Internet Viral Marketing:
What it is and How it Works

Internet viral marketing is a concept that most sales and marketing professionals are familiar with even though the question of how to make it happen is largely shrouded in mystery. "Going viral" has in fact become a pop culture term and from time to time you will see a news clip on TV of the latest message, picture or video that has attracted millions of viewers. My take on viral marketing is that while you cannot guarantee that you cannot make it happen, you can learn from it nonetheless.

In this article I want to cover of what Internet viral marketing is and how it works. I will then follow up with how you can apply some of its awesome principles to work for you. The truth is that going viral is somewhat like winning the lottery with everyone trying to do it and very few achieving it. While you may not be sitting on the next Hotmail or you can still benefit from understanding and applying viral marketing techniques.

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Internet Viral Marketing: What is it?

Internet Viral Marketing

• Word of Mouse

The power of viral marketing is that is applies word of mouth advertising in an exponential fashion using the Internet. David Meerman Scott is the author of the #1 best-selling book in the world on viral marketing The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly and coined the phrase “word of mouth” in his free online e-book The New Rules of Viral Marketing which I encourage you to read. The phrase aptly captures how modern technology – i.e. the Internet – has taken a traditional form of promotion and made it explosive.

Today, because you can reach so many people so fast using the Internet, you no longer have to wait weeks or months in order to create awareness of and interest in your brand. You can literally build a successful brand overnight with a combination of the right approach and tactics as I will discuss in this section. The starting point, however, must always be a quality product, service or idea that adds significant value for your users and customers.

• The Power of 7

What would happen if just 7 people talked to just 7 other people about you and this happened just 7 times? The concept of six degrees of separation talks about how anyone in the world is connected to everyone else by a maximum of 6 other people in between. Similarly, in this example you can see that using the power of 7 your message would be spread to an astonishing 823,543 people in just 7 iterations! What is more, the exposure you get is self-generating and free once you get the ball rolling.

Internet Viral Marketing

The way all this comes about is because people are connected to each other online. Whereas in the past you were limited in how many people you could interact with in person or on the phone, today's mass electronic communication makes instantaneous connections to hundreds of a people a day possible. Most people have scores if not hundreds of people that they connect with on a regular basis via e-mail or using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

• Permissive vs. Interruptive

The last basic point of what defines Internet viral marketing is that it relies on permissive marketing as opposed to traditional interruptive marketing. Marketing Guru Seth Godin's talk about this key difference in his e-book Unleashing the Ideavirus which I also encourage to you read (and which, by the way, is the most downloaded e-book ever!). In short, companies are used to spending millions of dollars on advertising in order to interrupt consumers with marketing messages but the problem is that this approach is not nearly as effective anymore.

Permissive Marketing in its lowest form includes things like e-mail opt-ins, surveys and free information booklets where customers ask for specific information or allow you to stay in touch with them on an ongoing basis. In its highest form, permissive marketing involves consumers marketing to each other instead of you communicating with your market directly. The power of this approach lies in the simple fact that most people today ignore and do not trust marketing messages whereas they are more apt to follow the advice of someone they already know.

Internet Viral Marketing Ingredient #1: Networks

People tend to form groups based on similar interests and the reason that an informal suggestion to read a message, look at a picture or watch a video – to name a few examples – is so powerful is because you will only suggest it to someone you know who is also likely to be responsive to your suggestion. The kind of reach, trust and shared values found in online networks is something that most companies can only dream of using traditional market segmentation techniques.

Internet Viral Marketing

Traditional marketing was a one to many communication process where the goal was to broadcast your message to as many people as possible. With viral marketing you seek to light the fuse, so to speak, so that you create a buzz that gets the network talking. People within the group then pass your message to others and it reaches more and more people by itself.

Internet Viral Marketing Ingredient #2: Passability

This term refers to the fact that a message or an idea can only go viral if it is easy to pass along to others. For the most part this means forwarding an e-mail o others or posting a link on your Facebook profile for your friends to see. It may mean re-tweeting a message or Twitter or linking to a specific blog or website in an article or press release. Unless a message has this inherent passability it cannot go viral.

If you think about a traditional publicity stunt in order to generate attention, it was usually done with the attention of becoming a news event. If the local TV showed up and the newpapers printed a story the next day then it was considered a success. However, this is not the case with viral marketing which requires that you post something on the Internet and facilitate passability in order that people can talk amongst themselves and pass your message forward.

Internet Viral Marketing Ingredient #3: Remarkability

Seth Godon's bestselling marketing book Purple Cow is all about being what he calls remarkable. If you see a cow grazing in a field, that is not a big deal. What about if you see a purple cow? Now that is something worth talking about, right? What about a multi-colored cow? That is what being remarkable is and it is a necessary ingredient of Internet viral marketing.

Internet Viral Marketing

Think about the e-mails you get forwarded from friends, family and co-workers. Why do people forward these to each other? If you think about it, the reason they are remarkable is because they are either interesting, entertaining or useful. A key ingredient to a successful viral marketing campaign is therefore that the message or idea must have one or more of these qualities and them ore the better. The funnier or more useful or more interesting something is, the more it will get talked about.

Internet Viral Marketing: What's Next?

Now that you are familiar with the basic concepts behind viral marketing and why it works, read on in order to find out how you can apply its principles in your marketing efforts and to see some examples of where it has – and has not – succeeded...

Get help with Internet viral marketing ideas for your business!

Applying Internet Viral Marketing PrinciplesViral Marketing SuccessesViral Marketing FlopsViral Marketing TipsSocial Media Marketing FundamentalsSocial Media Marketing PrinciplesSocial Media Marketing TipsTop Social Media Marketing BrandsSocial Media Marketing StrategiesViral Marketing Consultant

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