Surprised KittyClick on this photo and you'll be taken to the Surprised Kitty YouTube page. Obviously, it's cute. Very cute. Cute to the tune of 21,601,946 viewings as of this posting.

I really doubt Rosa B. has 21,601,946 friends she shared this with, so I'm taking a leap of faith and guessing this is an example of a viral video.

Ever since Dancing Baby hit the World Wide Web in 1996 (Remember that? I do.), people and businesses have pursued that elusive Holy Grail of marketing — the viral message.

Hundreds (thousands?) of so-called Viral Marketing Agencies and consultants foist their "We can help you go VIRAL!" to entrepreneurs and big businesses around the globe.

The problem I have with these organizations is their methods and results aren't really naturally-driven viral occurrences, as with the Surprised Kitty example. Their campaigns are manipulated versions of viral marketing. I don't have anything against these manipulated versions, but I think they should have a different name.

Viral occurrences are natural happenings — without prodding or seeding. I see something, like Surprised Kitty, and I think, "This is SOOO cute, I HAVE to share it with my entire email address book!" This is the perfect storm version of word-of-mouth. And we all love word-of-mouth.

I've never talked about viral marketing before. Why? Because I didn't have a good definition and roadmap that would help you to understand and, possibly, build a naturally-occurring viral marketing campaign. But I do now.

I just read Merritt Colaizzi's write-up, "Live from SXSW: Viral Video How-Tos From The Pros," about a panel discussion at the recent SXSW Interactive event. It's excellent and required reading for anybody interested in viral videos. Her six components of creating such compelling videos are the best I've found and you should read and digest each one. I particularly like points 1, 2, and 4 — excellent examples for ANY business that wants to get talked about.

Now if I can just find a surprised dog.

Surprised Hercules

Well, maybe not.