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What Hip-Hop Can Teach Us About Viral Marketing

Over the years, MTV has taught me a lot of things. For instance, I quickly learned that my spring breaks were extremely lame. Another, less painful, tidbit of information was that Hip-hop is not just two turntables and a microphone. Hip-hop is a lifestyle, which integrates art, technology, apparel, dance, vocabulary, and music.

As marketers, we can learn something from this cultural movement. Like Hip-hop, viral marketing shouldn’t be a one-trick pony. It needs to be more than  cool videos and entertaining microsites. Viral marketing needs to permeate through everything we do as marketers.  It should be a lifestyle…or perhaps a workstyle.

Take a look at your current collateral, advertising, and corporate website. Are these tools encouraging people to share and invite? Generally, people want to help spread the word about causes, ideas, and products that they are excited about.  Making it easy for them to do so is what the viral workstyle is all about. It doesn’t have to involve expensive online tools or highly creative concepts. Sometime a simple direct approach is what works best.

A great example of this simple approach to viral marketing can be found on a site called To get the word out, they aren’t building quirky mircosites or funny YouTube videos. They are simply empowering their passionate users with a detailed list on how people can help them spread the word. Not only do they state why it’s in people’s best interest to spread the message, but they also provide detailed instructions and tools to make the job easier.

Although this “simply ask” approach is suited more for a cause like global warming, certain aspects of it can benefit any organizations. For example, a lot of Web 2.0 sites allow users to identify and tag people within pictures. Most, if not all, sites stop there. This is a missed opportunity. If the mentioned person is not in the system, why not prompt the contributor to invite them? The two people obviously know each other and the photo was most likely uploaded so that it can be shared. As a result, the user is in the perfect mind frame to invite.

Since the viral workstyle isn’t limited to only the online world, revisit your business cards and brochures. Is there a way to make them more viral?  Are your business cards worth sharing? Does your collateral encourage people to pass it on to others?

To promote my marketing wiki, I recently created promotional cards with the viral workstyle in mind. Instead of simply listing the website, logo, and description, I added a viral component. Since most cards are left to gather dust in someone’s drawer, I added the following sentence, “Help build the Wham! community by giving this card to someone you know.” Sometimes it’s that simple.

Another reason for Hip-hop’s success is accessibility. Regardless of income, ethnicity, geography, or the ability to carry a tune, anybody can participate. Your viral marketing efforts should also embrace this level of accessibility. You don’t need a big budget or an uber-creative agency to take part in the viral workstyle.

Viral marketing is about empowerment via a person’s chosen communication channel(s). The reason that a video can spread to millions of users is not because it’s extremely creative. It spreads quickly because people have tools such as email, twitter, blogs, IM, etc.

As Marketers, we need to start taking a more diverse approach to viral marketing. We need to embrace it and start integrating it into every facet of our marketing plan. Viral marketing needs to be a workstyle, not just a one-off campaign.


  1. Natasha Vincent
    Natasha Vincent May 5, 2008

    Based on the headline, I thought this was going to be a discussion about PopLabs’ “SEO Rapper.”
    He, too, has stuff to say on viral marketing (well, link building, which can be sorta/kinda close)…

  2. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac May 5, 2008

    Natasha .. thanks for the link to that video. I hadn’t seen his new vid on “Page Rank”. Cool.

  3. Monica Hamburg
    Monica Hamburg May 6, 2008

    Your opening line cracked me up (I’m with you, man). Great advice here, Ed. Thanks!

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