Will Viral Marketing Catch On?

Every book marketer dreams of having a title go viral – when a product catches on and is purchased by a huge numbers of customers in a relatively short period of time.  Such events are rare, but have captured the marketing imagination. 

Duncan Watts

Duncan Watts

Scientists, like Duncan Watts and Albert Laszlo Barabasi, who study such contagions in social networks call these events global cascades.  These cascades are made possible by the presence of what they term a “percolating cluster.”  A percolating cluster is made up of nodes in the network (read prospective customers) whose decision threshold is low and where the average degree (or number of other influencers) is not too high.  The good news is that we can characterize the conditions that will allow a new book to go viral.  The bad news is that we have no way to find these percolating clusters.

That hasn’t stopped marketers from giving advice on how to use viral marketing strategies.  Ralph F. Wilson of Frugal Marketing is a representative example.  He provides 6 tips for an effective viral marketing campaign, including:

  • Gives away products or services
  • Provide for effortless transfer to others
  • Scale easily from small to very large
  • Exploit common motivations and behaviors
  • Utilize existing communication networks
  • Take advantage of others’ resources

David Meerman ScottVahid Chaychi offers some additional tricks in his online article Viral Marketing Strategies – Learn How to Spread the Word for Free! including affiliate programs, recommendation campaigns.  Keith Gloster, of the Concept Marketing Group puts a special focus on using e-books to create viral buzz in his article, 10 High-Impact Viral Marketing Strategies.  He contends that free e-books or downloadable items make good viral accelerants.  The highest profile champion of viral marketing is probably David Meerman Scott (see picture at right), whose PDF, The New Rules of Viral Marketing, became its own viral hit.  Bob Bly offers some refinements on the Scott model by using the free e-book to feed an e-list campaign.  For books, one can now add videos and widgets – those ubiquitous creatures of the cut & paste web -to the viral toolbox

percolating cluster

percolating cluster

Despite the cornucopia of advice, those percolating clusters remain elusive.  Many marketers hope that early adopters will ignite a viral stampede.  But early adopters are not the key to viral success.  It is the receptivity of the network of potential customers to the new idea.  This receptivity is determined by network parameters that have little to do with being a highly connected (influential) early adopter.  And this receptivity is both dynamic and not something we can easily measure.  So – if network science is right – most viral campaigns will wind up like the proverbial seeds that fall on barren earth; they will not bear the desired fruit.

The real global cascade here may be the dream of viral marketing success rather than the reality.

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6 Responses to Will Viral Marketing Catch On?

  1. Hey Tom,

    Good analysis tying all these ideas together.

    I used “viral marketing” (I put it in quotes because people have different opinions on what it actually is) to launch The New Rules of Marketing and it has been wildly successful as a technique. Well over 1,000 bloggers have written about the book, propelling it to bestseller status and helping to convince publishers to translate it into 20 languages. I did this without spending a single penny on advertising for the book.

    For the past year, I have been studying how ideas spread online and why people share stories. Those ideas, together with nearly 50 case examples will be in my newest book called “World Wide Rave: Creating triggers that get millions of people to spread your ideas and share your stories”.

    Take care, David

  2. Tom,

    I have to admit that I actually found David Meerman Scott’s book, The New Rules of Marketing book through his own viral marketing techniques.

    David and his book was mentioned in a blog I read and whose posts I respect. As a result, I immediately believed that David was a thought leader in this marketing arena and I purchased his book.

    Additionally, I have also referred to him and his book quite a few times in my own blog and on Twitter (answering someone’s question on good resources for web marketing), etc.

    Even if it does not work for everyone, for whatever reason, I believe viral web marketing can work if done right.



  3. james bond says:

    Very nice information. Thanks for this.

  4. LOVE your site, will visit again 🙂 Submitted this post to Google News Reader.

  5. I have checked out a few of your posts and found some great information, just wanted to say thanks there is so much garbage out there, it’s nice to know some people still put time into managing there sites.

  6. Interesting site. Currently I am looking for information on making affiliate income.

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