We’ve all heard of something going viral, meaning it gets picked up quickly and spreads like crazy all on its own. Big companies pay big bucks for marketers to come up with viral campaigns, so how do you as a beginner viral marketer compete?
First, let’s take a look at the most recent definition of viral marketing on Wikipedia.
Viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet. Viral marketing is a marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message voluntarily. Viral promotions may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames, ebooks, brandable software, images, or even text messages. The basic form of viral marketing is not infinitely sustainable.
For our purposes, using pre-existing social networks can be a key in getting started. One thing to keep in mind is that not every viral marketing attempt will take off, so don’t get discouraged if you flop the first time around. For the beginner, a lot of learning has to go into using social media in the first place, so cut yourself some slack and have fun with it.
Here are some ideas to give your viral campaign a shot in the arm.
• Start with your blog. Post about your campaign on your blog to get the word out in your RSS feed and to e-mail subscribers. If you’re lucky, your posts will be picked up by other blogs and subscribers. Use a Twitter plugin like Twitter Tools to pass your post to Twitter at the same time.
• Look for niches. Start out with big social media sites like Facebook and MySpace, but also look for smaller ones serving a niche. For instance, if your viral campaign would be attractive to baby boomers (I happen to fit into that category), look at sites like Eons.com, which is smaller, but like Facebook with a few age lines.
• Make a viral video. Videos are hot and a great way to promote your campaign. Although YouTube is the biggest, also post to other video sites for the widest distribution. Try TubeMogul.com, which allows you to submit to several video sites at once.
• Join in on forum conversation. Seek out forums related to your topic and get involved. Don’t just jump in and push your campaign, but provide feedback and information that is useful to the forum members. These communities can be passionate about their topics and maybe, just maybe some of them will pick up your news and spread the word. You can search for niche forums at http://rankings.big-boards.com/.
• Join in blog conversations. As with the previous suggestion, find related blogs and jump into the conversation, providing good content and information, not sales pitches. Your comments can help you gain trust in the commuity, especially if you listen to and hear what the other community members want to know.
• Bookmark it. Utilize bookmarking sites like Delicious and Digg where people can see what you are interested in and bookmark those links themselves. In addition to these two big sites, there are lots of niche bookmarking sites out there, too. Bloggers grab stuff off of these for content, others see it, bookmark or IM to others and if the stars are aligned right, it snowballs. The more eyes to your content the better.
• Cross promote all of the above across social media sites. For instance, don’t just upload your video to YouTube, plug it at Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, etc.
• Develop relationships. People with influence can get your information in front of more eyes. Create a relationship with these folks. Send them information that will help them. Later, you can send them information that will help you, after you establish trust. For example, you could approach a respected blog and offer to write a good guest article for them to get your foot in the door.
• Contact by name. Nothing worse than trying to cozy up to one of those persons of influence using “To whom it may concern” or whatever. Send them an individual e-mail. Make sure you are pitching something relevant to their blog/site. Read their blog/site first!
• Buy advertising. No this isn’t for SEO ranking purposes. Buying advertising to promote something simply is another way to open a dialogue with the blog/site owner, that person of influence.
• Spread the word. Utilize your customers to get the word out through your web site, customer service e-mails, letters and newsletters.
• Free is good. Give away something as part of your promotion – a white paper, resource, video, widget, etc. Make it great, quality, quirky, fun, whatever you can do to make it a desired, wanted freebie. Other attractions include how-to videos and articles, surveys, lists and tools.
• Make sharing easy. Put up links to aid your visitors and readers in sharing the wealth – a bookmark this page link, forward to a friend link and social media links. See addthis.com for easy to use and build bookmarking chicklets.
• Get recommendations. Getting these from consumers is gold and where better to get them than on the web, which is top heavy with consumers. See my previous post on user content generation for tips on getting reviews and ratings.
Remember, most viral campaigns don’t take off. Learn from your efforts and try, try again.