What is viral marketing?
Viral marketing is when goods and businesses are promoted and developed from one individual to another – rather like any viral infection – hence the name.
Effective viral marketing uses people to unwittingly transmit a message within their social network. It takes the concept of word-of-mouth and enhances it with the instant global communication afforded by the Internet.
It is a marketing strategy that relies on individuals to pass along information and usually refers to marketing on the Internet. Viral marketing is so named because of the tendency for messages to use hosts to spread themselves rapidly.
The term first became prominent when used to describe a marketing campaign for the e-mail service Hotmail.com. When the company launched, every outgoing message contained an advertisement for Hotmail and a link to its website at the bottom of the e-mail. Very much like we are doing here with a link at the bottom of each elert.
As people e-mailed they were also advertising the service. Recipients could simply click on the link and sign themselves up and as they e-mailed friends from their new account, the message spread within existing social networks and was passed along with little effort from the company.
Cost to the advertiser is minimal. It takes advantage of existing resources by making everyone who uses the service or goods an involuntary spokesperson. Common behaviours are exploited such as sending e-mails. The key elements of viral marketing are demonstrated here in the example given.
It uses communications networks that are already there. In the case of Hotmail, it has the implication of an endorsement from a friend. People who received an e-mail from a friend using the service learned that the product works and that their friends use it.
Most importantly, viral marketing offers the ability to spread a message exponentially faster and to more people than conventional methods.
There are different types of viral marketing, all using the same fundamental principles. Passing messages encourage users to send them along to others, such as e-mails with instructions to forward at the bottom or humorous video clips. We all have these every day and because they are amusing or offer information, we pass them to others.
If used tactfully you will avoid negative reactions and ensure a high pass-along rate. Viral marketing has come under criticism from consumers, privacy advocates and marketing pundits because of concern over unsolicited e-mails. Nevertheless, some will get through.