimate the decision to distribute the post more broadly, and the increase in times we shared it, added 15%-20% more leads to our tally in the first two weeks.
LinkedIn groups have been getting a lot of bad press lately, and deservedly so in my opinion (I haven't had much good to say about them either). That said, active groups with large memberships made up of your target personas are still an excellent choice for distribution - they can generate a lot of conversation share and traffic. Hopefully, LinkedIn's announced re-focus on groups will work to make them more relevant in 2018.
3. Pile On with Paid Promotion
We're big fans for piling on when something is successful. When a post takes off, we like to look for good advertising opportunities.
We looked at promoting the post on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. In the end, we were satisfied with the traction on Twitter through our own promotion and that of Social Media Today, and on LinkedIn due to the popularity of posts in groups, so we opted to boost the post only on Facebook.
We boosted the post to a very refined target audience in order to get impressions in front of those most likely to click on a content offer and become a lead. This yielded a fair number of impressions, and about 5% of the leads in the first two weeks - all of those leads five days after the post had been published.
4. Surround Your Articles with Mix of Calls-to-Action
If you're doing inbound marketing right, you know that should include calls to action in and around the content on your website and blog. These calls to action will compel visitors to click so that they can get content offers, also called lead magnets.
The content offers are usually things that are helpful such as eBooks, how-to guides, checklists and other deep content that help your personas better understand or solve their problems.
Having a mix of offers which apply to your personas increases the chance that something will interest them enough to click and share their contact information.
We typically have three to five calls-to-action on the sidebar, and a full-width call-to-action at the end of the article. We also include several button calls-to-action in the text of the article.
We recently started moving to button calls-to-action inside of posts, in addition to text links. On some mobile devices, sidebar calls-to-action aren't visible - button-based calls-to-action with a small amount of lead in-text, however, can provide some visible 'pop' for the call-to-action, without distracting from the flow of the article.
5. Links to Your Other Articles in Your Content
The article that went viral contained links to a number of other related articles including two of our own. One was a link to our article about new features announced for Hubspot at the Inbound 17 conference. Another was an article about how the changes in the LinkedIn Group API have affected content distribution.
Together, these linked posts got a fair number of visits, which resulted in a handful of additional leads.
6. A Good Website Pop-up is a Must Have
While people continue to say that they don't like pop-up ads on websites, there are a number of compelling studies which show pop-ups get a lot of interaction.
We've been running pop-up ads for years because they consistently generate leads for us - as long as traffic comes in, our pop-up gets a few visitors to opt-in. This viral post doubled traffic to our website pages beyond our blog during the two weeks from the time of publication. Since we run our pop-up on our site and blog pages, no matter what visitors were looking at, there was a chance they would see our pop up, and the numbers are compelling.
In the two weeks prior to publishing our viral post, our pop-up (called a lead flow in HubSpot's Marketing Hub) got 90 views and captured five contacts for a respectable 5% conversion rate.
For the two weeks from the time our viral post was published, our pop-up got 446 views and converted 33 leads with a strong 7.4% conversion rate. That's right; our pop-up converted three more leads than the article did.
We take a lot of care in how we position our calls-to-action. We like to place calls to action near related and relevant content such as placing our 50 Optimization Tips Strategy Guide near content on conversion optimization. Since, pop-ups tend to cover more ground - such as your entire blog, or many of your website pages - we prefer more broadly applicable content offers for pop-ups. In this case, our pop-up was offering our free eBook, The Essential Guide to Creating Buyer Personas which appeals to most marketers at a fundamental level.
7. Monitoring and Measurement Can Help You Seize the Day
I'm a huge advocate of monitoring digital marketing activities to identify opportunities to increase reach and engagement. I'm also a huge fan of measurement so that you can optimize all aspects of your marketing activities. This viral post showed how both monitoring and measurement could help you get the most out of your content.
Which alerts do my team have in place? Several:
- We have Fan Page Karma's 'Shitstorm' alert to monitor reactions on our Facebook Page
- We have SEMRush monitoring our domain.
- We have BuzzSumo and Hubspot monitoring several keywords.
- We have standard notifications coming to our team's smartphones from social media apps such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
Naturally, our first indications that we were going viral came through notifications from the LinkedIn app - we started seeing lots of likes and shares in the early morning of October 5th. As soon as we saw repeated notifications coming in, we knew something big was happening.
We checked our website traffic (Google Analytics), and post analytics (HubSpot) and saw a huge traffic jump. We added specific notifications to BuzzSumo and Hubspot to help us track conversations on Twitter and mentions online. As stated earlier, we also reconfigured our sharing schedule to share the post more often, and created posts for Pinterest and Instagram to broaden our reach. We also pushed through our submission of the article to Social Media Today in order to capitalize on the timing. All of this got us more reach and more leads.
The fact that we were able to respond rapidly, and get all of that done within four hours from the time we got into the office at 6:00 AM, Friday the 5th, is a testament to our great staff. But, the alerts from the social network apps are what moved us to action in the first place. We saw those alerts and used analytics data to confirm what was happening by 7:30. That guided our response to maximize results.
The leads generated from this viral post show how inbound marketing can generate leads, and shows the essential inbound marketing infrastructure that needs to be in place to capture those leads. That, along with a strong team and solid process, backed by measurement and monitoring tools, can turn viral reach into something much more valuable to your business - actionable leads, some of which will become customers.