What is Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is a concept which has its origins in the Internet. The term was invented by Steve Jurvetson, a venture capitalist, to describe the method used by Hotmail to develop its e-mail service. Most of the standard marketing textbooks mention the term. For example, viral marketing as ‘electronic word of mouth’, while Smith and Taylor give the following description of the process involved:

It is not “accidental” spreading but, rather, carefully planned spreading of the message online. Two elements are required: first the idea itself, and second, the seeding. The two main benefits of word-of-mouth sources are that they are convincing and low cost (Kotler, 2003, p. 575).

Although e-mail was the original vehicle which allowed ideas to replicate and spread like a virus, anecdotal evidence reported in the business press suggests that weblogs are equally well-suited to the task. For example, Fortune recount the story of entrepreneur Shane McQuade, inventor of a backpack with built-in solar panels. McQuade asked a friend to feature the product on his ‘green design’ blog. Within hours the product had moved up the blogging hierarchy until it reached Gizmodo, a gadgets blog which receives tens of thousands of visitors every day. McQuade was inundated with orders and refers to blogs as ‘the ultimate word-of-mouth marketing channel’.

A related concept is buzz marketing. Buzzmarketing, a specialist website, says that it is about ‘capturing attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand becomes entertaining, fascinating, and newsworthy’ (Buzzmarketing, 2005). In a paper for the Harvard Business Review, investigations show that the marketing practices at more than 50 companies and found that buzz affects not only the entertainment and fashion industries but also agriculture, electronics and finance. She forecast a world in which ‘buzz will dominate the shaping of markets’, citing forums such as Epinions.com as generators of buzz. In a mass-market business book, Gardner (2005, p. 11) considers that ‘the power of blogs is buzz, or conversations that bounce from blog to blog and gather mass and impact’.

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