Getting Viral

So what is viral marketing on the Internet? Simply word of mouth? No way. Word of mouth on steroids? That's more like it. If you've got a solid message to deliver, viral marketing can give you great bang for your buck. But a viral campaign is very difficult to get started. Damian's got some tips that may help your next viral initiative.

So what is viral marketing on the Internet? Simply word of mouth? No way. Word of mouth on steroids? That’s more like it.

We’ve all heard the viral dream of passing on a simple message or concept to 10 friends to find that the message has spread to more than one million eyeballs in only a week’s time. We have all heard of Hotmail’s success, and there are plenty of others that have blossomed off of explosive viral initiatives. But the fact of the matter is that viral marketing campaigns are very difficult to get started and very difficult to spread. I say this from recent experience, as our agency has just completed a viral campaign for the independent film release “Double Parked.

The good news is that if you can do it successfully, you can get a big bang out of a little investment. Of course, this good news comes with the great assumption that your message or concept has some quality, purpose, or humor. With this said, here are some tips that may help your next viral initiative.

Create Incentives

If I used your product or heard your concept, why should I pass the message on to a friend? Sometimes just the quality of the offering is enough to have users spread the word, but sometimes a little more is needed. “Tell a friend about our service and get…” or “Tell a friend about our service and you could be eligible to…” are just two examples of how incentives could help spread your message. Think of it as treatment for the “What’s in it for me?” syndrome.

Create Multiple Channels

If you want users to spread the message, help them out a little bit. Sure, many people will simply forward an email or send a link to a friend through their email client. But while some do this, others would like an easier channel. On a web site, one powerful way is to insert a “send to a friend” or “recommend a friend” function. This function would allow the person to simply type in his or her friend’s email and comments and have that information forwarded via email. This way is often easier for the person recommending the site, and the message is presented in a very clean format to the person opening up the forwarded email.

Eliminate Technological Concerns

If you are going to spread the message over the Internet, you want to eliminate all potential technical problems. With the massive spread of viruses troubling computers worldwide, you should avoid using attachments in the message you want spread. The fact is, many people won’t open them, the file size could be too large, and many corporations put up security mechanisms that don’t allow their employees to open up certain attachments. A simple resolution to that problem is to point the person to a link. It allows the actual email message to be smaller and eliminates most potential technical concerns. Also, try to avoid the use of any plug-ins that would be necessary to have in order to view your message.

Privacy Is Key!

If a user is going to pass along a friend’s name, the user will need to know that the information he or she is passing along is in trusted hands. A privacy policy helps if you are pushing to get your name spread virally, but it is certainly not necessary if you are asking only for limited information. It is very important to identify the demographics and profile information you need from the user and then ask for it without being too intrusive. This is often a tough issue to fight against, but it is usually safer to ask for less when you are seeking to formulate a viral marketing campaign.


Tracking the progress of any campaign is important in measuring your effectiveness and ROI. But tracking a viral campaign can often be a challenging task. While “hits” or “impressions” help define the level of activity on a web site, they are not often a true measure of the success of a viral campaign. We encourage analyzing the viral effect through the use of databases that will allow you to track individual activity levels and not just the overall traffic.


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