ProTip Tuesday #13: Word-of-Mouth is Like Poison

It is tempting to think that spreading our content to every corner of the internet is the best way to create a viral effect, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s the worst — and the most expensive.


Word-of-Mouth (buzz, viral, trending, etc.) is one of the more elusive parts of “sharing” on the internet. It is also a weapon against our intuition.

Here is an analogy:

Imagine you have a small bottle of poison, and you want to kill as many people as possible (it’s a crowd of people you hate, apparently). It takes a few drops before a person feels the effects, and it takes a few more drops before they get sick. However, once they get sick they become contagious and make the people around them sick too.

Now, if you want to kill everyone, should you put a drop in each drink? No, because it isn’t enough to make them sick. You could put a few drops in half of the cups, but that would only make people aware of feeling unusual; they wouldn’t become contagious.

However, if you pick a few people who are particularly weak and give all of the poison to those few, they will definitely become contagious, very quickly. Soon the people next to them will also become sick, and the people next to them, and so on.

Real Life

Just like the poison, if we spread our promotion too thin, it will never become contagious.

We don’t work with unlimited budgets when we promote something, and as we expand our reach we must also make it thinner or weaker as we expand.

If we concentrate our efforts on smaller groups of people who are very likely to be interested anyway, we make the message unavoidable. Then they tell their friends who are interested, and they tell their friends, etc.

The good news is, the effective way is also the cheaper way (tell the clients!), which leaves more money for good content.

Something to Think About

We call it “viral”, but we never stop to think about how a virus works. If you get a small dose of a virus you become immune (a vaccine). If you get a big dose, you die.

… and that is why Word-of-Mouth is like poison. Use it wisely. ;)

Have a good week!


If you liked this ProTip, try ProTip Tuesday #14: Numbers are not Goals.

Or Go to the ProTip List!