What is Viral Marketing?

Viral Marketing: General Marketing Explained

Viral marketing, a term often used in general marketing, is a technique that utilizes social networks to promote a product or service. This strategy relies on individuals sharing the marketing message with others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s visibility and effect. It’s akin to a virus that spreads from person to person rapidly.

The term “viral marketing” was first coined by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson and marketing expert Tim Draper in 1997. The concept has since evolved and is now a critical part of many successful marketing campaigns. It leverages the power of word-of-mouth and online sharing to achieve marketing objectives.

Understanding Viral Marketing

Viral marketing encourages individuals to share a marketing message with their social circles, thereby creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence. This form of marketing is often used in conjunction with other forms of marketing, such as traditional advertising or direct marketing.

It’s important to note that it isn’t just about creating a buzz. It’s about creating a message that is so compelling that people feel compelled to share it. Creating that type of sensation requires a deep understanding of what motivates people to share and how to create content that taps into those motivations.

Key Elements

Several key elements make up a successful viral marketing campaign. These include the message, the messenger, and the environment. The message must be compelling and shareable, the messenger must be influential and trustworthy, and the environment must be conducive to sharing.

Another important element is the incentive for sharing. Incentives could be anything from a discount code to a chance to win a prize. The incentive should be relevant to the target audience and enticing enough to motivate them to share the message.

Types of Viral Marketing

Viral marketing can take many forms, depending on the medium used and the nature of the message. Some common types include viral videos, emails, and social media posts.

Viral videos are the most well-known form of viral marketing. These videos are shared widely on social media platforms and other online channels. Viral emails, on the other hand, are emails that recipients forward to their contacts. Viral social media posts are posts that are shared, liked, and commented on by a large number of users.


Viral marketing offers several benefits for businesses. One of the main benefits is the potential for broad reach at a low cost. Because it relies on individuals sharing the message, the distribution cost can be significantly lower than other forms of marketing.

Another benefit is the potential for increased brand awareness. When a marketing message goes viral, it can reach many people, many of whom may not have been aware of the brand before. An additional benefit is an increase in brand recognition and recall.

Digital art that visually represents the Benefits of Viral Marketing. It showcases a large tree symbolizing growth and reach, with branches adorned with icons of social media platforms and a diverse group of people underneath, engaged with shared content on their devices. The background features a bright, light blue sky, conveying an optimistic and warm atmosphere.

Challenges of Viral Marketing

Despite its benefits, viral marketing also presents several challenges. One of the main challenges is the unpredictability of virality. It’s difficult to predict what will go viral, and even the most well-planned and executed viral marketing campaigns can fail to achieve virality.

Another challenge is the potential for negative virality. If a marketing message is perceived negatively, it can spread as quickly and widely as a positive message, causing damage to the brand’s reputation.

Examples of Successful Viral Marketing Campaigns

There have been many successful viral marketing campaigns throughout the years. One of the most notable is the “Share a Coke” campaign by Coca-Cola, which encouraged people to share a Coke with someone whose name was on the bottle. The campaign was successful in increasing sales and brand awareness.

Another successful campaign is the “Ice Bucket Challenge” by the ALS Association. The campaign involved people dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads and nominating others to do the same, intending to raise awareness and funds for ALS research. The campaign went viral and raised millions of dollars for the cause.

Strategies for Successful Viral Marketing

Creating a successful viral marketing campaign requires careful planning and execution. One of the key strategies is to create shareable content. When someone creates sharable content, the content should be engaging, entertaining, and relevant to the target audience.

Another strategy is to leverage the power of influencers. Influencers are individuals who have a large following on social media and can help spread the marketing message to a wider audience. Partnering with influencers can increase the reach and impact of a viral marketing campaign.

Measuring the Success of a Viral Marketing Campaign

Measuring the success of a viral marketing campaign can take time, as the impact of virality can be difficult to quantify; however, several metrics can be used to gauge success. These include the number of shares, likes, comments, and views, as well as any increase in sales or brand awareness.

It’s also essential to monitor the sentiment of the shares and comments. If the majority of the shares and comments are positive, this is a good indication that the campaign is successful. If the sentiment is negative, this could indicate that the campaign is not resonating with the target audience or that the message is being perceived negatively.

Future of Viral Marketing

The future of viral marketing is likely to be shaped by advances in technology and changes in consumer behaviour. As social media platforms continue to evolve and new platforms emerge, marketers will need to adapt their strategies to stay relevant.

Furthermore, as consumers become more discerning and skeptical of marketing messages, marketers must find new ways to create authentic and engaging content that resonates with their audience. This will likely involve a greater focus on storytelling and user-generated content.

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