Going Viral: Myth, Hype or Modern Reality?

This is guest post is by Cathy Larkin is a 20 year PR pro and the owner of Web Savvy PR, a boutique public relations firm that combines social media tools with traditional PR services making technology and strategy easier for  established small businesses ownersPlease join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz, this Friday, February 8th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT as we focus on viral marketing.

The term going “viral” gets thrown around often these days. It’s a “hot” term.Cathy Larkin head shot But is it all hype, or is there some reality underlying this overused term? By viral I mean the rapid spread of a product/idea/business/concept through social distribution. Let’s examine it’s underpinnings and uses and see where we come out.

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Is “Make it Go Viral” an Oxymoron?

I’ve been in meetings where the client asks the marketing firm to create a “viral video,” and I know there are meetings where the client ask for a “marketing plan to launch our product and make it go viral.” In my mind, it’s kind of an oxymoron, and often misses the point. You can’t really make something “go viral.” You can create a video or product launch that has the potential to “go viral,” i.e. get very popular and get shared very fast. But if the underlying product is not strong/unique enough, or the video/promotion is not closely-related to the product, all you get is a fast moving word of mouth viral spread, but few actual new customers. Hence my use of the word “hype.” Also, viral campaigns move very fast, but they often fade just as fast (kind of like the flu) – creating more of a short-term fad than a longer-term fashion. Check out this post about DropBox, Dropbox: The Viral Lie Sold To Every Startup, yes they now have over 100 million users, but the post authors show that their growth was not really viral. He also talks about why some products might go viral, and others don’t have a chance.

Myth or a Way to Achieve 20% More Growth

Click to learn more about what constitutes viral growth According to Michael Fitzgerald in this post Viral Growth is a Myth. It shows a study about the rapid growth of several companies, that found that most did not grow or multiply like a virus, with a huge percentage of growth coming via word-of-mouth, but that several did achieve an extra 20% growth via word-of-mouth…which is nothing to sneeze at (sorry…pun intended.) From the post: “for every 10 adoptees of a conventional marketing effort, another two people will adopt something organically.” Here’s a reality check from another post: “Viral products are rare. Sustainable businesses built off the back of viral promotions are even rarer.”

If Viral is a Myth, Are there Still some ideas Worth Trying?

So if we are beginning to see the myth of viral marketing, why does it still seem to be the “holy grail” that companies want to see. If we begin to look at the parts of marketing promotions that can help increase the viral potential of a marketing campaign, are these worth incorporating into your business’es strategic plans? In this post by @DESTRAYNORMeasuring Viral Distribution, he shows a formula for what constitutes viral growth, but later in the post talks about some things that actually do concretely help something have the potential to “go viral.”

  • Ideas such as using one-click social sign ups – allowing people to sign in or up using their social accounts,
  • as well as having your own sign up option allows for easier conversions.
  • Increasing engagement is another tactic he suggests,
  • along with useful notifications to those who’ve signed up,
  • making it easy to share your interesting and useful content.

He end with don’t just stop at “viral,” think retention – how do you get those early adopters to stay and share with others.

So do you think viral marketing is hype? Can going for it cause a business problems, or is it worth using some “viral” tactics and apply it to your business?

“Questions About Viral Myth or Modern Reality:

Is “Going Viral” a Modern Reality, Hype, or an Outright Myth and Why?

Despite the hype, are there steps can a biz can do…to try & make a product/service/biz “Go Viral?”

What are the downsides of having a product/service/business actually “go viral?”

How can pursuit of “viral-ity,” hurt a company’s strategic planning or effective marketing? Or if you disagree, how can pushing for “going viral” help a biz stretch and grow?

About the author: This guest post is by Cathy Larkin, AKA @CathyWebSavvyPR on Twitter, a member of the KaizenBiz team. She is a 20 year PR pro and the owner of Web Savvy PR, a boutique public relations firm that combines social media tools with traditional PR services making technology and strategy easier for  established small businesses owners to use and expand their business. She specializes in making social media and tech stuff easy to understand and less intimidating. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn: Http://LinkedIn.com/CathyLarkin.



2 thoughts on “Going Viral: Myth, Hype or Modern Reality?

  1. I found two other posts on “going viral” that speak to different aspects of the topic. The First (pointed out to me by Elli St. George Godfrey) speaks to how & why a post went viral – with over 500,000 Facebook likes and other shares – taking Viral out of the marketing framework. I’m sure the blog go new readers from it, but this post looks at why this piece of content went legitimately viral – http://blog.bufferapp.com/what-makes-content-go-viral-the-anatomy-of-a-post-that-got-over-500000-likes

    see next comment for the second story

  2. I grabbed the second post off of my evening news Website CBSPhilly.com – A 5 year old girl arrived last night in Philly for an experimental Leukemia treatment. How does this relate to viral content…Her family is from overseas, from Croatia. And it seems that this story started via grassroots word of mouth, spread on Croatian Facebook, and in a very short time over $800,000 was raised in a few days to get this 5 year old child here and to pay for the experimental treatment. Now that’s #ViralForGood. http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2013/02/07/croatian-child-with-leukemia-to-receive-experimental-treatment-at-chop/

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