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What is Viral Marketing?

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Computer Terms

Buck from OR asks:
There are all of these “hottest things going” right now. Okay, so I know about Social Websites and Social Networking – now here’s another one: What the heck is “Viral” marketing?

In a nutshell, viral marketing is a marketing technique that spreads information by “word-of-mouth”. In business, the message is sent out to make websites and users pass the message on to other websites and users -and the message creates potential growth due to its effect and visibility. Thus, if a business gets their message out there and people like it, they’ll tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and this can end up being hugely profitable for the business. As an advertising tool you can’t get anything cheaper.

One of the very first hugely-successful viral marketing campaigns is about one of the first free Web-based e-mail services – Hotmail. Think about the product (free e-mail and other services), the way to promote it (put a small banner at the bottom of every free message that is sent out that says “free e-mail at”), and then think about all of the people that received this free message who then e-mailed all of the people on their network who saw the banner and signed up for the free e-mail program, and kept it going by sending the message on to yet another group of friends…

Or let’s say you want to promote your product and reading about it is the best way to get a handle on it, so you send and give out free e-books about your product.

YouTube is becoming fast becoming a great way to do viral marketing. You promote your product on a video – without being boring or coming off as a know-it-all and maybe add a little humor – and voila! The people seeing it that like it will “share” it with their friends and subscribers and you’re on your way.

You can use the “viral” premise in more than marketing.

Did you ever want to see a movie and not gone because a really good friend of yours said it stunk? No amount of money put into jazzy advertising promotions for a movie can overcome a bad word-of-mouth review.

I once got a message from a friend of a friend that forwarded a “huge virus!” warning to me. I looked it up and it was a hoax. I wrote back and gave her the link showing that it was a hoax, but by this time all of my friends and their friends and their co-workers and their relatives were all freaking out and forwarding the virus warning to all of their other friends and relatives and co-workers – this is an example of a way to go viral through e-mail (no pun intended).

On a similar note, when I was a kid there was always the occasional chain letter that I would get in the mail (with no return address) – “Pass this on to 10 friends or you will die at midnight in three days. Don’t break the chain!”. (Do they send these in the mail anymore, or just through e-mail? I digress.)

And of course the traditional rumor mill from anywhere – be it work or your personal life – is always interesting (whether it’s good or bad), and can be spread very quickly to a lot of people. Whatever the rumor is, that’s the viral message being sent out to everybody.

You get the idea. If it’s viral, it spreads. Viral marketing is an awesome “word-of-mouth” technique that can promote many things. And with good strategy and a great message, viral marketing can be very profitable, indeed.


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