Big-Seed Viral Marketing

One of the most efficient and inexpensive ways for you to market your site or business is through “viral marketing” which is really just a fancy term for word-of-mouth advertising. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to pull off than what many unsuspecting entrepreneurs believe.

Today I came across an absolutely fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review which delved into some theories regarding viral marketing and how you might be able to increase your chances of success with it – and hopefully increase your traffic and revenue.  Any school offering an online marketing degree would be wise to include these threories in the syllabus.

While many of the points brought up in the article were noteworthy and, at the very least, made me nod my head in approval, the following paragraph was probably the most important item I’ve read regarding viral marketing:

“The standard viral-marketing model is based on an analogy with the spread of infectious disease. It assumes that one starts with a seed of individuals who spread a message by infecting their friends, where the expected number of new infectious people generated by each existing one is called the “reproduction rate,” or R. When R is greater than 1, each person who gets the message will, on average, spread it to more than one additional person, who then does the same thing, and so on, leading to exponential growth in the number of people who receive it—an epidemic. By contrast, viral messages with an R of less than 1 are generally considered failures. That’s because purely viral campaigns, like disease outbreaks, typically start with a small number of seed cases and quickly burn themselves out unless their R exceeds the epidemic threshold, or tipping point, of 1.”

While this seems fairly obvious, I don’t think many of us actually think about how we want to implement a viral campaign before we attempt to put one in motion. Most of us just assume that all we have to do is simply get the word out to a lot of people at once and we’ll have ourselves a kick-ass viral campaign. Unfortunately, this appears to only be half true.

Based on the referenced paragraph, it might not be the quantity of people we reach as much as it is the “quality” of people we initially use to get our viral campaigns started. For example, if we get 100 people to participate in a viral campaign for a new site that we want to launch, but only 1 out of 2 people passes on the word (and the trend continues down the line), we should expect less than 200 people to come to our site because of word-of-mouth.

However, if we carefully select people that we know will pass on our site or business, we could easily expect an explosion in traffic. For example, if we carefully selected 10 people to help with a viral campaign, and each of them passed on our site to just three people (and the trend were to continue down the line), we should expect to see over 1,200 visitors in the same amount of time as the other campaign took to fizzle out at 200.

Anyway, if you get a chance, I definitely recommend that you print out the Harvard Business Review’s article and use it as the basis for any viral campaign that you launch.


  1. Viral marketing is a powerful tool, but a large number of viral campaigns fall apart in the initial steps. I read a good article “A Case Study of a Viral Post”. One of the most important things is to get your viral campaing noticed on big sites/media in order for it to spread efficiently in ‘influential ripples’.

  2. I agree with ThomasK 100%. His posted article was pretty good and I think that using article marketing in the proper way can also give you a viral effect.

    Just my .02,


  3. article marketing can give viral effect but social sites like digg and propeller can be faster in spreading your content.

  4. Good article on viral marketing.Thanks

  5. Yeah, I agree that Article Marketing is a better source for a business at online marketplace.

  6. WOW! Amazing and excellent post. !!!
    Just great keep the good work going. great article…