Viral Marketing What It Is How It Works Examples Pros Cons

Viral Marketing What It Is How It Works Examples Pros Cons

Viral Marketing: What It Is, How It Works, Examples, Pros & Cons

Amilcar has 10 years of experience in FinTech, blockchain, and crypto startups and advises financial institutions, governments, regulators, and startups.

What Is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing spreads information about a product or service from person to person through word of mouth or sharing via the Internet or email. The goal is to inspire individuals to share a marketing message to create exponential growth in its recipients.

Key Takeaways

  • Viral marketing is a sales technique that involves spreading information about a product or service at an ever-increasing rate.
  • The Internet and social media have greatly increased the number of viral messages in the form of memes, shares, likes, and forwards.
  • Marketing campaigns attempt to trigger virality, but what goes viral remains a mystery.
  • When something goes viral, it becomes an easy and cheap way for a message to gain popularity.
  • Viral marketing can increase a company’s reach and customer base.
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Understanding Viral Marketing

In viral marketing, "viral" refers to something that spreads quickly and widely. It is a deliberate enterprise, although the message distribution happens organically. Social media provides the perfect ecosystem for viral marketing, but it has roots in traditional word-of-mouth marketing.

Viral marketing was widely used in the early to mid-2000s with the rise of Internet businesses. It is still common among internet-based B-to-C companies. Social media networks have enabled modern viral marketing efforts and increased their efficacy.

Examples of Viral Marketing

An example of early viral marketing is Hotmail. Hotmail included an embedded advertisement and direct link in its users’ outgoing messages, leading to fast growth among user-based media companies.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is another example. The challenge existed before The ALS Association utilized it to raise awareness, but the videos created a worldwide sensation that tremendously increased ALS awareness.

$115 million

The amount of donations raised from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Viral Marketing Characteristics

All viral marketing examples have three things in common: the message, messenger, and environment. Each part must be leveraged to create a successful campaign. Viral marketing campaigns can be created by any size business and can stand alone or be part of a larger traditional campaign.

These campaigns may use several tools, such as videos, games, images, email, text messaging, and free products, to appeal to users’ emotions, raise awareness of a cause, and make it easier to consume and share. Viral marketing often relies on the help of an influencer with a large network of followers.

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Viral marketing is quicker and less expensive than traditional marketing campaigns. It can lead to mainstream media attention. However, viral marketing can also misfire or be hard to measure.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Viral Marketing


Viral marketing allows companies to reach consumers not targeted by traditional marketing campaigns, expanding their customer base.

Creative viral marketing campaigns can trigger positive responses and create buzz around a company’s products or services.

Viral marketing costs a fraction of traditional advertising campaigns. Positive experiences shared by consumers can spread for free.

Viral marketing can lead to exponential and rapid growth, especially with the right tools and platforms.


Viral marketing can sometimes cause negative responses, which can be detrimental to a business and hard to recover from.

Measuring the effects of viral marketing is challenging, making it difficult to determine if a lead or sale resulted from it.

Customers may not share viral campaigns if they feel it compromises their privacy and security, affecting the campaign’s success and the company’s reputation.

  • Wider reach
  • Faster and exponential growth
  • Lower costs
  • Negative word-of-mouth
  • Hard to measure
  • Low virality

How Do You Make Money If Your Video Goes Viral?

To make money from a viral video, you can monetize it by requiring subscribers to pay or allowing companies to advertise to your audience for a fee. Other ways include licensing your videos to third parties.

Why Is Transparency So Important in Viral Marketing?

Transparency is crucial in viral marketing as consumers are more critical and hold companies accountable for their actions. Approximately 94% of consumers are loyal to transparent companies.

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What Does "Seeding" Mean in Relation to a Viral Marketing Campaign?

Seeding is a marketing technique where companies distribute viral information or content to select users who will effectively share the campaign. Social media influencers are often chosen as seeds to spread the word and gather feedback.

What Are the Steps to Start a Viral Marketing Campaign?

First, identify the purpose of going viral. Then, learn more about your audience and use social media reporting to gather information. Configure your content to be easily shared and ensure it is organic and relatable. Lastly, use trends and hashtags to promote the content and capture your followers’ attention.

What Are Good Tools for Viral Marketing Campaigns?

Companies can create and sponsor communities, run sweepstakes, contests, and rewards, and sponsor messages and chat blasts for viral marketing campaigns.

The Bottom Line

Viral marketing is an inexpensive and effective technique for increasing awareness and promoting a brand or product. Successful campaigns can help a company grow, enter new markets, and increase revenues. However, viral marketing should be done carefully to avoid unfavorable results that could tarnish a company’s reputation.

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