Issues on Viral Marketing

October 30, 2008

Viral Marketing. Whenever somebody asks me what I do for a living, and I say Viral Marketing, I am more often than not met with a questioning look or an inquisitive question that can be summed up by the following question – “What the heck is that?” There have been a lot of definitions for viral – and it’s been interchanged with Guerilla Marketing and Word of Mouth Marketing, each a division of grassroots marketing on its own right. Analyzing the word viral, coming from virus, tells us that it is marketing that spreads on its own, once “seeded”, and ideally spreads like wildfire. It is passed on from one unsuspecting victim to another, much like an infection.

Some issues on viral marketing – because of its natural, organic nature, it has been questioned as a valid form of marketing. Can you actually “do” viral marketing”? If it’s supposed to catch on naturally, and an individual or team of individuals help the spreading along, with linking, posting and conversing with the web 2.0 users, is that still natural? In my opinion, this is what we call “seeding”. You have to start from somewhere, and the somewhere is your viral seed in the form of a viral video, a well crafted, yet nonchalant blog comment, or a well-intended viral piece (like a pop-up or a  viral game). You are only as good as your seed. In viral, start good, and you’ll end well, and that trail of people that will lead you to your converting customer are the judges to how virally commendable your piece is. Based on my experience, viral marketing can be done.

Another popular question on viral marketing – “Does it really work?” The partial answer to this is an ambivalent yes and no. It largely depends on two things:

1) Quantity. At what rate are you posting? How many user-generated video sites is your viral video on? Although quantity is not always a guarantee of more clicks, and consequently, more conversion, it does increase the chances. Just like in traditional marketing, the more fliers you hand out, the more chances you have of reaching people.

2) Quality. What do you post? Are you posting mass spammy messages that do the exact opposite of your primary objective, which is drive people away from your site? What about the quality of your site? The viral marketer is only as good as the site he/she is driving traffic to. What are you writing when you post? Do you blend in enough to be perceived as “just another user” but are crafty enough to induce clicks?

Viral Marketing can be a great thing for you, and can have far reaching effects, but like with anything, the approach plays a great factor with its success.