How to do viral marketing

According to Dr Ralph R Wilson a viral marketing campaign is just like a real virus, it keeps on growing exponentially, attracting more and more interest and users along the way.

It might be called ‘word of mouth’, especially with the ease of email allowing you to just forward anything you find interesting on to a friend. He has suggested that was a classic viral marketing campaign because it used all the strategies that make a campaign successful:

  1. Give away free e-mail addresses and services,
  2. Attach a simple tag at the bottom of every free message sent out: “Get your private, free email at” and,
  3. Then stand back while people e-mail to their own network of friends and associates,
  4. Who see the message,
  5. Sign up for their own free e-mail service, and then
  6. Propel the message still wider to their own ever-increasing circles of friends and associates.

“Like tiny waves spreading ever farther from a single pebble dropped into a pond, a carefully designed viral marketing strategy ripples outward extremely rapidly.”

The basics of good viral marketing camping are:

  1. free products or services
  2. effortless transfer to others
  3. scaling from small to very large easily
  4. exploiting common motivations and behaviors
  5. utilising existing social networks
  6. takes advantage of others’ resources

So, lets consider each of these elements individually.

1. Give away valuable products or services free of charge

As I have said in 101 Handy Hints for Making Money on the Internet, you should never underestimate the power of the word ‘Free’. It is perhaps the most powerful word a marketeer can use and most viral marketing campaign will give something of value away free because this allows them to attract the attention of an audience. On the Hysterectomy Association I give away a free information booklet and I also send free hints and tips to registered users. You might offer free images, button, software, reports or other gifts. This is a form of delayed gratification for the Internet entrepreneur. You may not turn a profit from an individual user today, or even tomorrow, but if you generate a groundswell of interest then you will gain a profit sooner or later which will continue for as long as the product or offer is desirable to someone. The true currency on the Web is eyeballs, because it is only when someone sees what you are offering that they will have a chance to become a customer – ensure they become a customer by giving their eyeballs something to focus on.

2. Enable effortless transfer

As with the common cold, a virus will only spread if it is easy to transmit. Therefore, it follows that your marketing message must be easy to transfer and replicate: e-mail, website, graphic, software download. The instant communication offered by the Internet technologies and the mobile ‘phone ensure that today’s viral marketing campaigns can be hugely successful in a matter of days – you only have to look at how quickly software viruses spread to understand this! However, as the pace of change increases and the number of communications people receive daily mount up the message you offer must be compelling enough to encourage someone to even open the email or read the text message.

3. Scaling from large to small

At a sun conference on ecommerce I attended way back in the late 1990’s scalability was everything, of course what they were talking about were the websites that failed to explode in the way that they had hoped so precipitating the downturn. However, they did have a point. If you have something popular you need to be prepared to have an increase in traffic to your website, maybe extra staffing on the telephone for orders you are going to take, additional capacity built in to your servers to allow for orders to be processed. In short don’t underestimate the power of an exceptional message.

4. Exploits common motivations and behaviours

What motivates your users? is it the cost of something, the desire to be seen as ‘cool’, a need to flaunt wealth, knowledge or expertise perhaps. Whatever it is, use it as the best viral marketing campaigns take advantage of these common human motivations.

5. Utilise existing social networks

The vast majority of the world’s population is social, with several close friends or relatives and a vast array of other acquaintances at work or in their outside life. Network marketeers have long known the power of these vast social networks and it only takes one who knows someone who knows someone else for an idea to proliferate. I don’t know about you, but I receive many forwarded emails from friends and relatives daily – the vast majority end up in my deleted messages box, but occasionally one gets through that intrigues me. Some of the best relationships I have exist almost solely on the Internet, friends I haven’t seen for years but still keep in touch with, ex work colleagues who keep passing on juicy bits of gossip I have collected vast amounts of email addresses and websites over the years and I could put them to good use if I thought it worth it. Affiliate programs exploit such networks, as do permission e-mail lists. Learn to place your message into existing social networks and you will rapidly multiply its dispersion.

6. Takes advantage of others’ resources

The most creative viral marketing plans use others’ resources to get the word out. Affiliate programs, for example, place text or graphic links on others’ websites. Authors who give away free articles, seek to position their articles on others’ webpages. A news release can be picked up by hundreds of periodicals and form the basis of articles seen by hundreds of thousands of readers. Now someone else’s newsprint or webpage is relaying your marketing message. Someone else’s resources are depleted rather than your own.

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