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Viral Marketing in Social Media

Viral Marketing in Social Media


It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners.

Pre-Cable TV took 13 years to reach 50 million users..

The internet took four years to reach 50 million people…

In less than nine months Facebook added 100 million users.

For less than a $1,000 you can launch a viral marketing campaign with the potential to reach thousands of people, if not millions quickly and almost effortlessly.

Take for example the Blendtec Company, a maker of food processors and blenders, who placed a series of YouTube videos called “Will It Blend?” Arising our curiosity and sense of dark humor Blendtec blended golf balls, an iPhone, and even a bag of marbles. It was fascinating to watch a glowing iPhone being reduced to black powder and shredded plastic. In a short matter of time Blendtec logged 8 million visitors while sales increased over 800%. Don’t we just enjoy watching things being destroyed?

Burger King launched an interactive video on their micro website with a man dressed as a chicken. In the message bar you can insert a command and the chicken-man would jump, run, dance, and play dead. You get the picture. People loved the creativity, fun, and sense of control. Within 24 hours the site received 1 million hits and by the end of the week eight million. Not bad for a chicken man.

Down in Orlando Florida, Universal Studios launched a new attraction based on the Harry Potter series. Instead of deploying expensive advertising through mass media, Universal teamed up with the author J.K. Rowling, to give a special webinar to the top seven Harry Potter maven fans. Afterwards, the seven maven fans shared their news on blogs and forums with great energy and enthusiasm. The media picked it up and ran with the story. Meanwhile, Universal setup a micro site for bloggers and the media to ascertain more information on the park’s new attraction. In just a few weeks this viral marketing tactic spread the news from seven people to over 300 Million. Of course, it helps when you have an established base of loyal Harry Potter fans.

TRUST: Content Democratization: We are migrating from push advertising to pull; allowing users greater access, participation, and control based on trust.

In the last ten years both the media and information technology industries have been migrating from a traditional push advertising environment (TV & newspaper ads) to interactive (pull) advertising using interactive content. The days of advertiser content dominance is being transformed into a democratization process whereby quality content is interacted, shared, and rated. The democratization process allows the consumer greater control and influence to recommend products and services to their peers. In the end, it’s creating trust between the buyer and the seller. Trust builds loyalty and repeat business. Trust is the glue that will cement the relationship and it’s done by allowing an interactive participation in the communication and collaboration process. There’s nothing more powerful and trustworthy than when a good friend makes a recommendation.

Using a combination of our imagination and creativity one can use viral marketing tactics within social media channels to capture the attention of millions. Of course, getting their attention is only half the battle. The other half is harder. The real challenge is converting their attention into sales or a call-to-action, and to sustain that effort over a period of time. This is what separates the amateurs from the professionals. As my mom use to say to me, “You get what you pay for.”


Social Media on Web 2.0 is simply the ability to have conversations with people through a variety of communication tools and communities. By nature people are tribal and we seek to converse and share with other like minded people.

According to the 2009 Cone Consumer New Media Study, 62% of users polled believe they can influence business decisions by voicing opinions via new media channels. About a quarter have contributed their point-of-view on an issue (24%) or contacted a company directly (23%). 74% expect companies to join conversations about their corporate responsibility practices happening on new media. MediaPost January 22, 2010

Social media platforms can leverage the collective wisdom of the community to collaborate on a given objective, such as; to increase sales, create content, engage customer feedback, nurture a community, amplify your marketing message, and to develop peer relationships between manufacturer-distributor-retailer-partner-customer. Typically, the social media conversation is uncontrolled, unorganized, nor always on target with the message. Web 2.0 has become a democracy of information usage with a bit of anarchy thrown in.

The power of Web 2.0 allows the individual to spread their conversations or word-of-mouth in multiple formats; image, video, text, and audio. Individuals can leverage their social media communities, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, MetaCafe, SocialText and a host of others platforms. The most popular social media network activities ranged from posting messages, downloading and uploading music, videos and images. These communities and tools allow photo sharing, videos, communities, blogs, forums, articles, news, entertainment, news, and tutorials. They also allow individuals to use their collective intelligence to collaborate on online projects. The power of these tools is the ability share, create, and product from one-to-many quickly, effortlessly, and seamlessly. Good news can travel fast but with even greater trepidation; bad news can travel at light speed.


Scaling up your viral marketing campaign requires an environment of easy access and collaboration. Ross Mayfield, founder of Socialtext, coined the concept of the, “Power Law of Participation.” In it, he describes that social media portals should make it easy to access, to read, and to share content. The intent is to accelerate productivity and creativity by engaging participants to use their collective wisdom in sharing their knowledge and intelligence. It’s a well known fact that the wisdom of the tribe will exceed the wisdom of the individual.

In James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few, the author explained that the collective decisions of the group far exceeds the individual and the added dimension of social internet sites offers a diversity of ideas. It can easily be said the world is our village. We see this today on Wikipedia where a community of people collaborates to create and share its knowledge base.

The new paradigm of Social Media marketing is to embrace the democracy of knowledge, respect the intelligence of your audience, and allow them the ability to participate and ideas going viral and establishing a collective intelligence to enrich creativity and productivity. Here are several suggestions to grease the skids for your viral campaign to generate a higher participation rate.

Make your content access free and easy to share

– Create multiple touch points for others to reach you: website, blog, Microsites, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SharePoint, SocialText, and mobile applications.

– Engage and maintain the consumer’s conversations with the goal of closing the loop from the behavior to consider a purchase, to purchase, and finally, to encourage them to make recommendations.

– People want to be understood and recognize. Promote and encourage comments section and recommendations.

– Emotions move us to action. Make it personal. Stories paint pictures and have high retention and share rates.

– Building a community of like minded people can empower greater influence to change events politically, economically, or socially. For example, the Presidential election in 2008 was a milestone in using viral marketing in social media.


It’s passion that motivates people to share something new. Think of your passions in politics, sports, religion, cooking, or movie stars. When something stirs your emotions you want to share it immediately.

Viral marketing offers a rapid and almost effortlessly dissemination of an idea (word-of-mouth) from one-to-many by leveraging both internet and communication tools from one person to millions. Think of tribal communication behavior, think of gossip, think of how people when empowered with special news want to share it with their friends and circles of influence. A viral message will spread rapidly when the idea is quickly understood and the person feels empowered to send it to other people. The best viral messages are emotionally charged stimulating the person’s desire of happiness, greed, anger, hatred, and other passionate emotions. Emotionally polarized messages moved quickly. Neutral emotions go nowhere.

To make viral marketing work you need the tools to spread it and the audience to receive it. As was previously mentioned the evolution of Web 2.0 offers great power, intelligence, services, word-of-mouth recommendations, and the delivery of relevant information in real time. Today, Web 2.0 can deliver multiple formats of content quickly, seamlessly, and effortlessly, which is; email, video, photographs, audio, and text messages.


Excellent viral marketing will seek common emotional trigger points to motivate a person into action. People like the sense of exclusivity and the power to invite their friends into the club. It makes them feel cool as you were one of the inside people. Other common emotional trigger points can be happiness, humor, anger, envy, pride, or greed.

For example, when EA Games launched their next generation soccer game called FIFA Soccer in 2006, they used tricksters from Toronto’s Ryouko mixed martial arts team to create an amazing video display of stunts and acrobatic feats. Using a combination of traditional and viral marketing, EA leaked the video to selected fans in Europe reaching a peak hit rate of 1.5 million fans.

Social activity and the underlying emotions that drive it are a means to an end, the tools that execute the logic of survival. Status, leadership, power, affiliation, reciprocal altruism, cooperation, sharing of knowledge, trading of goods, pair-bonding, and even aggression are all part of the social environment that help a group work toward that same survival end game.

At the base of this is a powerful drive to connect what is felt. Humans feel a strong need to connect with others to make sense of their world, to not feel lost in a sea of infinite possibilities and to share in mutual benefit. Though the subconscious motivation is survival, the conscious emotions are social.

In trying to take the guess work of anticipating people’s emotion, today we can use behavioral targeting to understand and predict user behavior and purchasing patterns. One way is using Internet software cookies which are placed on the user’s computer to track their behavior on websites to identify their unique tastes and interests. Cookie placement is like giving someone a unique cell phone number. You can analyze where and to whom. You can track when an online advertisement is served, and improve it based on the feedback and relationship you already have. The gathered information is then used to create audience segments, which enable advertisers to make reasonable choices about where to buy advertising space. For example, AOL Advertising offers behavioral targeting plus a host of services that can effectively target your audience with precision and the methodology behind it. Another favorite is AudienceScience which has methodically divided the global audience into many types of segments.

What doesn’t work? Social media is similar to having coffee with a few of your friends in your kitchen. When a man intrudes and announces his big sale at the furniture store its invasive and annoying. No one likes it. Early in the history of Facebook this is what advertisers did, until they understood the nuances of their target audience. Advertisers discovered that Facebook users rarely click through ads, but happily participated in events, communities, and causes. Now it’s easy to become a fan of Coke or a gangster in Mafia Wars.

Unlike direct marketing where you can predict a given response rate of 1-3%, viral marketing can be hit or miss. On the positive side, a viral marketing campaign can be done inexpensively. On the negative side, you might have to deploy multiple types and levels in a campaign. You may also have to engage traditional media to seed the viral messages.

Common elements for making a viral marketing campaign to work are:

– Make the content seamless and easy to send or transfer

– The content uses existing internet and telecommunications infrastructure

– Products or services are given away for free

– The content is emotionally charged: Polarized messages will motivate action in people

– The content can easily scale from a few people to millions


To be successful in social media and using viral marketing tactics requires the same discipline as any other marketing endeavor.

– Good planning and goal setting

– A commitment for the long run and the patience for campaigns to gain traction

– Ample dedicated resources to sustain conversations and offer a quality level of service.

– Being authentic, transparent, and honest. The end goal is to develop ongoing trust and loyalty.

– Make your touch points intuitive, easy access, and minimal restrictions.

Building your social media viral marketing campaign requires four major segments.

1. Start with the proper planning, messaging, target, audience, and budgets.

2. Build a story with wings to fly.

3. Select the media channels to disseminate your story.

4. Measure and manage user attention and participation.


– Identify and understand the needs and wants of your target audience – put each individual into segments based on actual behavior across the web.

– If your product requires consideration to purchase, then determine the level of research your prospects are doing today on the internet.

– Identify your competition. Determine what websites your target audience has been visiting recently and what draws their interest.

– If you’re going to advertise on other websites, then determine which of those sites are already converting ads into leads in your category.

– Determine which social media sites are attracting your best prospects and understand their behavior.

– Determine the health and reputation of your brand by tuning into relevant blogs, microblogs, and forums.

– On your website run A/B tests to measure messaging and conversion ratio.

– Monitor and measure the prospect’s conversation along the entire communications chain; from emails, live chats, recommendations, and call center. You’ll need strong interactive marketing software tools such as Aprimo, Eloqua, HubSpot, and Omniture.

– Close the conversation loop with your visitors by encouraging them to complete a comments or product recommendation.

– What are your goals?

– Sell something

– Build awareness

– Capture their attention

– Engage them in a conversion

– Call to action

– Retain customers


Every good viral marketing campaign requires an emotional story that is original or sticky. Video by far is the fastest and easiest tool to spread a story that sticks. In addition, a sustainable campaign will need layers of various components to keep the momentum going. Using the billboard affect, users will give you three to five seconds to receive your message to take action. All the elements of your viral campaign should have these attributes.

– GOOD STORY – You’re a story teller. Stories paint pictures and evoke emotions. Good stories are remembered, original, and begged to be shared.

– When the story catches on be prepared for sequel stories, bloopers, and behind the scene blog. Keep putting the logs on the fire.

– Be sure to have a comments section. Observe it closely. Sharing emotions is acceptable but edit offensive language and insults.

– Your goal is to engage in conversations and eventually a call to action leading to the fulfillment of your goals.

– Keep the conversation personal, for example don’t place barriers between your stars and audience. People want to connect directly to the artist or rock musician.

– EMOTIONAL – It must offer an emotional appeal. The more polarizing the emotion then the greater chance of becoming viral.

– ORIGINAL-Do not be predictable. Be original and creative. Fascinate them. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Can you make them say – wow?

– RELEVANT-The story must be relevant to your target audience. Soccer fans are fascinated with advertisement demonstrating a trickster pro team.

– WINGS-give it the wings to fly whereby the message is designed to be portable, scalable, and shareable.

– DYNAMIC-You need to develop momentum and sustainability. This requires multiple entry points to experience your message such as (video, blogs, TV, print, quality content, and tie-ins). A well done story will demand a sequel, behind the scenes production, bloopers, and interviews.

– CATCHY-You must have a catch to it that hooks people in and there will be reward in the end. Ask yourself, what’s in it for me? Does it entertain? Does it provide great information?

And two don’ts

– Please don’t compel people to forward their emails for viral marketing

– Please don’t use obvious commercials unless they are especially clever, entertaining, or funny.


A successful viral campaign will have multiple steps and components. In 2006-7 Microsoft launched a ten month five-step marketing campaign for Halo 3 for the purpose of gaining new gamers and building brand awareness. Step One was an advertisement played on a Monday night football game using an attention getting reenactment of the Halo game. The ad reached 8 million households and another 3.7 million viewers when placed on YouTube. The advertisement triggered Step Two inviting gamers to be beta testers; they acquired 850,000 users. Step Three was a scavenger hunt using a combination of online websites and traditional media channels. Step Four was co-sponsorships with major fast food and beverage companies. Finally, Step Five was an impressive back story reenactment of combat action scenes. Altogether the campaign sold 3 million copies in the first week.

For a viral campaign to be sustainable it will require multiple steps, components and channels to build awareness, capture, engage, and convert your target audience. Naturally, your channels of distribution will be determined by where your target audience shops, researches, and socializes. You can begin to research your target audience at Digital Scientists or Audience Science.

USING Facebook

Today, Facebook is the fastest growing social media platform and a great starting point to launch a viral marketing campaign. In 2010, Pepsi announced they will not advertise in the Super Bowl. Rather, they will invest their advertising using Social Media platforms. Unlike the one-way push of TV advertising communications, Facebook and other forms of social media allows you to capture your audience, engage them in a conversation, nurture the relationship, convert them into sales, retain their loyalty, monitor and shepherd their word-of-mouth recommendations, and scale peer approval ratings without restraint.

Facebook Statistics for early 2010

– There are now 350+ Million users

– 50% perform daily updates

– Less than 1/3 are college students

– 30% of users are just in the U.S.A.

– The fasting growing segment is greater than 35 years old


The first place to start on Facebook is to build your own profile and company Facebook page. Naturally, you want to cross link all of your portals to one another; website, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Facebook has excellent tools to identify and target you audience down to the granular and local level. Use it. Similar to tribes, Facebook users with like minded interests will gravitate to stories and events. Always make your content with good quality. You want to be authentic and interactive.

Facebook requires dedication, creativity, and interactivity. To compete for attention you must constantly provide a steady stream of content, promotions, events, and communications.

As a company you’ll have to define who you are to the market. What’s your brand and personality? Your purpose is not to sell but to inform and share knowledge. Through tacit approval Facebook users will accept you and be your fan.

Engaging Facebook users requires a two way conversation or being interactive. Feed them a good story or video to determine if they will click the “LIKE” button. Encourage them to comment. As your level of trust increases with the users, seek to convert their actions using promotions and discounts into joining a website or making a purchase.

Get your Facebook fans involved in contests and promotions. Make them do things to share photographs or videos. Let them all share in the fun and discovery.


There’s a scarce commodity called the consumer’s attention. Some call it the “Attention Economy,” whereby a marketplace has developed such that consumers agree to receive services in exchange for their attention. If you want the attention of a consumer, just think of “what’s in it for me?” News feeds are a primary example where they provide a steady stream of current news in exchange that you look at their advertisements. The end game is to prompt a “call-to-action” from the consumer. Since you can never ask directly for a sale, you must provide a steady stream of relevant news, entertainment, knowledge, or tools. By using behavioral targeting tools you’ll be able to steer quality prospects to a call-to-action.

Gaining the attention of the consumer requires three important attributes:

– RELEVANCY – Your information is relevant to your target audience

– CHANNEL DISTRIBUTION – Channel the information through the appropriate social media channels where your target audience is available

– ENDORSEMENTS – Engage your consumers to be your trusted references through sneak preview webinars, product reviews, endorsements, and recommendations.

Once you gained the attention you need to manage, measure, and respond. Today there are many solutions to manage and measure your interactive marketing. These solutions will manage the entire life cycle of a customer engagement to determine both your campaign’s Return of Investment, and the life time value of your customer. You’re also looking to manage the Consideration Factor. Before a consumer makes a purchase they’ll seek peer reviews and product recommendations. After the consumer makes a purchase they will experience the product and form their own opinions upon which they will cycle back comments for new consumers to review. Some of these companies include Aprimo, Eloqua, HubSpot, Omniture, Based on the 80-20 rule your goal is to seek your most profitable customers and understand the process to achieve these results.


According to the 2009 Cone Consumer New Media Study, consumers are most interested in information that will inform their purchasing decisions. Respondents said they want companies to tell them what is in products and how they are made (85%) and provide additional details about information, labels and claims shared offline (e.g., in the store, on the package, in an advertisement) (83%). MediaPost January 22, 2010

The life cycle of acquiring and retaining customer has a predictable flow. Phase 1 starts with generating Awareness of the product/service through the use of various marketing channels and campaigns. Phase-2 is consideration of the product based on peer evaluations, recommendations, and other social media tools. After the purchase of the product the real heavy lifting begins to ensure the customer’s expectations are met and they have a satisfactory experience. Phase-3 is the formation and sharing the consumer’s experience with the product. Typically there will be three types of customers. (1) Immensely satisfied and willing to share their experience, (2) Satisfied and complacent customers with no passion to share, and (3) the Dissatisfied customer who will tell the world of their terrible experience as they seek to restore their balance in life through retaliation.

As we can see from the illustration, word-of-mouth recommendations are cycled back to the consideration phase for the next customer. It therefore becomes important to manage these word-of-mouth recommendations by ensuring a good experience, observing the results, and responding immediately to damage control.

If we can measure it, then we can manage it. As your campaign reaches your audience you’re looking to measure some key variables to ensure your message is reaching the right target audience, you captured, their attention, engaged them in an interactive process for purchase consideration, convert them into a sale, and finally offer the experience to steer and share their positive opinion. As such you are looking to measure variables such as; Traffic Visits, Click through behavior patterns, Conversion rates, and Source of visitors.


As a general rule, we are fearful of things we do not understand. As marketing and advertising professionals, once we embrace the idea of democracy and participation in sharing content to our target audience, we can enjoy the immense surge of collective wisdom and the loyalty of our fans. In building a business it’s expensive to acquire new customers and pointless to have a hole in your bucket when they constantly drain out. Embracing the power of Web 2.0, deploying viral marketing, and using traditional media platforms can give you a full complement of tools to reach a vast audience who are most interested in having a relationship with your organization. By increasing the ease of customer access and participation you’ll be able to build a loyal fan base that can deliver a steady stream of profitable revenue. As many business leaders have discovered, by taking care of your customers first, your profits can be realized.