- Messenger: Three specific types of messengers are required to ensure the transformation of an ordinary message into a viral one: market mavens, social hubs, and salespeople. Market mavens are individuals who are continuously ‘on the pulse’ of things (information specialists); they are usually among the first to get exposed to the message and who transmit it to their immediate social network. Social hubs are people with an exceptionally large number of social connections; they often know hundreds of different people and have the ability to serve as connectors or bridges between different subcultures. Salespeople might be needed who receive the message from the market maven, amplify it by making it more relevant and persuasive, and then transmit it to the social hub for further distribution. Market mavens may not be particularly convincing in transmitting the information.
- Message: Only messages that are both memorable and sufficiently interesting to be passed on to others have the potential to spur a viral marketing phenomenon. Making a message more memorable and interesting or simply more infectious, is often not a matter of major changes but minor adjustments.
- Environment: The environment is crucial in the rise of successful viral marketing – small changes in the environment lead to huge results, and people are much more sensitive to environment. The timing and context of the campaign launch must be right.
Viral marketing, viral advertising, or marketing buzz are buzzwords referring to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of viruses or computer viruses. It can be delivered by word of mouth or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet. Viral marketing may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames, ebooks, brandable software, images, or text messages.
According to marketing professors Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein, to make viral marketing work, three basic criteria must be met, i.e., giving the right message to the right messengers in the right environment:
Whereas Kaplan, Haenlein and others reduce the role of marketers to crafting the initial viral message and seeding it, futurist and sales and marketing analyst Marc Feldman, who conducted IMT Strategies’ landmark viral marketing study in 2001,carves a different role for marketers which pushes the ‘art’ of viral marketing much closer to ‘science.’
Feldman points out that when marketers take a disciplined approach to viral marketing by targeting, measuring and continually optimizing their campaigns based on campaign metrics, viral marketing transforms the customer into a new sales channel, a new lead generation channel and a new awareness generating channel. Feldman's innovative reconceptualization of viral marketers went a long way towards making "viral marketing" a strategy that sales and marketing directors at Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies could legitimately invest in. This disciplined approach to Viral Marketing that Feldman first carved out, pointed the way towards measuring the ROI of every viral marketing campaign and thus making a real business case for investing in viral marketing. The customer-as-a-sales-channel approach to viral marketing went on to become the foundation for an explosion of technology enabled viral marketing services offered online, offline and in blended hybrid approaches.
Howard, Theresa (2005-06-23). "USAToday: Viral advertising spreads through marketing plans". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-27. June 23, 2005, 2005
Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein Michael (2011) Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance, Business Horizons, 54(3), 253-263.