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