May 11, 2010

Chasing the art of Virality

If there is one thing I know I’m good at, it is creating viral concepts. I started generating a new set of concepts once Facebook’s open graph was launched and I feel as though I can meet the future with not only methodology but with a big cradle of fun as well. Many people claim that you cannot create a viral reaction to a campaign. Some say that it all depends upon how contagious and killer the content is. Some people say that there is nothing called viral at all and that it is all cheating and playing with numbers. I say it’s all about the understanding of how a virus works.

I still have the “I Love you” virus on a disk. It sparked many processes in my brain that have continuously plagued me since. If you study it long enough you can almost see how its engineers thought of a social process such as the one we are now currently embracing online. There are some components in a virus, that you need to make a viral campaign. These components will not get you all the way, but they are a must. You need a carrier, you need a network, you need a trusted relationship and you need some kind of contact.

The Carrier

The carrier is the infected individual. In terms of disease this individual will carry the virus or bacteria as long as it chooses to stay in the body, or more accurately until our immune system refuses it. In terms of marketing, the carrier is the one person you manage to engage. In terms of spam, the carrier is the host you have managed to infect. Just like disease, a carrier when exposed to marketing is a lot more resistant to old viruses, ideas and concepts. However, this does not mean that you can find loyal carriers for old ideas or offers, just as there are weak immune systems that can get infected more than once.

The Network & Contact

The carrier needs to host a network or be connected to it. In the case of the “I love you” virus, your contacts got hi-jacked, in the case of Facebook’s Open Graph you allow it access. The network needs to be structured and there needs to be some kind of way to determine what the different data types represent. Just as with disease and the people who do not clean their hands before eating, you need followers or sloppy people who wants to spend some time in the network in order for your virus to be contagious.

If you have 100 people in your network, you only need a conversion rate of 1% to make a viral campaign spread at a ratio of 1:1 which means it will be shared in eternity.

The Trust

Really evil or well thought out viral campaigns adds the trust aspect as well. This is just like optimization of any marketing campaign. If you manage to tap into trust you can share the most malicious viruses or the most profitable viral marketing campaigns. Just as HIV is shared through unprotected sexual intercourse, which is an act based on a trusted relationship (or just simple, adulterated and shameless lust), a viral marketing campaign that builds upon trust between users will more easily extract the kind of data needed to make a real business case out of the data itself.

Some other thoughts

Now, as I said, there is more to virality than the components above. You need triggers, you need concepts and you need content that is suitable for a scalable campaign that will run at a steady state over time. You don’t want your viral campaign to kill your servers (a positive acceleration), nor do you want it to blast and go past (a negative acceleration), but you want it to have constant returns to scale. For each person that joins, you want them to infect one other person. Think about it. It won’t take that long to get the whole world in on the modern, social web.

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