Going Viral, Part 1: A Definition

Viral activity is the dream of many marketers, content creators, retailers, and businesses of all shapes and sizes. In truth its hard to find an example of a business that wouldn’t welcome at least a little viral activity every now and then. During this week I’d like to spend some time defining what viral means, examining some successful examples, and offering some insights on how you and your business might have a shot at achieving it.


Whenever a person or business says they create viral videos, projects, or marketing campaigns I always have to raise an eyebrow. Red flags go up when I see this due to the fact that content going viral isn’t decided by the creator. It’s decided by the viewer. It’s decided by you and me, the consumers. Real viral traction occurs when information is constantly being spread, when people are forwarding it in emails, when retweets are happening like crazy, when there is constant chatter on and off the web, and when traffic comes from many places and extends across the globe.

Spread it around

The viral internet marketing concept is rooted in the same fashion as a computer virus is. Someone inherits the idea/virus and then through the sharing actions of that person it spreads to other viewers. An image, blog article, photo, product, song, video, text message, quote, joke, website, and even an idea can all go viral. Almost anything can go viral if it’s of high quality, is naturally sharable, and has relevancy to a large sector of people.

In his book Viral Loop, author Adam Penenberg lays out case studies of companies that have proven themselves and turned extremely viral. He showcases an example where one of the creators of the website Hot or Not (a dating and photo rating site) told someone about the site and later observed that the person ended up telling many friends and they told friends and so on and so on. Word of mouth was so high that within the first week of launching over two million visitors were visiting the site on a daily basis.

Why does it go viral?

The perplexing thing about viral marketing and highly sharable content is that sometimes it comes out of nowhere and the reasons for success aren’t always obvious. There is reason to believe that some successful examples are simple cases of being at the right place at the right time, however there are things the can be done to push the odds in your favor. Stay tuned, in my next post I’ll look at some successful examples of viral content and share some ideas on how you might follow suit in your own efforts.

Read Part 2

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  1. Hi

    I really am enjoying your blog and absorbing all the fabulous jargon that makes me look fantastic in the boardroom…. shhhh, don’t tell the others!
    PS Today’s favourite – ‘ viral traction’ ! :-)

  2. Hi Sherri

    Thanks for the comment! Sometimes I impress my friends by using the term viral traction in as many sentences as possible. : )

  3. This was a great help! I was told something was going viral and got scared! lmao!

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