Viral Marketing that spreads like a virus
Generally, you can go about viral marketing in one of two ways: either the product itself is the "viral agent", or the marketing campaign itself is what spreads. Once you decide upon the angle that you want to enter viral marketing with, the rest is just theory and analysis of what makes a successful viral marketing campaign and how to go about achieving it.
The essence of a successful viral marketing campaign is to create something that people will want to spread themselves. For something to spread it has to be understood, with both the sender and the recipient actively wanting to send it on (because it will add something more to their lives, be it reputation, friendship or some other personal gain). The recipient will also have to respect/trust whomever sent them the item in the first place, at least enough to willingly invest time in investigating what they've been sent, which is where existing networks (more on which, later) come into play.
You will be expected to put forth something which is creative, unusual, new and exciting (either a combination of the aforementioned or all) in order to get people interested. Maybe you'll want to create a parody of an existing product, campaign or item in order to attract an existing fan/user-base to your own campaign.
Perhaps you've already had a successful campaign and are wondering how to follow it up, in which case you should make a sequel, as when you have the attention of the people, one of the best things to do is give them more of what they want and what you know they like. These are the very foundations of any good viral marketing experience.
Free Is Good
People love "free stuff". When a thing is free, when people can get something for nothing, they are more likely to pay attention and invest their time in something. Free products and services, free videos, free information, free freedom, everyone loves things that are free, even if they're generally regarded as not being the greatest thing ever - but hey, it's free so who cares? The word "free" is a powerful tool in any would-be viral marketer's vocabulary and one that should be learnt as soon as possible.
People like to think they're getting a good deal that others can't get, which is where the "free angle comes in. By thinking they're getting in on some great deal by partaking of the viral campaign, it makes the user feel good and that they're a part of something and people like to have their egos stroked as well, which helps the viral marketing side of things.
While "cheap", "low-cost" and "inexpensive" will still attract people, nothing will do it as fast as something that is "free". A viral marketing campaign that wants to succeed will do well to bear this in mind, as free will draw people to it and those people will in turn help to spread whatever it is that needs to be spread. Free means that a number of barriers between the spreader and the product have been broken down and is therefore easier to access. Whereas for something which isn't free, it usually requires - or at least implies - some sort of effort on the part of the recipient, thus hampering the spread of something you really want to be spreading as fast and as far as it can.
Exploit Existing Networks And Resources
Part of viral marketing - especially successful viral marketing - is about exploitation. To ensure the spread of a particular item, you will have to exploit the common motivations and behaviours of the average person or to whoever you are marketing to. In a similar way as to how you're exploiting the desire for free stuff, so too are you exploiting other base motivations such as the desire to be "cool" or popular, which will see people willingly pass on something in the hope that they will receive some sort of beneficial recognition from their friends and peers.
Greed is also a popular motivator, as we know that "greed is good" and it drives people to great lengths, so take advantage of this fact with your viral campaign. If people feel that can get something out of it, they'll be all the more willing to spread your campaign as quickly and as efficiently as possible. The urge to communicate and transmit such things is a powerful one and if you possess a strategy that will build on and take advantage of these common human traits, then you're bound to be rewarded with success on some scale.
Another point to concentrate on is to make sure you utilise and exploit the resources of others as well as taking advantage of any existing communication networks to maximise the spread and reach of your campaign while simultaneously exhausting as few of your own resources as possible. It's all about networks and what there is available. Just as a virus can spread from person to person within a close-knit network of people, so too can a viral campaign be facilitated via a person's own networks.
If you can attach your viral message or product to something someone else is putting out, then you can make use of their resources without exhausting your own. For example, anything which is going to be viewed by many users, such as a press release, affiliate networking or indeed anything which is being thrust out into the internet for one reason or another. If you can get your viral campaign on board something like this, it can push your message all the further, even reaching audiences that you might not have originally thought of, it all helps to further the cause.
As for making the most out of communication networks other than your own, it's all about where you place your campaign to start with. Choosing where to seed your viral media is a crucial aspect to the success of the entire campaign and placing it in the midst of large, pre-existing networks is the way forwards. Ideally, you would choose a location right in the middle of large networks, where contact and communication is easily maintained by many, many users, so that when you start you campaign, it will spread like the proverbial wildfire.
Have The Capacity to Grow
Speaking of wildfire, it's important that your viral media or message has the capacity to actually be spread with the minimal amount of effort in order to aid its propagation. In other words, it should be kept small and easy to transmit: things like websites (or URLs in general), emails, graphics, small amounts of text, software (provided the size of the download isn't too big), are all great things that can spread easily, simply and quickly in just the right manner. Make whatever it is that you need to have transmitted short and sweet, for maximum efficiency.
You must definitely be able to accommodate for the growth that your viral campaign may bring with it. Make sure that both your hosting and you can deal with ever-increasing numbers of visitors, make sure that you can provide adequate bandwidth; otherwise your efforts may be for nothing. What cannot happen is that your viral campaign overloads you, shutting you down for however long, as this would result in a total failure of the campaign itself. You would lose visitors and gain no new visitors as the virus would not be able to spread. Thusly, it is crucial that you can maintain order whilst the campaign is running.
A viral marketing campaign has many benefits to it which might not be immediately obvious apart from the increased number of visitors if your media goes viral.
While a viral campaign might cost in terms of time and - to a lesser extent - patience, in terms of actual money, it's a relatively inexpensive thing to set up, especially when you take into account the benefits that a well thought-out and successful viral campaign can bring. The investment of time and relative financial cheapness is well worth what you will reap in return.
Perhaps the main benefit of pursuing the viral path is that - if successful - you're putting yourself in line for a lot of publicity and public awareness in a relatively short out amount of time. As the campaign goes viral and more and more visitors are drawn to the objective of the campaign, you have increased awareness of your brand and/or ideas as well advertising spanning the length and breadth of the internet, all for the price of one viral campaign.
However, you must remember that in order for your campaign to go viral and be a success, you need to be promoting the right content and making sure that it grabs peoples' attention in all the right ways so that they themselves are willing to spread your campaign far and wide. Your viral media/content needs to be new and fresh; something that attracts the interest and holds it, something that will encourage people to spread word about it to others amongst their network. Your campaign has to have a little edge to it, to stand out and be different from the rest and it needs to be current and not something old and worn-out, that people might be tired of seeing or hearing.
An example that people often cite as being a successful campaign is the technique employed by Hotmail, when they were first propagating their free email service. Notice the keyword there? FREE. What Hotmail did was to add a short and simple piece of text to the bottom of every email sent using their service which said "get your private, free email from Hotmail" and then their URL. As mentioned previously, people love free stuff and being both short and simple, it is an easily spread message which quickly become viral. By ticking the right boxes, word spread about Hotmail and the viral campaign became a success.
Other campaigns of note include the Real Ultimate Power website, which is basically a nonsense website about ninjas, made purely for fun and containing little to no factual information whatsoever. Because the content of the website was new and exciting, it allowed for itself to spread predominantly via word of mouth, but because the URL could be spread around with no trouble at all, news about the site travelled fast and received an ever-growing number of visitors.
The recent Batman film The Dark Knight embarked upon a successful viral marketing campaign to promote the film's release. Many internet users became aware of the campaign and latched onto it, further promoting both the viral marketing site for the film and the film itself.
The "Will It Blend?" series of videos has also seen similar viral success. Each video follows the same format or finding out whether or not an item will successfully perish inside a blender and was designed to promote a range of blenders being made by a particular company. The videos caught on and more and more people have been watching them since their inception. The reason behind their continued success is that when they started, they were seen as new and exciting and were therefore a viral success. Due to their popularity, sequels were created to further promote the blenders in the same fashion and those too became viral successes, as they were providing for a demand that they knew existed.
If you stick to the rules of what works when it comes to creating your own viral marketing campaigns, then there is no reason why you can't enjoy the same levels of success as those have come before you. All it requires is to know what you want to achieve and to then set about doing it, with careful planning and patience. If you pay attention to what works and what doesn't and draw logical conclusions from your own experiences and the experiences of others, then you will reap great success with viral marketing.