The viral marketer's dilemma is to identify, categorize and target people for initial reception and replication of the vendor's message. The primary message itself should be highly contagious in order for it to be adopted and replicated easily and regularly.
Viral marketing campaigns can be 'low integration', frictionless model where the original consumer is essentially passive in the transaction. The famous example is Hotmail's early 1990s campaign which gave away free e-mail addresses, incorporating a vendor advertisement. Each consumer provided Hotmail with a free distribution network and qualified leads of persons who were already had an email account, and might be interested in switching to free account for their personal correspondence. Campaigns of this type rapidly build customer acquisition and enhance customer retention because the consumer is locked-in to the service as switching will be disruptive.
The alternative is a 'high integration', active marketing campaign where the consumer opts-in to a service or product - newsletters and RSS feeds are obvious examples -- or where the consumer seeks a reward for promoting the vendors goods/services. Affiliate programs are obvious examples of the latter.
The open source software community has made considerable use of viral marketing strategies. Such communities tend to be made up of 'tech-fluential' specialists who lock-in to the product and derive personal benefits through original contributions to its development. They are self-perpetuating 'hives' with opinion leaders (e-fluentials) who collect, analyze, interpret and disseminate the latest news to others both within and outside the hive who respect the hive's expertise in the field. There are conflicting studies as to the number of persons e-fluentials can actually reach, but it is estimated that in the USA 92% of surfers regularly turn to 8% of e-fluentials for information and that e-fluentials can routinely reach 11 people with positive messages and 19 people with negative messages as information is pulled from consumers (as opposed to pushed by a vendor) from this communication channel.
In this context, viral marketing can assist open source software developers (OSSD) to build critical mass to overcome the chasm between establishing the product with tech-fluential early adopters, and gaining market share in the more risk-averse mainstream market. The developer's aim will be to establish the product as the industry standard as once the product reaches this stage of its life-cycle it will be clear that the product is stable, reliable and well-supported. Since the source software is license-fee free to consumers the developer seeks to monetize his/her time investment through add-on services such as consultancy and the sale of complementary goods/services, such as hardware and hosting.
As with any marketing campaign an OSSD needs to ensure that the product advertised is suited to the medium to be used. Viral marketing campaigns are particularly effective when the message is contagious in and of it-self, the replicators and recipients perceive a value in forwarding the message to their circle of influence and the product is easily reproducible and easily and exclusively distributed over the