Optimizing Viral Marketing


On the face of it, viral marketing optimization (VMO) bears little resemblance to more established digital marketing practices. In retail and lead generation the basic principle to optimizing conversion is long established as driving people into the funnel and then pushing them down it. Viral Marketing turns this funnel upside down. The viral marketing end is really a beginning. Success starts at that single point of conversion and moves wider and the benefits of optimizing the viral funnel get compounded in ways other marketers can only dream of.

So, if all VMO does is flip the funnel then can’t the same optimization techniques and practices that are used successfully on in other digital marketing areas be applied to VMO? I think so — since success in both disciplines depends on two common factors, reach and relevance. What viral adds is a third factor made up from parts of reach and relevance and critical to its success, repetition.

So what determines success with these three factors and how do we think about optimizing them?

Reach: Here you are trying to connect your messaging with the greatest amount of people. You’re casting the widest net possible and hoping to get some relevance in it. Search, Display, Email, Affiliate, Social, WOM — there are different channels to accomplishing this goal. There have been more than a few success stories here generated from SPAM and other forms of misleading ads. While this may be frowned upon the business goal is trying to reach the most people as possible with our message in the most cost effective manner. The more nets we cast the more likely we’ll catch fish and the larger nets are usually the cheapest. Two examples of reach success in viral are MySpace (email) and AdultFriendFinder (display).

Relevance: Once the message is presented the persuasive nature of it will ultimately determine how well it works. This is usually dictated by the degree of relevance inherent in the message as well as the delivery and presentation. This is the same for VMO and other digital marketing. Trust factors as an important strategy here just as it is in other conversion optimization. Most of the same rules and technology we use to test and optimize sites and landing pages can and should be used to ensure the highest degree of relevance in viral marketing creative including A/B, multivariate testing and targeted content delivery. LinkedIn’s invite is a good example of this as is AdultFriendFinder’s use of geo-targeted messages to deliver relevance with great success. Again improvements here have huge impacts as the lifts get compounded.

Repetition: In VMO the net gets wider with each successive pass through. This is the real power of the pyramid. If reach and relevance are created building the first levels become more a matter of process and tools than anything else. Facebook’s email address uploads and Slide’s widget creation are the shining examples here. However, as we create our viral funnel relevance may change or additional considerations can emerge. Understanding and optimizing these is a key component of establishing and keeping an active user base, leveraging the work done on the front end and imperative to execute the mother of all viral strategies, word-of-mouth. A high-level example of this is Facebook which started out as college network, grew to include high schools and is now attracting professionals. Webkinz is another example as they optimize the changes in relevance from first time users to repeat user activity on many levels both online and offline.

There’s a lot more to chew on in each area and hopefully I’ll get to it in a future post. It’s interesting to think about multivariate testing up and down the viral funnel, creating landing pages and using personalization and targeted content. What’s clear is that the ability to deliver personalization (relevance) is a key success factor for VMO.

Viral Marketing continues to grow in importance. Understanding and experimenting in optimization of this process is an emergent but very interesting practice that will surely reap many rewards for its practitioners.


12 responses to “Optimizing Viral Marketing”

  1. Search Engine Land: News About Search Engines & Search Marketing Avatar

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  2. idot60 Avatar

    thanks for the view on viral marketing, alas i can get some idea on my management paper. Lot’s of people are now using viral marketing to reach the masses – the latest i know that is using VM is the movie – The Dark Knight… cool and interesting use. Another cool movie is Transformer where the studio uses a visual of the mars rover and televises it like it’s a real event raising even more awareness… cool


  3. Theron Avatar

    Interesting post. It got me wondering if there are non digital analogies to this concept. Obviously, network marketing has some level of viral component, at least that is what the networkers would hope for. However in a more traditional sense, I think of something like a promotional t-shirt or the latest fashion trend which virally strengthens as the more and more people see it and say I want that. However, there comes a point where the saturation of the item, style or message eventually begins to turn the influencers away from it and onto something new. We’ve seen that many times already with the social networking sites and file sharing services as youth move from the cooling product to the new hot product. Facebook seems is the current hot social network, and they seem to be able to transcend generations. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain it. Facebook is to community, what Google is to search.


  4. [ping] Avatar

    excellent info on VM, however does VM only work for the younger generation ?


  5. Jonathan Mendez Avatar

    Ping- VM works with everyone. Even grandparents!


  6. ping Avatar

    Jon, you are so right 🙂 by the way, i’m writing my thesis and just to let you know, i’m using some of your articles as inspiration for my research basis 🙂 thanks…


  7. TheDavinator-Viral Marketing Strategist Avatar

    Hey Jon, that is an excellent way to explain viral marketing. One of the better ways I’ve seen personally. Thanx for the great read!
    “The Davinator”


  8. vviralmarketing Avatar

    Viral marketing is one of the methods most affiliates use to generate traffic and boost reputation. However when it is done correctly. thanks for the tips for optimizing the viral marketing.


  9. Viral Marketing Avatar

    The funnel concept is new for me, though I understood the principles, the picture made it very clear.


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  11. buy generic viagra Avatar

    Interesting point of view, I read that a viral expansion loop is similar to viral marketing with one notable difference: viral marketing can’t be replicated indefinitely, while a viral expansion loop must be in order for it to exist.


  12. Patrick Long Avatar

    Lots of people now uses viral marketing because it is effective if executed properly. This viral marketing is a marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message. It depends on a high pass-along rate from person to person. The overall growth snowballs very quickly if a large percentage of recipients forward something to a large number of friends.


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