Understanding and Utilising Viral Spread in Marketing

Many of us are increasingly familiar with the term viral when it comes to the online realm. Something is said to “go viral” or “spread virally” when people share it through social media and when thousands of people start actively seeking out a particular piece of content. This term is most commonly applied to YouTube videos that attract millions of views very quickly but it is a more complex term than simply views of a video. In this piece we’re going to look at what constitutes a viral spread before examining the way we can influence viral triggers in marketing.

What is a viral spread?

As we alluded to in our opening viral spread at its most basic level is users sharing and actively seeking out your content. The basic chain might go something like this

Someone sees a video/picture or article and finds it funny/interesting/useful/etc.

This person then shares it with their friends on Facebook/via email/ via forums/ on YouTube/by word of mouth/ etc.

The people who this person send it to then share it with their friends

Those friends in turn perpetuate the cycle and keep sending more and more people to a piece of content.

This means that potentially millions of people can be reached by a single piece of content and they will spread this content themselves. Clearly we can already see that, from a marketing perspective, this is a dream come true. Before we delve into harnessing the power of viral marketing though we will look at the means by which a viral spread can occur.

Way in which viral spread occurs.

A viral spread can occur through a number of ways (many of which we have already mentioned) but within these categories there are a number of different ways the spread can take place and a number of methods we need to be aware of. With that in mind we will look at each in turn.


As the largest social network online Facebook is most people’s first port of call. Viral spread can happen here through a number of ways. Firstly someone can like a page, video, article etc. and then this like will appear on their wall and in their likes sections. Their friends see the like and can click it. Secondly someone can directly post a link to their wall. Thirdly someone can become a fan of something – which will again mean it is posted on their wall. Finally a person can directly mail their friends sharing the link. All of these methods will have the same result but it is worth understanding the techniques marketers can utilise.


YouTube allows users to like videos, to share videos via social networks and to comment on videos. The more views, comments and likes a video receives the more exposure it will get- it will appear higher in the search rankings and it will see more and more views. YouTube videos are shared all across the web – from everything from other sites, forums and blogs to Facebook.

Websites, Forums and email

Direct sharing of content on websites, forums and by email is an integral part of viral spread. People send messages on these boards and share content they have found thousands of times/minute. If someone posts an interesting link on a forum hundreds of people are likely to click it to see what is being discussed. The same applies to blogs and emails with intriguing titles and content. Think how chain emails spread around the internet and you can quickly see how this viral spread takes place.

Word of mouth

More important perhaps than much social media word of mouth is one of the key means of creating and seeing the viral spread of content. Word of mouth in essence encompasses all forms of communication but particularly in this instance we are referring to direct conversation, chat rooms and phone based communications. A text message or a conversation about a piece of content online will send anyone who doesn’t already know about it rushing to look. Then they will in turn talk to people about it and spread the content further. In particular smartphones have made it even easier to spread content virally and for large communities to be exposed to a piece of content.


So then – what about viral marketing?

As you have probably realised by now the opportunities for advertising and marketing that viral content can create are huge. A typical advertisement in print or on TV has the potential to reach maybe a few hundred thousand people and will cost upwards of $10,000. A viral piece of content can be viewed by millions of people who will al actively seek out the content and spread it for you – putting it in front of many more people your print or media campaign would have probably missed. In terms of brand and product exposure this gives you an incredibly long reach. Many viral videos and articles will continue being viewed for years to come so offer a much higher ROI than traditional advertising avenues.

                Well the advantages are clear but how do we help create a viral spread? The most common and important steps to look at are creating the content and then encouraging the viral spread – basically giving it a push to get the spread rolling; at which point it should all take care of itself.

                Firstly then content. Your content for viral marketing needs to be exceptional. The core targets are humour, originality and quirkiness. These three ingredients are usually the sign of a good advert but they need to be particularly paid attention to with viral advertising. We want our content to make people want to share it and a good joke is usually the best way of achieving this. Of course you need the joke to spread the product heavily as well but this really is a central ingredient.

                Secondly, we need to give our advertisements a shove in the right direction. There are a lot of ways we can do this and we’ll briefly examine a few of them. Firstly your marketing campaign needs to be spread on every site you have a social media presence on – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. Then you need to send all of your traffic to watch the advertisement and like the advertisement. If you offer a reward (money off etc.) then you can encourage lots of people to sharer and like your content. This will help get the ball rolling and soon you will see your advertisement spreading like wildfire. Finally you can use traditional marketing and online marketing methods to encourage viewers – press releases, blog posts, paid advertisements etc. All of these links pointing to your campaign will help it spread virally. That really covers the essence of viral marketing and it is becoming something increasingly hard to ignore in our increasingly online worlds. Viral ads overcome the fundamental problem of advertising, that people don’t like it; by making them actively seek you  and your brand out.