Viral marketing is a buzzword for promotional messages that spread through social networks. Viral marketing campaigns hinge on finding a catchy medium for a message and then propagating it through different online channels including blogs, microblogs, posts, crowdsourcing and so on. The actual message may be in the form of an advertorial, but is more likely to come in the form of a branded game, video clip, image or other format that can be branded. Generally speaking, the goal of a viral marketing campaign is to raise brand awareness – or mindshare – rather than convert clicks into sales of a specific product.
Viral marketing is also referred to as viral advertising.
Viral marketing is all about creating a marketing buzz around new product releases or simply bringing a company to the forefront of consumers’ minds. There are three factors that play into whether a marketing campaign goes viral:
- The Messenger: There is no hard-and-fast rule on the messenger that is most likely to set off a viral marketing campaign. Some companies approach trend-makers like celebrities and A-list bloggers to spread their message. That said, some viral marketing campaigns have succeeded depending only on organic reposts and social sharing.
- The Message: The message can actually trump the messenger if it is sufficiently compelling. A branded game that is addictive is likely to spread far more quickly than an advertorial that requires less interaction, but more commitment (reading the entire document vs. clicking a flash game).
- The Environment: Timing is everything in advertising, and this is also true of viral marketing. A company can have the right messenger and the right message, but it may not spread if the social environment is not right. A very basic example of this is that people tend to spend less time online in summer compared to other seasons. This means fewer potential carriers to propagate the viral message. This doesn’t necessarily mean the campaign will not be successful, but it can be a factor.
Viral marketing has become a mini-universe of buzzwords. People who share a viral marketing message are called sneezers and the actual message is sometimes referred to as a marketing meme.