The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing

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The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing

Bài gửi by MrJohn on Sat Sep 26, 2009 6:50 pm

The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, E-Commerce Consultant
Web Marketing Today, February 1, 2005. Originally
published 2/1/2000

Easy Transfer Copy

I admit it. The term "viral marketing" is offensive. Call yourself a
Viral Marketer and people will take two steps back. I would. "Do they
have a vaccine for that yet?" you wonder. A sinister thing, the simple
virus is fraught with doom, not quite dead yet not fully alive, it
exists in that nether genre somewhere between disaster movies and
horror flicks.

But you have to admire the virus. He has a way of living in secrecy
until he is so numerous that he wins by sheer weight of numbers. He
piggybacks on other hosts and uses their resources to increase his
tribe. And in the right environment, he grows exponentially. A virus
doesn't even have to mate -- he just replicates, again and again with
geometrically increasing power, doubling with each iteration:

In a few short generations, a virus population can explode.
Viral Marketing Defined

What does a virus have to do with marketing? Viral marketing
describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a
marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential
growth in the message's exposure and influence.
Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands, to millions.
Off the Internet, viral marketing has been referred to as
"word-of-mouth," "creating a buzz," "leveraging the media," "network
marketing." But on the Internet, for better or worse, it's called
"viral marketing." While others smarter than I have attempted to rename
it, to somehow domesticate and tame it, I won't try. The term "viral
marketing" has stuck.
The Classic Example

The classic example of viral marketing is, one of the first free Web-based e-mail services. The strategy is simple:

  1. Give away free e-mail addresses and services,
  2. Attach a simple tag at the bottom of every free message sent out: "Get your private, free email at" and,
  3. Then stand back while people e-mail to their own network of friends and associates,
  4. Who see the message,
  5. Sign up for their own free e-mail service, and then
  6. Propel the message still wider to their own ever-increasing circles of friends and associates.

Like tiny waves spreading ever farther from a single pebble dropped
into a pond, a carefully designed viral marketing strategy ripples
outward extremely rapidly.
Elements of a Viral Marketing Strategy

Accept this fact. Some viral marketing strategies work better than
others, and few work as well as the simple strategy. But
below are the six basic elements you hope to include in your strategy.
A viral marketing strategy need not contain ALL these elements, but the
more elements it embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to
be. An effective viral marketing strategy:

  1. Gives away products or services
  2. Provides for effortless transfer to others
  3. Scales easily from small to very large
  4. Exploits common motivations and behaviors
  5. Utilizes existing communication networks
  6. Takes advantage of others' resources

Let's examine at each of these elements briefly.
1. Gives away valuable products or services

"Free" is the most powerful word in a marketer's vocabulary. Most
viral marketing programs give away valuable products or services to
attract attention. Free e-mail services, free information, free "cool"
buttons, free software programs that perform powerful functions but not
as much as you get in the "pro" version. Wilson's Second Law of Web
Marketing is "The Law of Giving and Selling"
( "Cheap" or
"inexpensive" may generate a wave of interest, but "free" will usually
do it much faster. Viral marketers practice delayed gratification. They
may not profit today, or tomorrow, but if they can generate a
groundswell of interest from something free, they know they will profit
"soon and for the rest of their lives" (with apologies to
"Casablanca"). Patience, my friends. Free attracts eyeballs. Eyeballs
then see other desirable things that you are selling, and, presto! you
earn money. Eyeballs bring valuable e-mail addresses, advertising
revenue, and e-commerce sales opportunities. Give away something, sell
2. Provides for effortless transfer to others

Public health nurses offer sage advice at flu season: stay away from
people who cough, wash your hands often, and don't touch your eyes,
nose, or mouth. Viruses only spread when they're easy to transmit. The
medium that carries your marketing message must be easy to transfer and
replicate: e-mail, website, graphic, software download. Viral marketing
works famously on the Internet because instant communication has become
so easy and inexpensive. Digital format make copying simple. From a
marketing standpoint, you must simplify your marketing message so it
can be transmitted easily and without degradation. Short is better. The
classic is: "Get your private, free email at"
The message is compelling, compressed, and copied at the bottom of
every free e-mail message.
3. Scales easily from small to very large

To spread like wildfire the transmission method must be rapidly
scalable from small to very large. The weakness of the Hotmail model is
that a free e-mail service requires its own mailservers to transmit the
message. If the strategy is wildly successful, mailservers must be
added very quickly or the rapid growth will bog down and die. If the
virus multiplies only to kill the host before spreading, nothing is
accomplished. So long as you have planned ahead of time how you can add
mailservers rapidly you're okay. You must build in scalability to your
viral model.
4. Exploits common motivations and behaviors

Clever viral marketing plans take advantage of common human
motivations. What proliferated "Netscape Now" buttons in the early days
of the Web? The desire to be cool. Greed drives people. So does the
hunger to be popular, loved, and understood. The resulting urge to
communicate produces millions of websites and billions of e-mail
messages. Design a marketing strategy that builds on common motivations
and behaviors for its transmission, and you have a winner.
5. Utilizes existing communication networks

Most people are social. Nerdy, basement-dwelling computer science
grad students are the exception. Social scientists tell us that each
person has a network of 8 to 12 people in their close network of
friends, family, and associates. A person's broader network may consist
of scores, hundreds, or thousands of people, depending upon her
position in society. A waitress, for example, may communicate regularly
with hundreds of customers in a given week. Network marketers have long
understood the power of these human networks, both the strong, close
networks as well as the weaker networked relationships. People on the
Internet develop networks of relationships, too. They collect e-mail
addresses and favorite website URLs. Affiliate programs exploit such
networks, as do permission e-mail lists. Learn to place your message
into existing communications between people, and you rapidly multiply
its dispersion.
6. Takes advantage of others' resources

The most creative viral marketing plans use others' resources to get
the word out. Affiliate programs, for example, place text or graphic
links on others' websites. Authors who give away free articles, seek to
position their articles on others' webpages. A news release can be
picked up by hundreds of periodicals and form the basis of articles
seen by hundreds of thousands of readers. Now someone else's newsprint
or webpage is relaying your marketing message. Someone else's resources
are depleted rather than your own.
Put into practice

I grant permission for every reader to reproduce on your website the
article you are now reading -- "The Six Simple Principles of Viral
Marketing" (see
for an HTML version you can copy). But copy this article ONLY, without
any alteration whatsoever. Include the copyright statement, too,
please. If you have a marketing or small business website, it'll
provide great content and help your visitors learn important
strategies. (NOTE: I am giving permission to host on your website this
article AND NO OTHERS. Reprinting or hosting my articles without
express written permission is illegal, immoral, and a violation of my
When I first offered this to my readers in February 2000, many
took me up on it. Six months later a received a phone call:
<blockquote>"I want to speak to the King of Viral Marketing!"</blockquote>
<blockquote>"Well, I'm not the King," I demurred. "I wrote an article
about viral marketing a few months ago, but that's all."</blockquote>
<blockquote>"I've searched all over the Internet about viral marketing,"
he said, "and your name keeps showing up. You must be the King!."</blockquote>
It worked! Even five years later this webpage is ranked #1 for
"viral marketing."
To one degree or another, all successful viral marketing strategies use
most of the six principles outlined above. In the next article in this
series, "Viral Marketing Techniques the Typical Business Website Can Deploy Now"
(, we'll move from
theory to practice. But first learn these six foundational principles
of viral marketing. Master them and wealth will flow your direction.
"Copyright ©️ 2000, 2005, Ralph F. Wilson,
E-Mail Marketing and Online
editor, Web Marketing Today.
All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your
website without alteration if you include this copyright statement and
leave the hyperlinks live and in place."

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