Home » Internet Marketing » What is Viral Referral Marketing?

What is Viral Referral Marketing?

Harnessing the Power of Word-of-Mouth Advertising with Viral Referral Marketing

There’s a big disconnect in the world of internet marketing. When two people sit down to talk about a subject, they often use popular marketing terms and buzzwords; however, both of them may have a different intended meaning for the same words. If you spend any time on internet marketing forums, you’ll see people arguing over what this phrase or that “really means.” And so it is with viral marketing.

What is viral referral marketing?

It has been used to describe everything from email signatures to YouTube videos getting millions of views overnight (which is how most regular Internet users understand the term). However, viral marketing actually has a very clear definition. It refers to a type of referral marketing where the users of a brand or service fuel its rapid growth by sharing the product or service with their friends and contacts typically in exchange for some kind of discount or incentive.referral-marketing

A recent example is Dropbox. They were not the first company to offer cloud based storage – there are hundreds of companies, and even the creator of the Dilbert comic launched a version. However, Dropbox was able to become the top cloud storage provider by tapping into the power of viral marketing. They knew that people would use their service to share files, but they gave their users an added incentive to refer new users.

The free Dropbox account comes with a generous 2GB of storage. But let’s be honest, you and I both know it’s not hard to use up 2GB of storage…so the option to earn more storage for free is becomes very attractive. By inviting friends and colleagues to sign-up for Dropbox through their referral system, users earn additional space – up to 16GB.

Referral marketing has been around for hundreds of years. Simply telling your customers to tell their friends will create some new business, but without an incentive, it won’t amount to much. The genius of these viral referral marketing campaigns is that they helped their users do something they were already willing to do. By harnessing the power of word-of-mouth companies can effectively unleash an army of thousands (and in some cases – millions) of salespeople.

Viral marketing is useful if you are working as an affiliate, or if you are selling your own products or services. It’s a way to build an audience who you can advertise to directly.

Secrets to Success with Viral Referral Marketing

The most successful viral marketing campaigns followed this pattern:

  1. Discover a barrier to communication that is causing pain to people (such as the pains involved in sharing large files).
  2. Develop a solution that is easy to use and spread.
  3. Offer your product and add value to the customer experience.
  4. Build a mechanism into the product or service that makes it easy for people to refer is to other people.
  5. Get a number of people involved through initial marketing efforts.
  6. Use your new users to spread the message to all their friends and contacts.

For instance, people want to get in touch with their old friends and stay connected to the people who are important in their lives. Facebook is successful because it filled this need and followed the above pattern.

Now obviously if you already have a product or service that you want to sell through viral marketing, creating a platform like Facebook or Dropbox might be out of the question. That would be a huge amount of effort to spend on developing something that isn’t your core product. However, there are ways to use viral marketing to reach new people with less effort. You can do this by leveraging the social networks that already exist. Social networks are designed to make it easy to share content. Every day, millions of messages “go viral” as people share them with their friends, who then share them with their friends, and so on. Making this happen is easy if you copy the successful actions of campaigns that have worked in the past.

Strategies for a Successful Viral Marketing Campaign


Competitions are a great way to get your customers to introduce your brand to their friends and connections. For instance, you could run a giveaway where someone gets a free gift or discount for themselves and their friends by referring a minimum number of people to your email list, website, or Facebook page.

A giveaway is a great idea on several levels. First, it allows you to quickly expand your prospect list. These potential leads can then be contacted in the future with news and offers to convert them into paying customers. By offering them a “taste” of your product or service, they will be keen to get more in the future. Also, you may even increase your immediate sales from these new customers when they redeem the free offer.

For example, if you run an e-commerce store, many of your new or returning customers will buy additional items when they visit your site. By offering a discount promotion and highlighting any products that complement the free item, such as accessories or other items that customers usually buy together, you can convert your campaign into additional sales.


Social media channels are useful for getting in touch with friends, but it can be hard to organize important events using their basic tools. That’s why many of these platforms allow people to install apps. These apps help people control their interactions better (although lots of users just install games…side note, if I get another Candy Crush invite, I might punch myself).

If you can create an app that helps people achieve an important task more easily, you can expand your reach through their social network. For instance, if you provide wedding services (catering, wedding dresses, flowers, etc.) then you could create a wedding planning app. It would help brides to plan their wedding and co-ordinate the other people who are helping. The bride would install the app, and get others to install it on their social media accounts.

If the app was really useful, then her friends would use it for their wedding, too. It would spread from person to person in a natural way, and help to carry your marketing message deep into your target market.

You can create apps like this for Facebook and also for Android devices and iPhones.


viral-referral-marketing-videoVideo is highly shareable, especially if it’s evocative. People rarely share blatant advertisements, but they will share a story, especially if it’s:

  • well-made
  • pithy
  • moving
  • funny
  • inspiring
  • shocking
  • useful

If your video ticks all of these buttons, you have a good chance of it getting shared.


Infographics are a great way to bring otherwise dull information to life. The best infographics are appealing and tell a story. When a high-quality infographic tells a story that people want to share, they’ll send it to their friends and contacts. As an example you can see this viral referral marketing infographic I shared in another post.



Captioned Picturesviral-referral-marketing-meme

An appealing picture with a quote or caption that sums up a strong opinion or viewpoint can easily get thousands or millions of shares, and drive new subscribers to your channels. Creating these assets is much easier and cheaper than videos or infographics, but they can do surprisingly well on sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.

Launching Your Viral Marketing Campaign

Creating viral marketing campaigns can be a bit hit-and-miss. Often, the campaigns you’re certain will be a big hit fall flat. Others will surprise you by exceeding your expectations. One way to reduce the surprise factor and enjoy more successes is by reverse engineering social_mediacampaigns that have been successful in your marketing space.

There are several software solutions that will help you to automate your viral referral campaign. One of my personal favorites is UpVrial. It has built-in templates or integrates with your existing pages and manages incentive delivery for your referral campaign all with-in the software. In another post, I shared my detailed UpViral Review and Bonus (http://www.devindorosh.com/upviral-review-bonus/) and highlighted features that make it stand out as a solution that I’m implementing in my business.

Ultimately, the best way to learn is by doing – reverse engineering your competition will give you a head-start, but running a few campaigns of your own will give you a deeper understanding. With a little practice, you’ll be able to launch successful viral marketing campaigns and get tons of new referrals on demand.

After reading this article, I hope you have a better understanding of viral referral marketing. Leave me a comment with your thoughts below.



  1. Hiya very nice web site!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your
    site and take the feeds also? I am satisfied
    to seek out a lot of helpful information right here in the publish, we need develop more techniques in this regard, thanks
    for sharing. . . . . .

  2. Excellent way of telling, and pleasant paragraph
    to obtain data on the topic of my presentation focus, which i am going to
    convey in institution of higher education.

  3. wow, awesome post.Much thanks again. Great.

  4. I just want to mention I am new to blogging and site-building and seriously liked your blog site. Likely I’m likely to bookmark your blog . You actually have wonderful well written articles. Many thanks for sharing your webpage.

  5. I simply want to say I am just beginner to blogging and seriously enjoyed this blog. Very likely I’m planning to bookmark your site . You amazingly have fabulous articles. With thanks for sharing with us your website page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *