The Daily MES


The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, E-Commerce Consultant

Web Marketing Today, February 1, 2005. Originally published 2/1/2000
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This article contains older information. Go here for newer information on miscellaneous Internet marketing strategies.

I admit it. The term “viral marketing” is offensive. Call yourself a Viral Marketer and people will take two steps back. I would. “Do they have a vaccine for that yet?” you wonder. A sinister thing, the simple virus is fraught with doom, not quite dead yet not fully alive, it exists in that nether genre somewhere between disaster movies and horror flicks.

But you have to admire the virus. He has a way of living in secrecy until he is so numerous that he wins by sheer weight of numbers. He piggybacks on other hosts and uses their resources to increase his tribe. And in the right environment, he grows exponentially. A virus doesn’t even have to mate — he just replicates, again and again with geometrically increasing power, doubling with each iteration:


In a few short generations, a virus population can explode.

Viral Marketing Defined

What does a virus have to do with marketing? Viral marketing describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands, to millions.

Off the Internet, viral marketing has been referred to as “word-of-mouth,” “creating a buzz,” “leveraging the media,” “network marketing.” But on the Internet, for better or worse, it’s called “viral marketing.” While others smarter than I have attempted to rename it, to somehow domesticate and tame it, I won’t try. The term “viral marketing” has stuck.

The Classic Example

The classic example of viral marketing is, one of the first free Web-based e-mail services. The strategy is simple:

  1. Give away free e-mail addresses and services,
  2. Attach a simple tag at the bottom of every free message sent out: “Get your private, free email at" and,
  3. Then stand back while people e-mail to their own network of friends and associates,
  4. Who see the message,
  5. Sign up for their own free e-mail service, and then
  6. Propel the message still wider to their own ever-increasing circles of friends and associates.

Like tiny waves spreading ever farther from a single pebble dropped into a pond, a carefully designed viral marketing strategy ripples outward extremely rapidly.

Elements of a Viral Marketing Strategy

Accept this fact. Some viral marketing strategies work better than others, and few work as well as the simple strategy. But below are the six basic elements you hope to include in your strategy. A viral marketing strategy need not contain ALL these elements, but the more elements it embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to be. An effective viral marketing strategy:

  1. Gives away products or services
  2. Provides for effortless transfer to others
  3. Scales easily from small to very large
  4. Exploits common motivations and behaviors
  5. Utilizes existing communication networks
  6. Takes advantage of others’ resources

Let’s examine at each of these elements briefly.

1. Gives away valuable products or services

"Free" is the most powerful word in a marketer’s vocabulary. Most viral marketing programs give away valuable products or services to attract attention. Free e-mail services, free information, free "cool" buttons, free software programs that perform powerful functions but not as much as you get in the "pro" version. Wilson’s Second Law of Web Marketing is "The Law of Giving and Selling" ( “Cheap” or “inexpensive” may generate a wave of interest, but “free” will usually do it much faster. Viral marketers practice delayed gratification. They may not profit today, or tomorrow, but if they can generate a groundswell of interest from something free, they know they will profit “soon and for the rest of their lives” (with apologies to “Casablanca”). Patience, my friends. Free attracts eyeballs. Eyeballs then see other desirable things that you are selling, and, presto! you earn money. Eyeballs bring valuable e-mail addresses, advertising revenue, and e-commerce sales opportunities. Give away something, sell something.

2. Provides for effortless transfer to others

Public health nurses offer sage advice at flu season: stay away from people who cough, wash your hands often, and don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Viruses only spread when they’re easy to transmit. The medium that carries your marketing message must be easy to transfer and replicate: e-mail, website, graphic, software download. Viral marketing works famously on the Internet because instant communication has become so easy and inexpensive. Digital format make copying simple. From a marketing standpoint, you must simplify your marketing message so it can be transmitted easily and without degradation. Short is better. The classic is: “Get your private, free email at” The message is compelling, compressed, and copied at the bottom of every free e-mail message.

3. Scales easily from small to very large

To spread like wildfire the transmission method must be rapidly scalable from small to very large. The weakness of the Hotmail model is that a free e-mail service requires its own mailservers to transmit the message. If the strategy is wildly successful, mailservers must be added very quickly or the rapid growth will bog down and die. If the virus multiplies only to kill the host before spreading, nothing is accomplished. So long as you have planned ahead of time how you can add mailservers rapidly you’re okay. You must build in scalability to your viral model.

4. Exploits common motivations and behaviors

Clever viral marketing plans take advantage of common human motivations. What proliferated “Netscape Now” buttons in the early days of the Web? The desire to be cool. Greed drives people. So does the hunger to be popular, loved, and understood. The resulting urge to communicate produces millions of websites and billions of e-mail messages. Design a marketing strategy that builds on common motivations and behaviors for its transmission, and you have a winner.

5. Utilizes existing communication networks

Most people are social. Nerdy, basement-dwelling computer science grad students are the exception. Social scientists tell us that each person has a network of 8 to 12 people in their close network of friends, family, and associates. A person’s broader network may consist of scores, hundreds, or thousands of people, depending upon her position in society. A waitress, for example, may communicate regularly with hundreds of customers in a given week. Network marketers have long understood the power of these human networks, both the strong, close networks as well as the weaker networked relationships. People on the Internet develop networks of relationships, too. They collect e-mail addresses and favorite website URLs. Affiliate programs exploit such networks, as do permission e-mail lists. Learn to place your message into existing communications between people, and you rapidly multiply its dispersion.

6. Takes advantage of others’ resources

The most creative viral marketing plans use others’ resources to get the word out. Affiliate programs, for example, place text or graphic links on others’ websites. Authors who give away free articles, seek to position their articles on others’ webpages. A news release can be picked up by hundreds of periodicals and form the basis of articles seen by hundreds of thousands of readers. Now someone else’s newsprint or webpage is relaying your marketing message. Someone else’s resources are depleted rather than your own.

Put into practice

How to Viral Market, MarketingSherpa Toolkit

Viral marketing is (fairly) easy to define, but very difficult to accomplish successfully. MarketingSherpa’s How to Viral Market toolkit is the best book available on the nuts and bolts of developing a successful viral marketing campaign. Strongly recommended for serious marketers.
Dr. Wilson’s review
Buy the book.

I grant permission for every reader to reproduce on your website the article you are now reading — “The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing” (see for an HTML version you can copy). But copy this article ONLY, without any alteration whatsoever. Include the copyright statement, too, please. If you have a marketing or small business website, it’ll provide great content and help your visitors learn important strategies. (NOTE: I am giving permission to host on your website this article AND NO OTHERS. Reprinting or hosting my articles without express written permission is illegal, immoral, and a violation of my copyright.)

When I first offered this to my readers in February 2000, many took me up on it. Six months later a received a phone call:

"I want to speak to the King of Viral Marketing!"
"Well, I’m not the King," I demurred. "I wrote an article about viral marketing a few months ago, but that’s all."
"I’ve searched all over the Internet about viral marketing," he said, "and your name keeps showing up. You must be the King!."

It worked! Even five years later this webpage is ranked #1 for “viral marketing.”

To one degree or another, all successful viral marketing strategies use most of the six principles outlined above. In the next article in this series, "Viral Marketing Techniques the Typical Business Website Can Deploy Now" (, we’ll move from theory to practice. But first learn these six foundational principles of viral marketing. Master them and wealth will flow your direction.

"Copyright © 2000, 2005, Ralph F. Wilson, E-Mail Marketing and Online Marketing editor, Web Marketing Today. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your website without alteration if you include this copyright statement and leave the hyperlinks live and in place.”

Read additional articles from Web Marketing Today, Issue 70, February 1, 2000

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Believe in imagination and dream really big!

An extended pattern of redundancy coupled with little to no personal development is the perfect plan for a safe and mediocre existence. This begs the question: why do we settle for this status quo that society dictates for us? Why can’t more of us reject this sly deceit, quietly whispered into our ears, that we have little to offer this world?

It’s a huge farce, silently written on our hearts, that we cannot do great things. How sad it is that so many of us easily fall to such a pegged life. But take heart, because all is not lost. Life doesn’t have to so easily peg you into its gaping hole.

Instead, be bold and courageous and ignite a spark within yourself to believe in imagination again. Dream big, really big, and never fear the path that could lead to failure. Let us be brave enough to realize the true gravity of this world’s need for great people. Because its these great people, who chase after crazy ideas and aren’t afraid of failure, that experience true fullness in life and make a lasting impact on this world. This is who I am, and I never want to be anyone else. Who’s with me?

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Local Search Marketing For Your Business

What exactly is a Local Search?

Being a small business owner, many opinions and ideas around search engine optimization and local business marketing have probably been buzzing around you.  If you have never explored the idea of optimizing your business online to receive the optimum amount of traffic and begin receiving targeted online leads, the whole concept might seem a bit daunting.  However I’d like to take just a minute and go over a few of the essentials on how you can harness the tools available to you and your business.

First, I’ll walk through the initial two steps in launching your marketing plan - optimizing your website and creating accurate local businesses profiles on the major search engines.  After you’ve completed these two steps, you will be ready to begin driving targeted local searchers to your website.  The new local search algorithm on the major search engines exists so that local consumers can have a fast and efficient way to connect with you - they can do this by phone, email or by simply visiting your local establishment where they can make a purchase. This is what the Local Search accomplishes and is one of the best ways to grow your business in today’s culture.  Local Search Marketing is an affordable solution for small, medium, and large scale businesses to generate many more customers and create a greater return on their investment.  

We no longer live in the days when you can simply purchase an ad in your local newspaper or yellow-pages and expect to get traffic to your business because of it. The massive growth of the internet in recent years have brought drastic changes in the way consumers search for local business.  Nearly 97% of all consumers are now seeking out both information and the products and local services that interest them on search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.  In addition, users are also scowering video search engines like Youtube in search of reviews and and information on these products and services.  It can be said with definite certainty that online consumer browsing has drastically increased and that the internet will most definitely be THE place that we continue to go to as consumers to locate the services and products that we desire.  

Wanted to share a few statistics with you that show how important the role of the local search is for marketing:

•91% of all consumers use the internet to search for products or services before making a purchase (BIGResearch)

•Nearly 2 billion online searches are made by consumers looking for local businesses each month.

The power that the internet brings to the marketing realm is you now have the ability to make it possible for the end consumer who is searching for your business to find you at the very moment they are most likely to purchase something from you.  It’s a beautiful thing really, because, you are always in the right place at the right time.  No more expensive billboards where you might get 1 out of every 100,000 people who see your sign.  No more expensive yellow page ads where less than 10% of the people who normally saw them 15 years ago are seeing them now. 

Maybe you’re still curious about how local search marketing puts you in the right place at the right time? Let’s use a some examples.  The local search is the vehicle that enables your potential clients and customers to find you when they are looking for a specific local service online.  They could be searching for any service, which might include but aren’t limited to Doctors, Dentists, Contractors, Plumbers, Florists, Realtors, Insurance Agents, Chiropractors, Photographers, Videographers, Event Planners, Veterinarians, and much more.  These local searches work when searches Yahoo, Bing & Google locate your website and share the most relevant content about you and your service with the local consumers.  

So what is your first step? A Consistent Online Local Marketing Strategy 

Having profiles created on all the major search engine local directories are key for your business being found in the local searches.  These local directories include Google, Yahoo, Bing, plus many more.  Once your listings are created and dialed in to where they are sending out all the right information, the search engines will begin to pick them up and place them in the relevant local searches.  But simply having your business listed isn’t enough, the goal should be to have your business listed at the top of these searches so that you are one of the first sites that the consumer clicks on.  Studies show that when someone searches the web for a product or service, they generally click on the first link 82% of the time, and they don’t click past the 3rd link 91% of the time.  So having your listing near or at the top of the list is crucial to your online success.  


To schedule a FREE Online Local Marketing Strategy for your business, simply “Like” us on Facebook and navigate to the “Free Consultation” button the left-hand side of our page.  Simply fill in your information and someone will contact you within 24 hours to discuss a strategy that suits your business and its needs.  Our Facebook page can be found at this link ==> Engage My Market

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Activating Your Facebook Timeline Immediately!

So by now you’ve probably heard of the new Facebook Timeline that will soon to be releasing to the public.  BUT, if you’d like to go ahead and switch your profile over BEFORE the general public is able to, here’s the lowdown on how to do this! 

Remember these few things before proceeding: 

-This is only being released to Facebook Developers.  If you’re not a developer, you can still technically proceed, but expect their to still be bugs for the next few weeks.

-You are the only one that can see your timeline for now, unless you decide otherwise, and it will automatically go public in the next few days.  

-If you login to Facebook on any other computer, your Timeline will potentially get automatically get’s disabled on all of your machines.  To fix this (only after you’ve followed the steps below) go here

-Be sure you have a verified account for one of the steps, which means you’ll need a phone number or CC attached to your Facebook account.  


1. Log into your Facebook account


2. Type in into your address bar. These takes you to the Facebook Developer page. Click the first result (it should be an app made by Facebook with a few hundred thousand users), and add the app.

3. Move into the developer app (if Facebook doesn’t place you there by default, it should be on the tool bar to the left)

4. Create a new app (this isn’t an app you’ll be submitting to any public database… it’s just used to activate your Timeline). Next you have to name your app - change your display name and namespace to something you see fit. Next check the Privacy Policy agreement. 

5. Make sure you are on your new app’s main settings screen. You’ll know you’re here because you’ll see your App’s name located at the top.

6. Find the “Open Graph” header, and click the “Get Started using open graph” link.

Create a test action for your app, like “read” a “book”, or “eat” a “sandwich”

7. This will then push you into an action type configuration page. Change a few of the default settings (I changed the past tense of “eat” to “ate” — again, only you will actually see this unless you try and submit the application to a public directory), and click through all three pages of settings

8. Wait 2-3 minutes

9. Go back to your Facebook homescreen. An invite to activate Timeline should be located at the top of the page within a few minutes.  You might need to refresh your Facebook home page for it show up.  

That’s it! Post pictures of your new timeline to our Facebook wall so we can see what yours looks like! The Market Engagement Solutions facebook page is located at

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