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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