Creating A Successful Virus

Well, nothing adds interest to an academic article quite like aligning the subject matter with the rampant spread of Herpes. This week’s reading by Andreas M. Kaplan and Michael Haenlein, ‘Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance,’ uses this humorous analogy as it explores what makes some marketing campaigns go viral while others simply fall flat, or worse, create negative press and ridicule for the brand.

Kaplan and Haenlein outline the three conditions necessary to creating a viral marketing epidemic, the first being “Creating the right message.” The message is key – it needs to be interesting and memorable enough for consumers to feel compelled to share it. Successful viral messages often use an element of humour, surprise or strong positive / negative emotions. For instance, this little gem from our very own Metro Trains in Melbourne uses just the right mix of humour and gore to communicate what would otherwise be a rather dry public safety warning. By taking a risk and being creative with their message Metro have achieved both greater reach and retention of their message.

The second condition that Kaplan and Haenlein identify as necessary for creating a viral epidemic is giving the message to “the right messengers.” These are individuals with their finger on the cultural pulse, the first to share a new website, bar, eatery or social trend – Kaplan and Haenlein label these individuals Market Mavens and stress the importance of engaging them. They explains that, “20% of messengers can be expected to carry 80% of the load; it is, therefore, especially crucial to select wisely the initial hosts for the epidemic.”

Kaplan and Haenlein ruthlessly refer to Social Hubs – individuals who possess an extraordinarily large social network. They stress the importance of these people passing on the message, even if they must be encouraged to do so by Salespeople. The rationale being that rather than having as many seeds as possible, the marketer needs to ensure they are seeding their message into as many different subcultures as possible and a Social Hub’s wide social circle increases their reach into differing subcultures.

If we were to bring it right back the Herpes analogy, the ‘right message’ would be a particularly contagious rash that people enjoy the process of transferring; the ‘market mavens’ may be those who are infected first and the ‘social hubs’ would be individuals whose sexual endeavours spanned several subcultures…

However, the final condition that Kaplan and Haenlein consider necessary for an epidemic is “the right environment” and in the case of this example, the Herpes virus is going to find it very difficult to take hold in a community who practice either community-wide abstinence, monogamy or safe sex.

By the same token, even the best marketing message needs the right environment to thrive – one in which consumers are actively listening and interested in receiving the next amusing, engaging or emotionally powerful viral message.

3 thoughts on “Creating A Successful Virus

  1. Assignment research and a blog article on the same day, what a work horse you are. Love the 80-20 rule, really does seem to work for just about everything. Great point about seeding into as many sub-cultures as possible, hadn’t thought of it in that way but makes total sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good analysis, Kelly. I agreed with you in terms of the challenge of fitting the message into the right environment. It’s always hard to determine the 3 conditions in order to create viral marketing. I think, somehow, the stroke of luck also plays an inevitable role.


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