How to Use Viral Marketing to Spread the Word About Your Business

The concept behind Viral Marketing


The concept of viral marketing is by no means new. Word-of-mouth marketing, viral’s forefather, has been around for ages. The principle behind word-of-mouth marketing is simple; use influencers to generate peer-to-peer product recommendations or buzz. Prior to the advent of the Internet, however, this form of marketing was too disjointed to effectively benefit most advertisers. The effect of word-of-mouth was largely contained to specific geographic areas simply due to the lack of widespread social networks. Word-of- mouth was generally limited by the ability of the influencer to physically speak to another prospective customer, hence the term “word-of-mouth”.

Enter the internet:
The Internet has radically changed the concept of word-of-mouth, so much so that the term “viral marketing” was coined by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson in 1997. The term was used to describe Hotmail’s email practice of appending advertising for themselves to outgoing mail from their users. The assumption is that if such an advertisement reaches a “susceptible” user, that user will become “infected” (i.e., sign up for an account) and can then go on to infect other susceptible users.

While email may have been the original catalyst; the advent of social networks, online communities and chat provide the ability to
distribute information exponentially faster than ever before. Where word-of-mouth marketing could take weeks or months to reach a thousand people, viral marketing can reach hundreds of thousands or millions in a matter of days or hours. The spread of an effective viral marketing campaign is akin to an epidemic outbreak of a virus, limited only by the potency and relevance of the marketing message.

Viral marketing defined:

The Wikipedia defines viral marketing as “marketing techniques that seek to exploit pre-existing social networks to produce exponential increases in brand awareness, through viral processes similar to the spread of an epidemic. It is word-of-mouth delivered and enhanced online; it harnesses the network effect of the Internet and can be very useful in reaching a large number of people rapidly.”

Why viral marketing?!

The proliferation of marketing and advertising, coupled with the onslaught of millions of media channels in today’s world, has given cause for consumers to tune out and effectively avoid a great deal of traditional supplier driven messaging. The creation of technologies such as PVRs, satellite radio and Internet ad blocking software are driving a fundamental shift in the way the public consumes media and the advertising often tied to it. Television ads, radio spots, online ads and even emails are facing increasing competition for effectively capturing the viewer’s attention and provide positive ROI for the marketer.

This competition, coupled with the rising cost of media buys, has caused marketers to search for an alternative means to reach the customer. Viral marketing is an attractive solution because it utilizes the free endorsement of the individual rather than purchase of mass media to spread the word. Because the distribution model is free, viral can potentially be lower cost and more effective than traditional’s the best solution for all start-ups and who want to become an entrepreneurs

the viral effect

More than 90% of consumers said they told at least one other person about a Web site when the original recommendation came from a friend, according to Jupiter Research.

viral marketing advantages

1. Cuts through the clutter of traditional advertising, allowing marketers to effectively reach the audience.
2. Doesn’t require a product with a wow factor in order to raise awareness, generate buzz, and kick-start peer-to-peer spread. Instead, the viral campaign’s communication agent is the element that needs a wow factor or element of interest.
2. Unlike traditional advertising viral is not an interruptive technique. Instead, viral campaigns work the Internet to deliver exposure via peer-to-peer endorsement. Viral campaigns, whether ultimately liked or disliked, are often welcomed by the receiver. The focus is on campaigns with material that consumers want to spend time interacting with and spreading proactively.

viral marketing disadvantages

Viral marketing, like all marketing is hit or miss. However, viral marketing by nature is often more risky or controversial than traditional marketing. If done improperly viral marketing can backfire and create negative buzz.

The Marketing Mix:

Viral marketing is by no means a substitute for a comprehensive and diversified marketing strategy and marketing objectives. In employing viral marketing to generate peer-to- peer endorsement, brands have also learned that the technique should not be considered as a standalone miracle worker.

James Kydd, Brand Director for Virgin Mobile who just launched the 11th release in their successful series of viral marketing campaigns, states, “viral marketing is best used not as a one-off tactical end in itself, but as an integrated strategic part of the overall marketing mix. It is a means to an end whereby it not only generates buzz, but also provides ongoing, quantifiable brand benefits, such as increased awareness, peer-to-peer endorsement and ultimately more sales.”

Common Viral Marketing Messaging:

While the messaging and strategy ranges radically from campaign to campaign, most successful campaigns contain some commonly used approaches. These approaches are often used in combination to maximize the viral effect of a campaign.

free products or services

Many viral marketing programs utilize free products or services to spark interest. Giving away low-cost items such as t-shirts can often lead to the sale of much higher cost items. Marketers often use low cost items as a method of collecting consumer data and building a database of potential customers that are already familiar with the brand.

compelling content

From hilarious to raunchy to controversial good content and concepts can often make or break a viral campaign. Creating quality content can often be more expensive than simply offering a free product, however the results are often better. The general rule of thumb is that the content must be compelling, it must evoke a response on an emotional level from the person viewing it. This fact alone has allowed many smaller brands to capitalize on content based viral campaigns. Traditionally larger brands are more reserved and risk adverse to the possibility of negative reaction.


This form of messaging is designed to appeal to our natural tendency to desire things we can’t normally have. This messaging includes invitations to join V.I.P clubs, access to products or services before they are released to the public and the ability to choose the fate of others within a peer group. While this tactic can be extremely successful, there is a built in cap to its success. If the offer spreads too wide it will loose its exclusive appeal.

get paid

Rewards and financial incentives often play a role in viral referral campaigns. Marketers can incent users to pass along a message in exchange for compensation ranging from points, special offers and in some cases cash.

Making it Viral
user considerations

Successful viral campaigns are easily spread. When creating a campaign marketers should evaluate how people will communicate the message or campaign to others. Marketers should ask themselves the following questions when developing a viral strategy:
• Does the content require special plug-ins?
• Will an attached file in email be too big?
• Does the Web site require broadband?
• Is the URL easy to remember?
• Is the referral mechanism easy to use?
• Is the barrier to entry too high?
The easier a campaign can spread the more successful it can ultimately be. A large majority of campaigns miss the mark because they fail to take this into consideration.

campaign seeding

“Seeding” the original message is a key component of a viral campaign. Seeding is the act of planting the campaign with the initial group who will then go on to spread the campaign to others. The Internet provides a wide array of options for seeding, including:
• Email
• Online Forums (Google groups)
• Social Networks (Google+,
• IM (AIM, ICQ, MSN, Google)
• Blogs
• Podcasts
When determining where to seed it is important that marketers consider the audience you are seeding for. If a campaign is skewed towards a certain audience marketers should make sure they seed towards that audience. Failure to due so may kill a campaign before it ever gets off the ground.

leverage existing media buys

Marketers should leverage existing media buys by incorporating the promotion of the viral campaign. This can range from a simple reference at the end of a commercial or in print to a fully integrated approach using mass media to directly promote the viral activity.

ability to scale

The goal of a viral campaign is explosive reach and participation. Marketers should be adequately prepared to meet the needs of participants in the event that the campaign is successful. Server space, bandwidth, support staff, fulfillment and stocking should be taken into consideration well in advance of campaign launch. The marketer should have the ability to capitalize on the full success of the campaign.

Leave a Comment