The 4 Components of Viral Marketing Initiatives

According to media critic, Douglas Rushkoff, the emergence of the internet and social networks have better enabled more people to provide feedback – “launching ideas that could spread through this new mediaspace like viruses”.  Rushkoff posits though, that in trying to understand what makes something ‘go viral’, advertising agencies often have the horse before the cart. According to Rushkoff, “people don’t engage with each other to exchange viruses; people exchange viruses as an excuse to engage with each other”. In this post, I will look at 4 credit union related viral marketing initiatives that have given people cause to engage with each other and I will identify those initiatives by the key characteristic of their virality.

Preparation and Timing

For the past ten months, IC Federal Credit Union, a 20,000-member credit union in Massachusetts, have been carefully releasing a series of “weird, wild and whacky videos”. Each video was first released on their YouTube channel, then featured on their website. After an adequate gestation period, the videos were then given a featured spot on the credit union’s Facebook page. This measured approach, mirroring that of a Hollywood release – theatre to DVD to small screen – helped the Gen Y themed video series has attract more than 400,000 YouTube views, and increased Gen Y membership, itself 16.61% of the Credit Union’s entire membership, by 1%. Because this initiative was tied directly to a business objective, increasing Gen Y membership, its success was planned for and anticipated by the credit unio


Another key characteristic of a viral campaign, is to create content that is “Evergreen”, meaning that its relevance does not diminish over time. The video series, “The Difference between Banks and Credit Unions” presented by Young Free Alberta is such an example. The video series is clever and cute, and manages to succinctly describe the difference between Banks and Credit Unions. Since its launch in 2008, the series has been viewed over 200,000 times and, contrary to much of the content on YouTube, it has shown longevity. So much so, that I could share it with my credit union a year from now and its message would still be relevant and its technique still impressive.


Many viral initiatives require the kick-start of an influencer. An example of one such campaign, was Bank Transfer Day. The event, which took place on November 5th, 2011, encouraged more than 600,000 people to leave their bank for a credit union. It was started by Kristen Christian, now a sought after cooperatives advocate and speaker, who was the owner of a Los Angeles art gallery at the time. Her Facebook network was expansive and influential enough to exponentially expand the awareness of the Facebook event page – by the third day of its launch, the event had 8,794 people attending. Though not an official “Occupy” event, it was quickly endorsed by that influential movement.



For the fourth characteristic, I would like to share a video that I made for my credit union to create awareness of our bill pay program. The goal of my video was to make a video about bill pay that someone would want to watch. To echo Rushkoff’s assertion, I wanted to create something that could be shared as ‘an excuse to engage’. Unfortunately, my video, though I believe it to be entertaining, has not gone viral. To date it has been viewed 126 times, and it likely won’t be viewed many more. The aforementioned examples of virality benefited from more than one characteristic of a viral initiative. My video, though I believe it to be entertaining, did not benefit from preparation or timing, – I released it without an email notification to our membership or a banner on our website, nor did it benefit from an influencer – my and my credit union’s networks are small. Time will tell if my content is Evergreen, though I made some specific reference to our current bill pay provider and its current version, so it is unlikely that it will have longevity.

A viral marketing initiative is not created on luck. The more we begin to understand social networks and how people communicate, we realize that there is a science behind their success. I hope the examples that I have shared give some insight into some of the basic components of a viral marketing initiative. The more viral components that your campaign has in place, the greater the likelihood that your campaign will go viral.

About the author: Ian is an eCommerce Specialist for Triangle Credit Union. The views here are his own and not those of his employer. Ian believes in “co-operation among co-operatives”, and hopes that by writing about what is working for credit unions in NH others will benefit



One thought on “The 4 Components of Viral Marketing Initiatives

  1. Ian

    The Rushkoff statement, “people don’t engage with each other to exchange viruses; people exchange viruses as an excuse to engage with each other”, provided a different perspective on virality than I had considered.

    For the linked article to the IC Federal Credut Union, do you think this video series was a good expenditure? It’s stated that $37,000 was spent on the videos. They assumed that the 540 new Gen-Y members in 2012 were generated by viewing the video.



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