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Viral Marketing: Engineered or Happenstance?

May 19, 2006


I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with an entrepreneur who has run a very high growth peer to peer business and has started a new venture which is, in large part, looking to grow through viral marketing.

We debated at some length whether sites who enjoy rapid growth through viral marketing do so as a result of cleverly engineered features and strategy, or through good timing, good content, and/or good luck.

I am sure the answer is to some degree both, but I have now encountered plenty of folks who argue one or the other.

What do you think?

Please comment!!!


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  1. May 19, 2006

    My answer (though somewhat obvious) would go something like this:

    1. Engineering has to make sure that the product *facilities* the easy propagation from user to user (so word of mouth is easy).

    2. Luck and circumstance have to come together at some point so that the “tipping point” is somehow reached. I don’t think this is completely understood yet as to how/why this happens.

    My two cents…

  2. May 22, 2006

    Yep, agree with Dharmesh. “Virality” has to be engineered; that’s the definition of “viral”, as opposed to “buzz” or “word of mouth”.

    Apparently, Steve Jurvetson expanded on this idea of viral products, to define this characteristic as an instance where users involuntarily adopt products (as opposed to an instance where by virtue of simply using the product, the user markets it to other others…involuntary sales force). So….viral products can also be the outcome of marketing mix decisions, other than product design. order of priority,

    1) Engineering: involuntary sales force

    2) Marketing Mix (i.e. pricing, positioning): Involuntary adoption

    3) Luck

    So what I am saying is; you may be mistaking “buzz” for “viral”

    Just because you got slashdotted and people are talking about you, doesn’t mean you’re viral. It just means you got buzz. From that perspective, viral, by definition means engineering your products in a particular way that enables involuntary peer to peer marketing and involuntary adoption.

    At any rate, to answer your question; it’s best to draw distinctions between buzz, viral and word of mouth marketing. Below is a link which explores this idea with relevant examples.


    Good luck

  3. May 22, 2006

    btw: great post.

    perhaps, the hypothesis can work like this;

    1) Viral = Engineered (network effects). Works nicely but has downside because network effects can work in reversse (Friendster)

    2) Word of Mouth = Marketing Mix = PayPal refer-a-friend-bonus

    3) Buzz = Luck = Being remarkable, Stunts, TechCrunch review, Content and other assorted link bait

    and that’s about the limit of my slender talents 😉

  4. Bob #
    May 26, 2006

    Certainly viral marketing can be luck. But for those that think viral marketing is not engineered, take a look at this BW article on P&G. Completely engineered.

  5. jondo #
    January 2, 2010

    Классные мультфильмы бесплатно на Кинозоуне.

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