As opposed to more traditional and time-tested forms of marketing, viral marketing is a relatively new strategy. It has taken off considerably since the advent of the internet, specifically social media. It refers to marketing products and services through social networks and platforms, such as Facebook or YouTube, to build consumer brand awareness and increase visibility at a relatively low cost. It takes its name from the way viruses spread rapidly, but the term has shed its negative connotation and instead simply refers to a video or internet meme that gains popularity and spreads rapidly through word of mouth or, more often, through “shares” and “likes” on social media platforms.
Viral marketing takes a personal approach to attracting customers; although a business creates and initially posts the viral content, viral marketing relies on free distribution through social network users passing it along. Generally, in viral marketing, a company will debut an ad either on its own website or a social media website such as YouTube or Facebook. From there, the ad spreads to a wide audience through the social media platform’s specific sharing functions.
Viral marketing advertisements can take a variety of different forms, including short videos, online games, images or memes, social media “status updates,” text messages, or email chains. It is an immensely creative area of marketing, and advertisers are always coming up with new strategies to make their content “go viral.”
Ultimately, marketers who employ viral marketing techniques want to generate content that attracts prominent influencers or those with high social networking potential, such as celebrities and prominent bloggers with large online followings. As such, businesses and companies can pair a viral marketing strategy with other techniques, including influencer marketing or social media marketing to reach a wider audience.