What Is Viral Marketing? Viral Marketing Ideas to Flood Your Site With Traffic

Viral marketing is a specific marketing strategy which relies on individuals to spread a message as opposed to relying on conventional and traditional marketing methods to do so. The message is the virus in this case and it’s spread quickly amongst the “hosts” who pass it along to other people, most typically in this day and age via the internet.

Through viral marketing, your message takes on a life of its own and the term viral implies that that message is being passed on/shared by a large number of people. With the advent of social media and social networking, viral marketing is a staple of the internet these days as it’s quite common for a video, image, or story (all types of messages) to be quickly shared amongst a large number of people and percentage of the internet population.

Why should you care about viral marketing? If you haven’t gathered by now, viral marketing can be a HUGE source of traffic for your website if nothing else if the message is kept on your website or at least links to your website. Once your message goes viral, your job is essentially done as instead of having to go through the painstaking job of building your own links and traffic to your message, you have thousands if not millions of people doing this for you.

Now the obvious question is how do we create a viral marketing campaign?

Viral Marketing Ideas

The most obvious form of viral marketing ideas or examples simply involves creating great content. “Great” is too abstract and subjective; you need to create content which is unique, something you can’t find somewhere else, something which is hilarious to a lot of people, something which is shocking to a lot of people, something which is controversial, and something which is easy to get into.

Keep in mind that the attention span for the average internet user is at an all time low in this Twitter age we live in, so your message should be as succinct as possible as no one wants to share and take responsibility for something which doesn’t have a chance of being shared easily (it makes sense if you think about it).

Let’s consider a few successful viral marketing examples and campaigns from recent history.

Videos – Videos go viral more than any other form of media because they’re so easy to share and let’s face it, everybody loves a funny or whacky video. YouTube is a breeding ground for viral marketing sensations. Just look at The Lonely Island’s YouTube channel. They’re approaching 1 billion views with well over 1 million subscribers and yet they only have 78 videos on their channel. It’s gotten to the point where every time in which they release a new video, it goes viral and takes the web by storm.

Of course they had to start somewhere, and their breakout first video “Jizz in My Pants” garnered them instant fame and now well over 100 million views on its own as more and more people began to share this amongst their friends because of how ridiculous, hilarious, and revolutionary it was.

Pictures – Photos get retweeted like nobody’s business. This sarcastic photo of the “devastation” from the relatively calm DC earthquake from a few weeks ago was being shared and retweeted thousands of times over within the first hour after the quake (spending part of my time in the DC area, I have to admit this was pretty good).

In the same vein, viral marketing and the internet played a huge role in getting Obama elected. Everyone was showing their support for him because they either believed in his campaign of change or they just thought it was the hip thing to do. In getting back to images, remember when those red, white, and blue Shepard Fairey designed Obama posters were cropping up EVERYWHERE on AND offline? Many of them with just one word inscribed at the bottom: “Hope”. The most simple message delivered in a unique and cool way which everyone could relate to; no wonder it was so effective.

Games/Scripts – People love simple games for killing time in or out of the office. The “Elf Yourself” campaign from OfficeMax is a prime viral marketing example because it was based on a simple script where people could upload pictures of their faces and they would get put on elf bodies and dance in a little video which was made for sharing. Lots of people uploaded their videos which received thousands of views individually. Whenever anyone saw one of these videos for the first time they of course wanted to know how they could do it themselves and there you go: more traffic for OfficeMax.

Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken” was another example of this from years ago where the user could make the chicken do different things by entering commands. It was pretty weird but fun at the same time seeing the chicken in question doing simple commands which you gave it in his living room.

Viral Marketing Vs. Viral

I want to make one final distinction which you need to keep in mind between something which can be considered viral marketing and something which can just be considered viral. Not everything which goes viral is an example of viral marketing.

There are lots of YouTube videos with well over 1 million views from everyday people which went viral, but without the marketing aspect then there isn’t much of a benefit to that person beyond a little internet notoriety (yay).

The Anatomy of Viral Marketing

Three deadly myths of viral marketing

“Viral” is a term that’s thrown around very loosely by marketers these days, which has muddled the true meaning of the term.

Here are three common misconceptions about viral marketing that will doom any campaign to failure from the start:

Myth #1: Viral marketing = Share buttons

Making content sharable is not the same as making it viral. Viral marketing is not as simple as adding social sharing badges to your website. Likewise, extending your content to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will not make it viral.

These are merely vehicles that make it easier for people to pass your content along to others in their network. There’s no guarantee that whatever is being shared will have life beyond the initial posting.

Myth #2: Viral = Video

“Viral” and “video” are uttered in the same breath so often that it seems as thought they are inextricably linked.

In fact, this is not the case at all. There’s nothing about videos that makes them inherently more viral than any other kind of content.

Viral videos may get a lot of hype, but in reality, any kind of content can go viral – a photo, an article, a fundraising campaign, even an entire website.

The potential of something to go viral has nothing to do with the medium and everything to do with the content and its ability to motivate a continuous chain of sharing.

Myth #3: Viral = 1,000,000 million hits

Going viral is not the web-equivalent of a record going platinum. There’s no arbitrary number that certifies something as having gone viral.

The primary goal of viral marketing should not be to achieve a pre-determined number of hits, views or retweets but to create something with nearly unlimited potential to resonate with people – whether on an emotional, pragmatic or ideological level – so that its reach exceeds ordinary expectations.

What is viral?

To answer that question, forget marketing jargon and go back to biology class. What sets a virus apart from other organisms is that it has the ability to replicate itself when it finds the right environment variables.

The same quintessential elements apply to viral marketing. By definition, viral content is self-perpetuating and requires little or no additional investment in the act of moving it through the Web from one person to another. It is the very opposite of traditional advertising’s pay-to-play model, which demands greater spending to buy greater exposure.

The concept of viral marketing is nothing new, but it has exploded in the past decade because the mechanisms for sharing have evolved and expanded as social media has permeated the mainstream.

The original form of viral content was the e-mail forward. When someone found something entertaining, informative or self-defining, they’d paste it into an e-mail message and send it to everyone in their address book, and many of those recipients would likewise forward it along. Social sharing is today’s version of the e-mail forward.

On the surface, viral marketing seems easy because the most successful campaigns make it look that way. However, once you dig deeper into its anatomy, it becomes clear that there are a limited number of pathways through which a piece of web content can go viral.

It’s not enough for something just to be good. There’s too much good stuff on the Web for all of it to catch fire. If you want to create something that will grow and extend itself after you send it out into the world, it must harness one of three fundamental elements of self-perpetuating content: entertainment, a giveaway or self-definition.

The three channels of viral marketing

1. Entertainment

This category is probably what naturally springs to mind when you hear the word “viral.” However, this is actually the most difficult route to take and demands a level creative resources that are typically prohibitive for the average business.

With the hype surrounding high-profile viral marketing campaigns like Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” it’s easy to oversimplify the formula for what it takes to pull this off. Everyone thinks their own stuff is entertaining, but in the eye of the beholder, this is rarely the case.

When you attempt to play in this space, you’re going up against the big guns who have immense resources to throw at superstar writers, artists, editors and producers. In the face of those odds, it’s very risky to hope that you’ll strike the magic combination of unique content and flawless execution to win the jackpot.

For every phenomenal success like Old Spice, there are plenty of embarrassing, high-dollar flops. And, yes, sometimes a kid with a webcam becomes an Internet sensation. But that’s like capturing lightning in a bottle. It’s nothing you can create artificially, and it’s very difficult to cultivate organically.

2. The giveaway

In stark contrast to viral entertainment, the viral giveaway is potentially attainable by any business large or small, local or national.

There are two ways to approach this type of campaign, depending on the nature of your business:

If you deal in goods, you can give away free or discounted products to customers (think Groupon).

If you deal in services, you can give away time or expertise (or both).

In either case, there is heavy competition in the giveaway space, so it’s critical to ensure that there is significant perceived value in your offering, typically in terms of time or money saved for your customer.

But the giveaway is not viral in and of itself. What creates the mechanism for self-perpetuation is framing it as a reward received in exchange for participation in spreading your message.

This is something not all companies are prepared to do. The idea of creating something only to give it away seems ludicrous by conventional thinking.

However, you can’t look at the giveaway as a loss. The reality is that this is today’s marketing. Instead of pouring tens of thousands of dollars into carpet-bombing advertising that no one believes in, you’re investing in word of mouth – the most powerful form of trustcasting.

The act of giving away your valuable goods or expertise creates trust among your customers, who pass your message along to their friends and followers, who then spread it through their networks. Suddenly hundreds of new potential customers suddenly know who you are and what you do, with the added benefit of being recommended by someone they know and trust, and that trust is conveyed to you by association.

3. Self-definition

A product, an idea or a concept that is new, innovative, unique or just plain awesome is sharable.

But when it makes a bold statement – not about your company but about life, work or culture – that strikes a chord in the beholder, that’s when it has the potential to go viral.

When someone shares this type of content, they’re defining themselves through the act of sharing, attaching themselves to the history, the character or the lifestyle that exists around your brand. They’re identifying themselves as belonging to your tribe.

When Nike’s “Write the Future” debuted in May 2010, it set a new record for the most views of a viral video ad in its first week.

Its popularity was undoubtedly due in part to the celebrity appeal of the soccer superstars featured, but it also touches on a deeper love for the sport, for the World Cup and even for the feeling of connection with others inspired by a shared passion for a certain team or player. When someone shares this video with their friends, they’re attaching their identity to these broader concepts.

But you don’t have to be Nike to pull this off. If I post a link to your blog to my profile on LinkedIn, I’m defining myself as a torchbearer for your ideas. If I take a take a quiz on your website and tweet my score, I’m boasting about my intelligence. And if I make a donation to your nonprofit organization and share it on Facebook, I’m defining myself as an altruistic person who supports If your cause. In each case, my act of sharing challenges other like-minded people within my network to do the same, because they want to attach themselves to these ideas and qualities, too.


Viral marketing can’t be a one-off effort. You also can’t come up with an idea and tack on elements of viral marketing as an afterthought.

If you’re going to play in this space, it must permeate every aspect of your business model, from your R&D process to your pricing structure to your marketing strategy. Your website and your presence on social media networks must be built to be part of the viral mechanism. You must focus on creating a self-perpetuating engine of traffic, conversion and sales.

To be successful, you must know your tribe and know it well. You must be realistic about what its members like and what they will respond to.

You must also be willing to take risks. Behind every successful viral campaign is trial and error, careful tracking of metrics and fine-tuning of the approach.

Are the risks worthwhile? In a word, yes. Today’s most powerful business growth platforms are built on trustcasting and permission marketing. There’s no more direct route to owning your market than having a tribe of brand evangelists who carry your message for you, and viral marketing transforms the spark of word of mouth into an inferno that propels you ahead of your competition.

Viral Marketing: 4 Reasons You’d Want Your Business To Get Infected

The term viral marketing was coined in 1996 by Jeffrey F. Rayport. It was defined as a strategy that emboldens people to disseminate marketing message to others, which results to an exponential growth in the publicity and influence of the message. Viral marketing stems from internet marketing.

Viral advertising aims at targeting its listeners and onlookers more precisely. So, in principle, viral advertising contrasts conventional advertising methods in that rather than trying to propagate a message through an old-style satiety tactic like the billboards you see in highways with brands posted all over it, it publicizes itself through linkages and networks of associates, acquaintances, friends and enthusiasts sharing mutual interests.

Viral marketing and advertising utilize current social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, being two of the most famous social networking sites to escalate product consciousness, dispersing through a group of individuals like that of a computer virus. Like that virus, it spreads from one individual to another transmitting it to many other individuals. Viral marketing takes advantage of this inherent behavior to quickly spread a message.

When a viral campaign is spread as broadly as probable and is met and accepted positively, that is when it becomes effective. Microsoft’s Hotmail for instance, managed to have 12 million subscribers in just 18 months! How did they go about their viral campaign? They simply added a short promotional message to emails which were sent to their users. How genius was that? And to think, during those times, internet use was not as extensive as it is today.

The fundamental key to viral advertising consequently lies in effectively targeting smaller numbers of persuasive individuals who have the standing and influences to spread the message. Accordingly, one of the pronounced benefits of a viral campaign is that it does not necessitate the same level of investment of money unlike the conventional methods which is more costly.

Viral marketing is the new marketing and publicizing fashion today, especially to those businesses that are online by nature. It takes advantage of the social media and other internet social sites to advertise and reach people in just a little amount of time.

Here are the 4 Reasons Viral Marketing is beneficial to businesses.

1. It doesn’t involve a huge amount of funds. Viral marketing is cheaper than the usual advertising and marketing strategies. Given a little investment, the return could be an overwhelming number of people who similarly advertises the company. The money spent is usually invested on the initial contents, and since replicating the content and forwarding it does not need additional cost, you are likely to save more money for your company’s advertising.

2. Good sense of target. The aim of viral marketing is to spread the message to targets which in turn will forward it to other equally interested and active people. And since this is the concept of viral marketing, there is little percentage of futile and fruitless advertising.

3. Easy to implement and achieve. Viral marketing is a strategy that is very easy to do. There are a lot of ways to make your advertisement viral, you can send messages and emails with viral contents and it spread like an actual virus. Plus, doing these doesn’t take that too much time to complete.

4. Great and Rapid Response Percentage. Since viral marketing is able to reach a big number of markets, there is a huge probability that a high turnover percentage could also be expected.