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What Is Viral Marketing?

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When you purchased an item or availed of a service of a certain establishment and are satisfied with what you got, don’t you recommend that to a friend? And when you give your recommendation, doesn’t your friend buy or avail of it as well?

More often than not, we express our satisfaction with some product or service by telling our friends and relatives about our experience. Some of them will actually try the same product or service that we recommended. Essentially, we have just successfully advertised the product through word-of-mouth without the establishment having to spend a penny on it.

That is the idea behind viral marketing. Viral marketing is an advertising strategy that entices people to pass on a marketing message to their relatives and friends. It is called as such because of its similarity to an epidemic that easily spreads out, with an exponential growth, once an individual gets “infected.”

How did this marketing phenomenon start?

The concept of viral marketing, which is passing along a message, has been around for a long time now, even for centuries. There was just no specific name for it until 1997 when Steve Jurvetson, a venture capitalist, came up with the term “viral marketing” to describe Hotmail’s marketing practice then.

Hotmail’s practice was to append an advertisement of itself on each message that is sent using their service. When a recipient gets interested and clicks on the ad, it will lead to Hotmail’s website for him to signup. This will go on and on, and the growth is similar to an exponential curve.

Types of Viral Marketing

There are different ways to apply viral marketing strategy.

- Pass-along. This is the most common type of viral marketing. Web sites that ask their users to tell-a-friend about their products and services is an example of pass-along messaging. However, there is a risk of the message being labeled as “spam” by email providers. Thus, it is important that the “from” and “subject” lines do not contain any word that may be tagged as spam.

- Incentivised viral. This is a marketing technique used by companies in which users are offered rewards when they refer somebody to the company. This becomes more effective when the referred person needs to take action for the reward to be given.

- Undercover. The most difficult viral to spot, undercover marketing sends a viral message that is disguised as just an unusual page or piece of news without obvious link citations.

- Edgy gossip or buzz marketing. This type is most common in the entertainment world. A good example is the spread of different controversies, like getting married or divorced, involving the stars of a movie that is yet to be released. This is like a word-of-mouth advertising for the movie.

Methods of Transmission

Spreading the viral message can be done in different ways.

- Email. This is the most common type, when people forwards messages such as inspirational messages, jokes, funny clips and pictures that advertises a certain product or service.

- Instant Messaging. People who receive links from friends through instant messaging servers, like Yahoo or MSN, are more likely to check it out because of the notion of urgency of the sender.

- Web sites. Most of the articles now published online have a link that says “Send to a friend.” This is one way to make the article reach a good number of people by just posting it in one site.

- Word of mouth. Of course, this is the traditional way of passing on a message to another person; and most of the time, the most reliable method too.

Though there are several ways on how to do this kind of advertising, there are also barriers to it. One was already mentioned, which is the risk of the message being labeled as “spam.” Since a lot of companies now are using this method and promoting their products through email, email providers proactively created some sort of filter in their system to separate potential spam emails from the more trusted ones.

Other barriers can be the size and format of the viral message. If the content is a video clip, its reach may be limited because of size limitations of most of the email providers. Media format is also one thing to consider because not all recipients of the message may have the right application to open the file.

But despite of these constraints, businesses are already getting into this style of marketing. Indeed, this technique helps in dramatically increasing revenues by reaching a huge number of the target market without having to spend a big chunk of money for advertisements. Viral marketing will definitely go a long way, especially in the World Wide Web.

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