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Catching Viral Fever – A Look at 3 Viral Marketing Techniques

When we think of viruses…we start conjuring up negative images. Viruses that trigger colds and viruses that damage computers are contagious and something we try to avoid or fight off with mega-doses of Vitamin C and spyware software.  So how can Viral Marketing be good for us?

Well, when it comes to Internet promotion, viral marketing is the best thing that could happen to a business, website, blog or social network. Yes, coming down with “viral fever” is definitely a contagion we would all like to catch…because it’s a lucrative process that builds exponentially.

It’s Zenfully good!

Viral marketing in its simplest form is word-of-mouth marketing. It’s like ZEN philosophy put into practice, similar to grass growing by itself, or a faith-based business model that lofts away whenever you try to hold it down.

Once created, it takes on a life of its own. It’s PULL versus PUSH marketing. You don’t need the big ad campaigns of “push” advertising to drive your message into the masses like a Mac Truck. What you need on the Internet is to tap into the mind-set of the consumer who wants to be in control of his destiny by “pulling” the products and services when and where he or she wants.

Paradoxically viral marketing is giving instead of selling--a model where low budgets lead to big returns. You can't want it or you'll never get it. Clear your mind, Grasshopper, and know there is no pebble to snatch!

 

What’s the Buzz?

Instead of spending big bucks on TV commercials, newspaper and banner ads, you end up spending little to nothing – while your fans do all the heavy lifting. Almost too good to be true? Yes, except for the fact that it does work!

Going viral depends heavily on word of mouth promotion that grows as one person tells another, tells another, and so on. Think about a snowball rolling down on a hill. Due to gravity, it not only starts to move faster and faster, it also picks up new snow along the way, growing it larger and larger.

The same thing happens in the viral world, where you may start out thinking that your efforts were inconsequential, only to find your email box is filled with new inquiries, new orders and new sales. If your message goes viral, not only will it send a flood of traffic to your site, but other sites will link to you as well, garnering you higher rankings on the search engines.

Viral marketing effectively taps into pre-existing social networks that your customers are already using. By creating something that is worth talking about and passing it along, you create a “buzz” that spreads across the Internet, and traffic floods to your site to see what the buzz is about.

Field of Dreams…

Field of DreamsField of DreamsViral marketing can also find hidden customers. No matter how diligent you are in defining your target markets, you are bound to miss some. With viral marketing, people that you never considered to be customers may just pony up. Again the customer is in charge in determining whether they like what you are selling, but viral marketing holds a lot of weight in pulling them your way. Similar to the old jokes about the “if you build it, they will come,” viral marketing is the best shot at making that old adage come to life.

 

How can I make my message go Viral?

This question is often asked and there has been a lot of money and time spent to uncover a suitable answer. The fact is however there is no guarantee that any message will go viral. There are some things you can do to increase the odds, but you cannot just make it happen.

Successful viral traffic generation is part skill, part creativity, part timing and part luck.You may try a number of ways that come up empty and then again you could strike pay-dirt from a totally unexpected place.

Here are 3 viral marketing techniques that can attract traffic to your business, website or social network. Today’s Internet surfer is very savvy today. They know the difference between a blatant advertising ploy versus providing them with some new, insightful information they may not have seen or heard about previously.

 

#1-Use of Video

Unless you have been sleeping under a rock or orbiting the moon, you’ve heard of YouTube. The amount of attention paid to this site has made a good majority of us part of the You Tube generation, which strangely enough is not confined to age, race or creed.  People are spending much more time in recreational surfing versus watching TV. It is another example of how people not only want to be entertained, but also want to have choices. The public is in driver seat with its hands on the controls. They will PULL the choices they want versus having it PUSHED at them. Steven Colbert is an excellent example when his Comedy Central Show clips were released on YouTube… and within a short period of time his clips went viral and viewership of the The Colbert Report skyrocketed.

In December, 2006, SNL was equally successful with comedy sketches like “Dick in a Box.”  Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg wrote and starred in an "SNL" digital short that parodied a boy-band love ballad around the theme of presenting their girlfriends holiday gifts with their errant Yule logs tucked into a box. The skit was first seen by SNL TV fans upon airing, but then went on (in its uncensored version) to reach millions of viewers online and attain a cult-video status in true viral marketing fashion.

This skit, in addition to Tina Fey’s 2008 iconic Sarah Palin impersonation provided SNL with a comeback that once again captured a major grip on the American zeitgeist.

If you feel that video is a good option for you, you need to have an innovative idea “with legs.” Do not do a remake of something that has already had circulation. Anyone who has viewed YouTube knows that you don’t need to produce a high quality video production.While you do want decent quality, the major thrust here is your idea – as we are all learning “content is king” on the Internet.

At the end of your video production, place a 3-5 second promotional slide with an URL to your landing page, where the viewer can gain additional information. Make sure the landing page matches the tone of the video. If the video was funny and your landing page is all business, you have a good chance of losing your audience… which will serve you no purpose at all.

Once produced, submit to YouTube and Google Videos. These sites offer links to social networks like Facebook where your video can attract additional visitors. If your video goes viral, not only will potential customers be able to see your video on the host site, but also on all the auxiliary sites that pick it up.

#2-Use of Social Bookmarking


The popularity of social bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Technorati, Reddit and Del.icio.us has grown markedly over the years. These sites allow users to search, set bookmarks, organize, read and rate almost anything on the Internet. The more visitors vote for your content, the higher it ascends in the rankings.  The higher the ranking, the greater the exposure as you increase the traffic flow to your site.

Important to note, social bookmarking sites do not like if you vote for your own content. In fact, if you do vote for your own, the built-in algorithms will move you lower in the rankings and which will defeat your viral marketing attempt. Your content needs to be so compelling that others feel the unprompted need to vote for it.

These sites attract hundreds of thousands of visitors per day. If your content can create enough buzz, and you are able to rank toward the top of any of these sites, the viral effect will play markedly in your favor.

Social Bookmarking sites have an intrinsic advantage over search engines--namely humans choose what to bookmark versus relying on a program to categorize, qualify and quantify the content.

There are new Social bookmarking sites appearing every day and with the advent of pligg, a free open source bookmarking site creator it is not only the big boys and companies who are creating these sites but the ordinary bloke or girl in the street too.

So how can you use social bookmarking effectively in viral marketing? There are 2 ways. You can spend the time doing it yourself, or outsourcing it to search engine marketing companies. Both these methods will work but depends on how many sites, blogs, or sales pages you have and how well you want them bookmarked.

There are several great software packages out there that have different levels of automation, different results and different costs! Social Bookmarking Demon is now released in a beta format and Auto Social Poster is a fully automated plug in for WordPress blogs. RSS Bookmarker is the grandaddy of them all, and as such is the most costly, using your sites’ RSS feeds.

#3-Use of Twitter


In today’s Web 2.0 world, Twitter is a force to be reckoned with, as it has transformed the landscape of how information spreads online. In its simplest definition, it is micro-blogging of a 140 characters or less.  

Links that would have been blogged a couple of years ago are now more often shared via Twitter, instead. Consequently it fundamentally alters the paradigm of decimating content.
Surfers can complain and wistfully wish for the good old days of emails, blog links and Google rankings, or they can adapt to the new reality Twitter represents. Getting your content “ReTweeted” on Twitter (i.e. getting people to repeat what you’ve said, usually accompanied by a link) can drive significant quality traffic to your site, which in turn can boost your subscriber base.

So, how does ReTweeting spread your viral message on Twitter?

ReTweeting is an action you’d like your audience to take. And similar to any other action, the best way to persuade the maddening crowds, is simply to ask them to. And when a user ReTweets your content, they’re very likely to also repost your call to action, lending it their credibility and sphere of influence. If they have 1000s of followers, you message just hit a 1000 other folks who can then take it upon themselves to ReTweet to their own followers. Talk about word of mouth, ReTweeting has elevated that process to the Nth degree.

Nearly every form of viral message sharing comes in some form of social proof. Humans have a natural tendency towards imitation, especially of those who they assume have better information than themselves. The likelihood of a tweet being ReTweeted increase dramatically every time it is ReTweeted.

And if you think that Twitter can’t produce any tangible results in the business world, think again! When J.R. Cohen, Operations Manager for CoffeeGroundz Cafe in Houston, Texas first heard about Twitter from one of his customers, he was puzzled but intrigued. Today, he credits Twitter with almost doubling his clientele and with opening his eyes to a whole new way to build community.

Shortly after joining Twitter, Cohen started following members of the local Houston Twitterati and in no time had amassed over 1000 followers. Described as a naturally charismatic, giving, and friendly guy, Cohen is natural fit for a network like Twitter.

On October 31st, 2008 Sean Stoner (@maslowbeer) was hungry. As a regular customer at CoffeeGroundz he sent the following Twitter to Cohen:

 CoffeeGroundz Tweet OrderCoffeeGroundz Tweet Order

Cohen quickly replied and Sean went through the drive-thru at CoffeeGroundz to pick up his burrito.

CoffeeGroundz Tweet ResponseCoffeeGroundz Tweet Response

This simple exchange got a lot of coverage on Twitter and was hailed as potentially the first time that Twitter had ever been used to place a To-Go Order. Seeing an opportunity, Cohen started taking to-go orders via direct message from any of his Twitter Clientele.

Hopefully as you were reading about these techniques, you were starting to formulate ideas and strategy as to what might work for you in your own particular circumstance. While some of these resources are symbiotic and may work in tandem with each other, others may be stand-alones. The list is not comprehensive, but is presented as an initiation tool to get starting thinking virally.

Be creative, think outside the box, and modify as you go to make build “legs” onto your future campaigns. You are only limited by your imagination and how much viral fever you want to catch!

 

Comments
Feb 3, 2009
by Anonymous

Viral Video

Great Article with awesome examples. Viral videos are such a force in today's marketing environment. I recently came across companies like GeniusRocket and XLNTads that link creatives with companies to create user generated content as a reasonable price that somewhat helps to level the playing field between large and small companies. I feel that viral video has infinite potential to spread with the sites you mentioned like, Digg and Twitter. Possibilities are just limitless with all these new tools and media platforms.

Feb 4, 2009
by Ron Callari
Ron Callari's picture

GeniusRocket & XLNTads

Thanks for the input on these two resources for video creation. I am sure the readers of this article who are interested in creating their own video will find this valuable.

Ron Callari is a freelance journalist and editorial cartoonist. His slighlty off-center published work includes trends, politics, travel, humor and political articles. Follow Ron on the InventorSpot and Twitter.com/roncallari

Feb 5, 2009
by Anonymous

Nice piece Ron

Excellent basics course on Viral Marketing and Word of Mouth Marketing. If any company today is looking to get involved in these types of marketing efforts (and you would be stupid not to) then Facebook, Twitter and Online Videos (please don't call them Viral when they are made! "Viral" is not a produceable result, only encourage-able!)

Best place to start would be to simply join on a personal level and see what happens, join the conversations that you feel comfortable about, then determine if this is something that you can devote time to...and it does require time/effort!

Once you have made the decision to join in, check out Hubspot - they have some excellent webinar pieces about using Twitter, Facebook, Social Media and Video for business purposes, great place to get starting information. They have an excellent inbound marketing process that you can track using their software, check that out too. I just signed up my company and already feel better about our future success in these fields of marketing.

As for getting videos made about your company, check out www.meHype.com, a new user-generated video website that I founded. We work with brands and consumes to generate branded online videos for sharing within social networks. Talk about virtual word of mouth!
Any questions, email me: tyler@mehype.com

Thanks again Ron!