How Viral Marketing Works, Plus 6 Ideas to Get You Started

By: Reginald Curtis


What does a virus have to do with marketing? Viral marketing describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands and then to millions.

Public health nurses offer sage advice at flu season: stay away from people who cough, wash your hands often, and don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Viruses only spread when they're easy to transmit. Viral e-mail marketing works great on the Internet because instant communication has become so easy and inexpensive. Digital format make copying simple. From a marketing standpoint, you must simplify your marketing message so it can be transmitted easily and without degradation. Short is better. Remember the K.I.S.S. standard….Keep it Simple Stupid. The shorter and easier to remember is always better than long and complicated.

Clever viral marketing plans take advantage of common human motivations. The desire to be cool and greed drives people. So does the hunger to be popular, loved, and understood. The resulting urge to communicate produces millions of websites and billions of e-mail messages.

Most people are social. Nerdy, basement-dwelling computer science grad students are the exception. Social scientists tell us that each person has a network of 8 to 12 people in their close network of friends, family, and associates. People on the Internet develop networks of relationships, too. They collect e-mail addresses and favorite website URLs. Affiliate programs exploit such networks, as do permission e-mail lists. Learn to place your message into existing communications between people, and you rapidly multiply its dispersion.

If you can design a marketing strategy that builds on common motivations and behaviors for its transmission, you have a winner.

Here are six ideas to help you start your viral marketing campaign:

1. Purchase the branding rights to a viral E-book. Allow people to give away your free E-book to their visitors. Then, their visitors will also give it away. This will just continue to spread your ad all over the Internet.

2. If you have the ability to set up a forum or other bulletin board, you really have a great tool. Allow people to use your online discussion board for their own website. Some people don't have one. Just include your banner ad at the top of the board.

3. Do you have a knack for web design? Create some templates, graphics, etc. and upload them to your site. Then, allow people to give away your free web design graphics, fonts, templates, etc. Just include your ad on them or require people to link directly to your web site. Make sure that you include a link back to your site in the copyright notice and require them to keep your copyright notice in tact.

4. Write an E-book. Allow people to place an advertisement in your free E-book if, in exchange, they give away the E-book to their web visitors or E-zine subscribers.

5. Write articles that pertain to your product or service. Allow people to reprint your articles on their website, in their E-zine, newsletter, magazine or E-books. Include your resource box and the option for article reprints at the bottom of each article.

6. You can easily find products on the Internet that will sell you a license allowing you to distribute the product free of charge to other people. Look for those products that provide "branding rights". That is where you can include your own name, website, and contact information.

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