Disadvantages of Viral Marketing

Jodee Redmond
Viral marketing is not always effective.

Word of mouth can be an effective strategy when you are trying to create a brand, but companies need to keep the disadvantages of viral marketing in mind as well. The idea behind this type of online marketing is to provide customers and potential customers with information they will want to pass on to other people they know.

Viral Marketing Basics

The idea behind viral marketing is very simple. In much the same way that a cold can be spread from person to person, attention can be drawn to your business. It can take the form of a "Tell a Friend" button on your web site, e-mail messages distributed to multiple addresses, instant messages, or text messages displayed on cell phones.

The Disadvantages of Viral Marketing

As well as viral marketing works, the following disadvantages of viral marketing should also be considered before using this method to promote a business:

Nuisance Factor

One of the disadvantages of viral marketing is the "nuisance factor." If a marketer has decided to use e-mail as a way to drive traffic to their web site, they are competing with other people who are using the same structure. They run the risk of having their message lost among all the other e-mail messages people receive on a daily basis. We are all exposed to so much Internet noise that it can be difficult for people to determine which messages they should pay attention to.

Being considered a spam marketer is not a good thing for any business trying to increase its web presence. The message is likely to be deleted or ignored instead of being passed on to other people.

Negative Buzz

Sometimes, instead of creating a positive buzz about your business, viral marketing works in the opposite way. Human nature being what it is, people are more likely to talk about something they don't like with their friends, family members, and co-workers than to share something positive. The same techniques that can propel a business into online popularity and produce big traffic numbers can work in the opposite way. If a few people start posting negative information about a particular venture on blogs and message boards, very few people will take the time to investigate for themselves to figure out whether this negative buzz is warranted. Instead, they will take what is being discussed as true and your business will suffer as a result.

Ethical Considerations

Many people have concerns about privacy issues, both online and in the brick and mortar world. They want to know what the companies they do business with are planning on doing with their personal information and may not be interested in participating in a campaign if they think they are providing fodder for spam marketers. Savvy Internet marketers make sure that they have a privacy policy on their web site that explains exactly how the information they collect will be used and they will not sell or rent their mailing list to other companies. This information should also be included in all e-mail correspondence the company sends out for marketing purposes.

Even with these policies in place, there will be some recipients who feel that viral marketing is a sleazy practice. They may even choose not to do business with companies that use it, and that defeats the purpose of viral marketing in the first place.

Hard to Measure

Any Internet marketing campaign must be measurable, so business owners and managers can determine whether it is effective. Viral marketing can be a hit and miss proposition, and unless the campaign is being handled by experienced individuals, it can be very difficult to determine whether it is a worthwhile proposition.

Disadvantages of Viral Marketing