It is a marketing technique that uses pre-existing social networks and other technologies to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives through encouraging individuals to pass along email messages or other contents online.
It uses self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of computer viruses. Viral marketing may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames, e-books, brandable software, images, text messages, and email messages.
A study that investigated the motivations for passing along emails found that:
1. People were receptive only to emails from people they knew. The kind of emails they received included jokes, virus alerts, inspirational stories, requests to vote on certain issues, video clips, and links to other websites.
2. The main reasons for not forwarding emails were outdated, dull, and inappropriate contents. About one-third of the forwarded emails included personalized notes from the forwarders, and most of the senders did not alter the emails' original subject lines.
3. The key reasons for forwarding emails were enjoyment (e.g. Fun, entertaining, exciting) and helping others (i.e., let others know that the senders care about them). The forwarders also reported that they only passed along contents that they believed the receivers would find interesting and appropriate.