Why Viral Marketing Doesn’t Exist

March 19, 2013

Filed under: Marketing — Simon Walklate

I’m a firm believer in the fact that there’s no such thing as “viral marketing”, at least in the strictest definition of the term. I know people will say, “there is, I’ve used it”, but let me explain…

What is It?

Viral marketing is by definition the spread of a marketing message, via a piece of content, similar to how a virus would spread amongst people, creating exponential growth of the audience. In theory, something truely viral would only need to be seen by a few people, before being passed on, then the audience would grow naturally from there. For this to all happen, everyone that sees the content needs to pass it on to more than one other person. So what’s wrong with this premise?…

We Don’t Choose What Goes Viral, the Audience Does

The term implies that we somehow make this growth happen, that it’s guaranteed. To think like this is ridiculous and quite frankly a bit arrogant. We can create the best content we possibly can, whether that be a video or a game or something else. This will help encourage people to pass it on, but unfortunately there are no guarantees.

In fact the odds are definitely stacked against us. Only a minute percentage of content on the internet spreads significantly enough to be labelled truly “viral”. And with more and more content competing to claim this elusive title, it’s only getting less and less likely to happen.

So We Should Forget It?

Not at all. I think the misconception comes from the actual meaning of the term. Often clients take it quite literally and think that’s how it works. They can just create a piece of content, put it up on their website and people will magically find it and it’ll spread from there. In reality, it’s just content marketing. We’re using a piece of great content as a hook to get exposure for a brand.

We need to understand that very little content ever goes truly viral (and an even smaller percentage of that is actually for marketing purposes). Therefore we should assume that our content won’t. Any spread that happens, almost certainly won’t be exponential growth, so we should treat any we do get as a bonus, not a necessity.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Content

With this in mind you need to do everything you can to get your content seen by as many people as possible from the start.

This should involve at the very least:

1) Writing and distributing a dedicated press release – If your content is truly great, it can be a brilliant hook to use in a press release, to get your business exposure on the web and in traditional media. Don’t waste the opportunity though, always create a press release dedicated to your content, don’t add it as an afterthought.

2) Leveraging your other marketing channels – Everything you can do to help get the most exposure possible will only help and everything you don’t do is a wasted opportunity. You need to use every channel available to you, from mailing lists and social media, to incorporating into other parts of your campaign, to drive traffic.

Then it’s time to get creative and think outside the box. What ways can you think of to get the most out of your next piece of content?

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