Viral Seeding Services

One of the hardest parts of creating a viral strategy is seeding the campaign in such a way that it spreads father and faster than traditional transmission rates would allow it.

Since the average viewer of a viral will “infect” less than one person, most completely organic viral ads will die out after a few generations of spread.

Viral seeding techniques can be used however, to compensate for low transmission rates by either ensuring a very large enough number of people see the ad at launch, or by making sure that the viewers who see the ad first are those viewers who are most likely to have high transmission rates. Proficient social media users, bloggers, popular forum members, even prominent mailing list members are examples of high transmission rate targets.

By studying reports on the flow of viral ads, and demographics and user behavior on social media sites I’ve developed my viral seeding strategy, with tactics including big seeding, the spoon model and piggy-backing (I’ll post on that soon).

I’m now offering these seeding services to companies that wish to launch viral ads in the most effective way possible, leveraging top social media and networking sites as well as blogs, forums and mailing lists. If you’re interested in what I can do for you, contact me.

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Viral Assimilation: How Memes Encode Themeselves on our Brains

Heylighen details four stages of a meme’s infection cycle: assimilation, retention, expression and transmission. The first step, assimilation, is where a meme imprints its code onto the subject’s short term memory.

Short term memory is encoded by humans via auditory means (rather than semantic understanding like long term memory) by route of the phonological loop. When we read words, or see an object we silently articulate the words or the name of the object. Much like repeating a phone number to remember it, our articulatory rehearsal component repeats what we’ve just articulated on a loop (about 1.5 seconds long), preventing it from decaying. When judging a meme’s potential success at imprinting on short term memory, 2 factors come into play:

  1. Phonological Similarity
    Lists of words that sound similar are more difficult to remember than words that sound different.
  2. Word Length
    Lists of short words are remembered better than lists of long words.

In his paper, Heylighen lists 7 criteria necessary for a meme to be successful at this stage:

  1. Distinctiveness
  2. Novelty
  3. Simplicity
  4. Coherence
  5. Self-justification
  6. Formality
  7. Authority

For our viral purposes I feel we can combine the first two into one “novel” criteria, and the second two in to a single “intuitive” criteria. Criterias 4, 5 and 6 from this list refer to an internal logic in the meme and its components, in that all parts should not only be clearly and logically presented and agree with each other, but there should be a syngery between the parts of a meme, each component justifying the others.

In a marketing context, the authority criteria has more to do with the process of seeding a campaign than with the content of the campaign.

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The Science of Viral Marketing: Applied Memetics

Wikipedia says:

Memetics is an approach to evolutionary models of information transfer based on the concept of the meme. Just as memes are analogous to genes, memetics is analogous to genetics.

Applied memetics is the science of understanding what makes a meme successful, which is the core “problem” of viral marketing. The most prolific researcher of applied memetics is Francis Heylighen who, in 1998, published a paper titled What makes a meme successful? Selection criteria for cultural evolution where he details and graphs the stages and criteria responsible for a meme’s successfulness. I’ve distilled and simplified the details most salient to viral marketers below as a sort of study guide to applied memetics.

  Objective Subjective Inter-Subjective Meme-Centered
Assimilation Distinctiveness Novelty, Simplicity, Coherence Authority, Formality Self-Justification
Retention Invariance, Controllability Coherence, Utility Conformity Self-Reinforcement, Intolerance
Expression     Expressivity Proselytism
Transmission     Publicity Proselytism

4 Stages

1 Assimilation
A successful virus must be able to “infect” a new host, that is, enter into its memory.

2 Retention
The second stage of memetic replication is the retention of the meme in memory.

3 Expression
To be communicated to other individuals, a meme must emerge from its storage as memory pattern and enter into a physical shape that can be perceived by others.

4 Transmission
To reach another individual, an expression needs a physical carrier or medium which is sufficiently stable to transmit the expression without too much loss or deformation.

4 Criteria Levels

1 Objective criteria denote selection by phenomena or objects independent of the hosts and memes involved in the process.

2 Subjective criteria represent selection by the subject who assimilates the meme.

3 Intersubjective criteria represent selection through the interactions between different subjects.

4 Meme-Centered criteria represent the internal structure of the meme.

16 Criteria

1 Distinctiveness
viruses that are distinct, detailed or contrasted

2 Invariance
memes that recur independently of the way in which they are perceived

3 Controllability
memes which react differentially to the subject’s actions

4 Novelty
memes that attract the subject’s attention

5 Simplicity
memes that require little processing for the to be understood

6 Coherence
memes that share connection, consistency and support with the subject’s existing memory trace

7 Utility
memes that are more likely to be effectively used and thus reinforced

8 Authority
memes from authoritative sources that are held in high regard or considered to represent expertise in the domain

9 Formality
memes that have precise, unambiguous expression

10 Conformity
memes that are reinforced by different hosts belonging to the same group

11 Expressivity
memes that can be easily expressed in an intersubjective medium

12 Publicity
memes that cause hosts to put effort into broad distribution

13 Self-justification
memes with components that mutually support each other

14 Self-reinforcement
memes that stimulate their hosts to rehearse itself, e.g. by repetition, meditation, prayer

15 Intolerance
memes that exclude rival memes from being assimilated or retained

16 Proselytism
memes that urge their hosts to maximally spread to other hosts

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Examples of Viral Marketing Campaigns

The best viral marketing campaigns (when a marketer intends to make something viral) are one of those things that you have to see to recognize, so here are a few of my favorite viral marketing examples:

By the way, if you like my content, please vote for me in the Open Web Awards.


When Hotmail launched, much of its early success was due to the virality of the sigline that it attached to every outgoing email inviting the recipient to join. One of the earliest examples of viral marketing on the internet.

Subservient Chicken

One of my favorite viral marketing examples on this list, the creepy webcam site made for a Burger King campaign allowed people to control a guy in a chicken suit. It went viral almost instantly and for a few weeks was everywhere.

Will it Blend

One of the most recent best viral marketing campaign examples, Blendtec’s will it blend video series shows scientists testing if various household items will blend in their super-powerful blender. This campaign leveraged the popularity of online video sharing sites.

One Red Paperclip

This was a blog where the author started with a single red paperclip and traded his way up to a house, documenting his steps along the way.

Million Dollar Homepage

Perhaps the most famous viral marketing “why didn’t I think of that” example, this site sold pixels on its homepage and eventually made over a million dollars.

Simpsonsize Yourself

Created for the Simpsons movie, this site allowed visitors to create an avatar of themselves as a character from the cartoon.

Mentos/Diet Coke

Another wacky scientist schtick, these guys got famous by making art out of the explosions caused by mixing diet coke and mentos. Mentos handled it beautifully, Coke did not.

Dove Evolution Video

Part of a campaign by Dove, this video showed how models’ beauty is often artificial, and really struck a chord with its intended audience of female viewers.

Tea Partay

A beverage company created this video as a parody of rap videos and used preppy white kids.

Youtube Embedable Videos

Youtube’s meteoric rise is due in large part to the embeddable videos the company introduced, allowing bloggers to put videos directly into posts.


This fake reality show featured an aspiring actress, playing strange storyline. It generated lots of views and eventually the creators were unmasked.

Bob Dylan Facebook App

This application allows users to make their own version of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues video. This is an viral marketing campaign example consisting entirely of “brand” interaction for the purpose of entertainment. Beautiful.

The USB Absinthe Spoon

Something I did, this was what I based my Spoon model on.

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What is Viral Marketing?

Since its become such a buzz word these days I rarely hear anyone ask “What is Viral Marketing?”, but the basics are always good ground to cover.

Probably the most common definition of viral marketing goes something like this:

Viral marketing is a strategy by which a marketer creates a campaign focused around the goal of causing viewers of that promotion to spontaneously spread it by sending it to friends.

Email was the original viral marketing strategy because the media encourages forwarding messages to more people. These days viral video campaigns are one of the most common types and have driven sites like Youtube from obscurity into billion dollar businesses.

For my purposes I define viral marketing campaigns as any online content created with the intent to ‘go viral’. This includes non-interactive media like videos, podcasts, articles or blog posts, as well as interactive content like tools, web-based games or ARGs (alternate reality games).

However the “most viral” type of campaign is a meme, that is an idea virus that is divorced from its original media and spreads by discussion. Individual lolcats can be viral content, while the concept of the lolcat genre is a meme, people talk about them and make their own rather than refer or link to one specific instance.

The first step for marketers interested in creating a viral promotion is to define a viral marketing strategy. Who is your target audience, what are your business goals and what is the media you will employ to reach these people and goals? I often blog about more advanced and specific concepts like the spoon model, seeding and big seeds, but I felt like it would be worthwhile to sketch out my definition of viral marketing (how to seed a viral marketing campaign is a large topic unto itself).

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