Just What Is ‘Going Viral’?

If you’ve ever wondered what ‘going viral’ really means, think about Antoine Dodson.

He is the man whose responses to a reporter’s questions about the attempted sexual assault of his sister was turned into the “Bed Intruder Song,” an auto-tuned, music video by the Gregory Brothers that became an internet cult classic.

Within 30 days, Dodson became a star, the video had over 10 million views on YouTube, and iTunes versions of the song and Dodson T-shirts became big sellers.

Among the plethora of buzzwords regarding the internet and its subculture, the phrases ‘going viral’ or ‘viral marketing’ are popular, but also used and abused in many conversations. Most of the times the terms is used with loose, if any, context.

The term is taken from the literal concept of a virus — it’s ability to begin with a small footprint and become a widespread infectious agent that can replicate itself rapidly inside the cells of other organisms.  Viral applies that notion as taking some type of promotional material and watching it foster exponential organic growth, expanding feverishly through various social network mediums, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and Digg.

Basically ‘going viral’ means the ability to spread awareness quickly – no strategy meetings, media buys or special online advertising; just organic viewership.

It also stipulates surrendering control. There is no special formula to creating instant viral hits.  Organizations are experimenting with multiple variables.  But whether they’re professionally polished, humorous videos, unpolished faux-personally recorded videos and stunts or some mix of in-between, they usually fail.

For an idea to have been considered to have gone viral, it must spread from each individual voluntarily, be self sustaining and spread without incentive. If you have to spend more time on the project to help disseminate its growth, it’s not viral. If you’re paying influential people to help spread your branded ‘viral’ piece, it’s not viral.

If any of the aforementioned concepts are successful, it was a triumphant marketing campaign, not viral marketing. However, if you can set it and forget it, and it still grows via your epicenter organically, that is going viral.

After all, it worked for Antoine Dodson and the Gregory Brothers.


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