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The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing

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I admit it. The term "viral marketing" is offensive. Call yourself a viral marketing and people will take two steps back. Some people ask, "Do they already have a vaccine for that?" One sinister thing, the simple virus is fraught with misery, not quite dead but not yet totally alive. It exists in this genre somewhere between disasters movies and horror movies.

But you have to admire the virus. He has a way of living in secrecy until he is so numerous that he wins by the weight of the numbers. He sneaks on to other hosts and uses their resources to increase his tribe. And in the right environment, it is growing exponentially. A virus does not even need to mate. He replies again and again, doubling at each iteration.


In a few generations, a population of viruses can explode.

Definition of Viral Marketing

What's a virus to do with marketing? Viral marketing describes any strategy that encourages individuals to convey a marketing message to others, thereby creating an exponential growth potential of the exposure and the influence of the message. Like viruses, these strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to blow the message to thousands, even millions.

Outside the Internet, viral marketing has been termed "word-of-mouth", "buzzing", "leveraging the media" and "network marketing". But on the Internet, for better or for worse, it's what is called "viral marketing". While others have tried to rename it, domesticate it and tame it, I will not try it. The term "viral marketing" has remained.

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Classic example of Hotmail

The classic example of viral marketing is Hotmail, one of the first free webmail services. The strategy is simple.

  1. Give free e-mail addresses and services.
  2. Attach a simple tag at the bottom of each free message sent: "Receive your private and free email on"
  3. Then backs off as people send emails to their own network of friends and associates.
  4. These friends and associates see the message.
  5. They sign up for their own free email service.
  6. Thus, they propel the even wider message to their ever – growing circles of friends and associates.

Like tiny waves spreading further and further away from just one pebble deposited in a pond, a carefully crafted viral marketing strategy spreads extremely fast to the outside.

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Elements of viral marketing

Accept this fact. Some viral marketing strategies work better than others. Little work as well as the simple Hotmail strategy. But here are the six basic elements that you hope to include in your strategy. A viral marketing strategy must not contain all these elements, but the more they are numerous, the more the results are convincing. An effective viral marketing strategy:

  • Gives Products or Services,
  • Provides effortless transfer to others,
  • It is easy to scale from small to very large,
  • Explains common motivations and behaviors,
  • Uses existing communication networks,
  • Enjoy other resources.

Let's examine each of these elements.

1. Gives valuable products or services. "Free" is the most powerful word in marketing vocabulary. Most viral marketing programs give valuable products or services to attract attention. Free email services, free information, free cool buttons, free software that performs powerful functions but not as much as you get in the "pro" version. "Cheap" or "inexpensive" can generate a wave of interest, but "free" will usually do it much faster.

Viral marketers practice deferred gratification. They can not enjoy today or tomorrow, but if they can generate a wave of interest from something free, they know that they will benefit from it "soon and for the rest of their lives "(with apologies to" Casablanca ").

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It takes patience. Free draws eyeballs. The eyeballs then see other desirable things that you are selling, and, presto, you are earning money. Eyeballs bring valuable e-mail addresses, advertising revenues and online sales opportunities. Give something, sell something.

2. Allows effortless transfer to others. Public health nurses offer wise advice during the flu season: Stay away from people who are coughing, wash your hands often and do not touch the eyes, nose or mouth. Viruses only spread when they are easy to transmit. The medium that drives your marketing message must be easy to transfer and replicate: email, website, graphic, software download.

Viral marketing works well on the Internet because instant communication is easy and inexpensive. The digital format simplifies copying. From a marketing point of view, you need to simplify your marketing message so that it can be transmitted easily and without degradation. In short, it is better. The classic is: "Receive your private and free email on". The message is compelling, compressed, and copied at the bottom of every free email message.

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3. It easily scales from small to very large. To propagate like wildfire, the method of transmission must be rapidly evolving from small to very large. The weakness of the Hotmail model is that a free email service requires its own mail servers to convey the message. If the strategy is very effective, the mail servers need to be added very quickly or the fast growth will get stuck and die. If the virus only multiplies to kill the host before spreading, nothing is done. As long as you have planned how quickly you can add mail servers, everything is fine. You must integrate scalability with your viral model.

4. Exploit common motivations and behaviors. Smart viral marketing plans take advantage of common human motivations. What has proliferated the "Netscape Now" buttons in the early days of the web? The desire to be cool. Greed drives people. So, is hunger popular, loved and understood? The resulting desire to communicate generates millions of websites and billions of emails. Design a marketing strategy that relies on common motivations and behaviors for its transmission, and you have a winner.

5. Uses existing communication networks. Most people are social. Ringdy, graduate students in computer science basement are the exception. Social scientists tell us that each person has 8 to 12 people in his network of friends, family and associates. The larger network of a person can include tens, hundreds or thousands of people. A waitress, for example, can communicate regularly with hundreds of customers during a given week.

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Network marketers have long understood the power of these human networks, both strong networks and weaker networked relationships. People on the Internet are also developing networks of relationships. They collect e-mail addresses and favorite website URLs. Affiliate programs operate such networks, as do the distribution lists of authorizations. Learn how to place your message in existing communications between people, and you quickly multiply its dispersion.

6. Take advantage of other resources. The most creative viral marketing plans use other resources to spread the word. Affiliate programs, for example, place text or graphic links on other websites. Authors who give free articles, seek to position their articles on other web pages. A press release can be picked up by hundreds of periodicals and form the basis of articles seen by hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, the newsprint or web page of someone else is relaying your marketing message. The resources of someone else are exhausted rather than yours.

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Put into practice

I grant permission to each reader to reproduce on your website the article you are reading – "The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing". But copy this article only, without any modification. Include the copyright statement, too, please. If you have a marketing or small business website, it will provide interesting content and help your visitors learn important strategies. (Note: I authorize the hosting on your website of this article and NO OTHER, reprinting or hosting other e-commerce practical articles without express written permission is illegal, immoral and constitutes a violation of our copyright.)

When I offered this to my readers for the first time in February 2000, many of them took it upon themselves. Six months later, one received a phone call.

"I want to talk to the king about viral marketing."

"Well, I'm not the king," I objected. "I wrote an article about viral marketing a few months ago, but that's all."

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"I've been looking all over the internet about viral marketing," he says, "and your name keeps popping in. You must be the king!"

It worked. Even years later, this article ranks very well for "viral marketing".

To one degree or another, all effective viral marketing strategies use most of the six principles described above.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical e-commerce acquired Web Marketing today in 2012. Dr. Ralph Wilson wrote the article in 2000. We have updated it, most recently in May 2018.