Posted by: nickgerlich | December 1, 2007


It’s that time of year. It’s flu and cold season. And there is really little you can do to avoid being infected, short of living in a cave by yourself on a remote island.

But since that is an impossible reality for most of us, we are faced with being enwrapped by the grapevine of every contagion mingling among us. Including websites.

Viral MarketingThat’s right. Even sites like, the site I introduced my students to a couple of days ago. Some of you, like my student Doug, became so enamored of the site that they not only spent hours clicking away, but also shared it with many others. Co-workers. Other online classes. Email.

The point is, has become the internet “virus” of the week, at least among my students and their myriad contacts. Never mind that it is for a good cause, or can help increase our vocabulary (and my international students have found it to be particularly helpful, even if frustrating at times). No, the game is addicting, and because we like it so much, we have told others about it.

My wife got hooked. I told my brother about it, along with some colleagues. Good grief, the potential exists for the world’s hungry to be so sick of rice in a couple of weeks that they start begging us to quit.

And so it goes with fads and fancies, especially on the web. Popular sites like MySpace and YouTube have both been shared pervasively by its legions of fans. The old-school prophet known as Word Of Mouth (WOM) is now amped up on high octane internet fuel, having morphed into a viral wunderkind. It may only take days for something to go beyond tipping point and become the site celebre of the web.

Viral Marketing is actually the second leg of the trimvirate of successful website attributes I teach in E-Commerce:

  • Sticky, which means a site keeps you locked in for a long time, and/or keeps you coming back for more.
  • Viral, meaning you share it with others.
  • Magnetic, meaning that you create your own little networked communities of users on the site. A MySpace page is essentially worthless if you don’t have “friends” linking to and from your page. The value of the experience comes in being able to share the broader activity among a close group of like-minded users.

And thus far in two days in my classes, we have seen exhibit a high degree of stickiness, as well as virality. But the site is limited in that there is no potewntial for community (imagine teams of word-sleuths competing for high score honors, like on a video game). Furthermore, FreeRice could benefit from an email function to facilitate easier mass sharing. Sites like YouTube also provide an easy copy/paste link or embed feature that makes it possible to spread a video with alarming speed.

Don’t think that viral marketing works? How did you hear about the last movie you attended? Restaurant? Professor? Store? Chances are good that you not only relied on basic WOM, but also got the low down online.

And as you all quickly discovered, it doesn’t take long to fill up a bowl with rice when you and your friends are working at it.

Dr “Instant Rice” Gerlich


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