01.05.2024 17:30

What is Viral Marketing and How Does it Work?

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With social networks it is very common to talk about viral marketing, being attributed to campaigns in which content is shared thousands or even millions of times. But the truth is that the real concept is not that. “Wait to…?”

That’s right, this marketing term is not just getting a piece of content shared many times. Knowing how to play the right keys is not accidental and there is a scientific basis to understand this virality.

It is for this reason that I have prepared in this post a real explanation of what viral marketing is, what benefits it brings to brands and companies, and how to apply it using the correct keys. At the end I will show you several real examples.

What is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing is a strategy in which an attempt is made to create content or a campaign that is shared beyond the usual scope of a brand, as if it were a virus, with the users themselves being the active and voluntary promoters of this rapid dissemination.

This can happen on any digital platform, mainly on social networks. For this reason, the usual thing is that this content has a dose of humor, emotion, complicity or even is provocative.

In any case, this campaign should have the ability to leave almost no one indifferent.

Previously, viral marketing was based on word of mouth. That is to say, that a user/consumer would literally talk to another and recommend a product or service.

Now, with the internet, it is enough for a person to send a private message to a friend/follower or simply share it on their wall or profile for another to see and share it too.

To understand it better, think that you have 2,000 followers on Twitter and you post a tweet.

So about 1,800 of your followers react, did it go viral? No, because in fact you didn’t even get all your followers to interact. Even though 1,800 interactions is a high number, it’s actually well within your reach.

To consider that your tweet went viral, it must have received at least 4,000 interactions.

What are we basing ourselves on to say this? In the so-called K factor.

The K Factor in Viral Marketing

The K factor is an indicator that is used in medicine, specifically in virology.

With it, the propagation capacity of a pathology is measured. And this same principle applies in marketing.

Regarding content, when the K factor is greater than 1, it can be considered that it is viral.

Let’s see how it works by going back to the previous example.

Suppose you got 4,000 interactions, this indicates that the 2,000 followers you have got another 2,000 to interact with your tweet, so 1 follower “infected” another by sharing your content. So your K factor is 1. Congratulations, you’ve made it!

This will take the tweet very far; and the more new users interact, the more viral it can be said to be.

But if you got 3,000 interactions, it’s not considered to have gone viral either, because that means that, in terms of statistics, between 2 of your followers they got 1 new follower. So your K-factor is 0.5, so your content won’t go that far. But you’ve been close.

Getting 3,000 interactions is not bad, right? That’s 1,000 new potential customers! Even if it was 500, would 500 potential sales look bad to you?

Hence, virality is an interesting goal that is always well received, but not decisive for achieving your goals.

Strategies that Enhance Virality

There are marketing strategies that can help you increase that K factor:

  • Emotional marketing and storytelling are highly effective in connecting with people and “stirring” them. Think of the Christmas lottery ads. They have a great emotional charge. People wait for the announcement and after its publication, conversation is generated and there is a high interaction.
  • Creating hype before a campaign alerts and predisposes people to participate.
  • Newsjacking is very effective, because it takes advantage of the virality of a news item or event, thus multiplying the reach.

However, the question may still remain: is it worth the effort to work on viral marketing?

Viral Marketing Benefits

It is not easy to do viral marketing, but when good results are achieved we realize that it is worth it. These are the benefits:

1. Costs are reduced

Users are your driving agents. So you won’t need, at least for now, to make more efforts to work on your awareness. In short, you save money.

What’s more, if you manage to go viral, the reach of your brand will be free for a while, and you will be able to dedicate your resources to other strategies. This allows investing in other areas that support the growth of the company.

2. Growth is Faster

With conventional marketing growth is gradual over the years.

With viral marketing you can achieve your goals much faster.

3. Increase Brand Authority

The more users interact with the brand, the more they will know about it and the more they will convert to it.

What translates into a better authority in the market, and perhaps, even in the preference of consumers.

4. Not Considered Spam

Users are positively predisposed to receive the content that others share, and in most cases they do not consider it invasive, since it comes from someone they know.

This is a huge difference when the same company sends an email that the user has not requested, surely ends up in spam.

5. Anyone can do Viral Marketing

Unlike other digital marketing strategies that are limited by the economic potential of a company or brand, viral marketing can be applied by any company that has access to a social network.

You just have to know how it works and apply the correct keys.

How does Viral Marketing Work? Tips and keys to implement this strategy

We will not lie to you, the virality of a piece of content depends to a large extent on luck. There is no real infallible formula to create something and make it go viral on the internet.

I leave you here a fun example of how Jennifer Aniston decided to gather all the ingredients that are considered necessary in a single video to do viral marketing (children, animals, influencers, etc.). 

On the other hand, BuzzSumo conducted a study in which it has taken 100,000,000 articles and deduced several common factors in all of the ones that went viral. These are some of the keys for you to follow too:

1. It has Influencers

In most of the viralized content there has been interference from an influencer. Therefore, if you align your content with that of users who move masses, they may feel motivated and share, and therefore, their followers as well.

2. Prepare the Content Well

A good structure is essential for users to understand well what you created, that will motivate them to share the content. In terms of format, infographics and lists are the ones that go viral the most, of course, as long as they are visually attractive.

A number that is very successful is 10, the listings with a top ten are the most shared, and by far. They are followed by those of 23, 16 and 24, that’s right, in that order of priority. There is no logical reason, it just is.

3. Make a Long Piece of Content

Contrary to expectations, texts with more than 3,000 words, but less than 10,000, managed to be shared almost 9,000 times more on average than those with less than 3,000. One theory of the reason for this data is that users prefer to share information that is complete.

4. Include an Image

BuzzSumo explained that blog posts get shared 64.9 times if they have an image or at least one accompanying video. On the other hand, those that are only text are shared an average of 28 times. Therefore, it is worth spending time to find a good image to complement the content.

5. Provide Information about the Author

Credibility seems to be a relevant factor, so the report determines that it is good to add some information about the author of the content. Perhaps this builds trust because the source of the information is shown, which builds trust and more people share it.

BuzzSumo explains that on Twitter you have a 21% chance of going viral with a short bio with the content you share. For LinkedIn the percentage is 23% and for Google 42%.

6. Republic Several Times

Content with the potential to go viral may take time to capture whoever shares it, so it is advisable that you republish your post to have more chances of making it go viral, and as much as possible, use different channels.

Viral Marketing Examples

We promised at the beginning to show you some real examples of how viral marketing has worked for some companies. Well, here are three great sample “buttons”:

1. Where: Bella or Común

The brand of beauty and personal care products created a very interesting campaign in which they placed the word “Bella” on one of the doors of the same entrance, and “Común” on the other. The women who entered saw them and chose one or the other.

The company then interviewed the girls to find out the reason for their choice. The video went viral on social networks, but what it achieved was that its products were promoted among the same consumers without further advertising.

2. 2014 Oscar Awards

Surely you have seen the most viral selfie of that year, the one that Ellen Degeneres shared with a constellation of movie stars. While it may seem like it was spontaneous, it’s no coincidence that it was during the show and with so many stars. It was a covert campaign by Samsung.

However, behind this viral marketing story, there is much more.

Ellen Degeneres is actually an Apple user. And at the end of the ceremony, she continued to tweet from her iPhone, which caused quite a bit of controversy.

Samsung managed to make noise, but it also ran into an unexpected social media crisis.

3. #IceBucketChallenge

An association for ALS patients created the challenge under the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge.

It consisted of taking a bucket of cold water and challenging 3 people to do the same and make a contribution to the association. The result was that the challenge went viral and some 220 million dollars were raised.

Singers, actors, athletes, US presidents, and even Mark Zuckerberg himself accepted the challenge.


Every company has to work and apply viral marketing strategies. You may not get the optimal vitality results like the K factor 1, but if you manage to get at least some interaction with new users, it will already be a success towards meeting your goals.

Also, if you manage to go viral, be sure that its effects will be very positive for your company. Of course, avoid controversial content, and measure your actions well so as not to put your company in a delicate position.

Keep the tips you’ve read here in mind and you’ll have a better chance of achieving much-needed popularity.

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