What Is Viral Marketing? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting Started

By Travis Steffen

“The only sustainable growth is viral growth.”

– Peter Thiel, Zero to One

So, what is viral marketing, anyway?

Chances are, you don’t ACTUALLY know how viral marketing works. Not the whole picture anyway — but very few truly do.

However, you probably believe you know more than most. After all, when somebody asks “what is viral marketing” your first thought is likely the latest and greatest thing you hear that’s “going viral” — whether it’s the latest and greatest cat video that or the newest Kardashian ridiculousness.

In this post, we’re going to touch on three key areas:

  1. WHAT makes this “viral” thing happen?
  2. WHY does it happen?
  3. And most importantly — what is viral marketing, and how can I create it for MY site?

If you’ve got a website, app or business you’re working on, chances are you’ve had this thought:

If only I could create something for MY site that spreads virally…

First off — this is EXACTLY what Viral Hero has been created to help you achieve.

Secondly, we’d better clear up a common misconception right now — which is that the word “viral” simply describes a piece of content that spreads like wildfire — like the latest funny video on Youtube.

This is false.

While this content is an important part of viral marketing, in this case it’s actually YOUTUBE that’s experiencing viral growth, not the video itself. The video is just the “viral media”, or what’s actually being shared to spread the site or app itself.

(I’ll dig a lot deeper into the mechanics of viral media in a later post).

What’s actually happening:

So what is viral marketing? This should sum it up:

When you see the latest Epic Mealtime video on Youtube, or a clip of some D-list celeb getting in a brawl at the club — and then you send it to a few friends, Youtube is what grows virally.

As this Youtube video spreads, more and more people are exposed or re-exposed to Youtube’s video player. They then get more users to their site, return dormant traffic, and likely suck you in via various “recommended for you” features to get you watching even more videos.

It’s not the content or media being shared that spreads virally — it’s the application that houses it. This media being displayed in Youtube’s player is just a tool to help their application spread, and it’s just a single piece of a much larger viral puzzle.

On a user generated content site like Youtube, the content creator can see some added benefit themselves from taking a ride on Youtube’s “viral loop” (more on this later). However, usually the content creator is simply using Youtube as a medium of marketing more akin to PR and is not experiencing viral growth themselves.

(NOTE: Youtube is more unique these days as their user generated content model allows for “channels”, so content creators actually MAY see user growth in the form of channel subscribers, although this is still a feature on Youtube itself.)

Think you can answer the question “what is viral marketing” yet with certainty?

Hey now — don’t get cocky. Keep reading…

Why “viral” marketing?

Viral marketing gets its name from the spread of disease.

If one person is infected, the people they touch are very likely to get infected as well. Those people then infect others, who then infect others, and so on. Before you know it, there’s an epidemic.

Sometimes on the web, content spreads in a similar way — so marketers adopted the same term.

So — let’s try this again…what is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is the act of leveraging your own audience to pass on your website or app to their friends.

In a nutshell, viral marketing is a form of direct response marketing where your users are the ones who pass your message on. A

s you get more and more users, you have more and more people simultaneously spreading your product or application — so the exposure of others to your message may — in some cases — be exponential.

This is why “going viral” is such a big deal.

To increase the viral nature of your website or app, ask yourself the following 5 questions:

  • WHY would my users share? In other words, what inherent value am I providing my users to share my content with others? Is there some sort of intrinsic value of sharing? Will they be seen as some sort of expert, somebody in-the-know, or somebody really funny?
  • What do my users GET for sharing? Are there any extrinsic rewards that I’m offering in exchange? Will they earn elevated status on my site? Will they get special privileges? Will they get some sort of discount, deal, or free gift (such as the Sharing Rewards you can create in 30 seconds on Upshare)?
  • What WAYS do I want them to share? Is the transmission of this content more applicable to a blanket wall post on social media, a 1-on-1 personal email invites, an address book invite — or something different?
  • WHERE do I make the ask? Are you providing calls to action right when a user would realize the value of passing on your content?
  • How QUICK and EASY does this “referral” or “invite” process occur? If a user follows your instructions, how quickly can others come to the site, become users, and start inviting others?

We’ll get into all of these and more in depth as we go, but this should hopefully set the record straight and get you thinking about viral marketing in a more clear and productive way as it pertains to your site or app.

Need some help thinking of the best way to offer a viral incentive? Comment below, and I’ll help!

What’s next?

Next — we talk about three very important words, go, viral, and more…but not in the way you might think.

It’s important to realize that very few sites can really “go viral” from an exponential standpoint — but you can make ANY website MORE viral, which can be incredible for business growth.

But before we do — what’d you think of this article?

  • STILL don’t think you know the answer to the age-old question, “what is viral marketing?”
  • Is there something you want clarification on, or a topic you want me to write about?
  • Got an idea for our next Viral Panda graphic?

Hit me on Twitter, or comment below, and I’ll be happy to clear up any confusion, help you drum up ideas for your site, and share how we might be able to help.

Originally published at www.upshare.co on June 25, 2015. Click Here to create your free viral site in under 60 seconds.

Like what you read? Give UP a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.