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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Steve M October 10, 2007 at 9:22 pm

Viral marketing is the way that ideas have always spread through communities. If something has value then people want to share it. Ideas that have more value then other get selected, and in that way we get a progression of ideas.

Dan Zarrella October 11, 2007 at 6:56 am

Steve, I definitely agree that memes have always spread virally via word of mouth through communities. I think what is new is that the net allows marketers tools to effectively pursue that effect as a marketing goal, more so than any off-line media.

I do think there are plenty of “good ideas” with lots of value that have never gone viral, despite large seeds. I believe there are characteristics that can increase an idea’s chance of going viral, and most of them have more to do with good communication than a good idea.

Justin Hamlin October 8, 2008 at 11:14 am

I hate to be them one to follow suit here, but I would have to agree as well. Viral marketing should be essential to any pro-marketers arsenal. Creating a healthy, lasting buzz about a topic is was fuels the search engines and our results in search requests as not only visible, but valid resources in the changing market. It is the solidity of these resources that continues to drive “good communication” across the internet. In my opinion viral marketing is often misunderstood by most and often not utilized by the ones that do know how to use it to aggregate PR (Page Rank) and drive traffic.

Alot can be said for the people that continue to improve the methods in which we understand this type of marketing and how to use it affectively.

Keep up the good work.

Alimuddin @ Internet Viral Marketing October 15, 2008 at 12:49 am

very nice & informative blog. Cheers!

Penelope Edwards June 16, 2009 at 9:47 am

Excellent blog. Just added it to my favourites, I will keep reading :) Oh and I enjoyed your twitter psych profiles as well, very cool idea.

annejaa February 13, 2010 at 10:23 am

That's good information!Viral marketing describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands to millions.

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