by Michelle Wicmandy
Viral marketing is like [the TV show] Survivor —
if you’re not adding value to the community,
you’ll quickly find yourself voted off the island.
It’s a concept that only works when participants
add value and provide authentic and meaningful
— Mitch Frazie, Corporate Communications Manager, ExactTarget
From the days of the pet rock to the latest technological innovations,
marketers have achieved success using viral marketing techniques crossing
all industries. Today, quality content spreads at a rate never before
seen, largely due to the explosive growth of online social network participation.
According to Nielson NetView, Twitter’s popularity soared
1,382 percent from February 2008 to February 2009, reaching more
than 7 million unique visitors. Facebook grew 228 percent, touching
65.7 million members.
These astounding numbers have major implications for marketers.
Many of these people are sharing opinions on products and brands with
friends and followers using video, e-mail, blogs and other media by simply
clicking a button. It’s an opportunity that must not be missed. And
there are several ways to get your content viral.
According to Mitch Frazier, corporate communications manager
for ExactTarget, e-mail marketing messages are employing new tools
such as ShareThis and Social Forward (an ExactTarget offering). This
enables subscribers to quickly share e-mail content with their social
networks — a trend expected to grow nearly 350 percent in 2009, according
to a joint study by Ball State University, Email Marketers Club
Message of Champions
Social e-mail messages entered the picture as a highly effective way to
personally deliver content to subscribers and encourage recipients to
share those messages. With an influx of new tools, those messages can
then spread across various social networks with nothing more than a
click. ShareThis and Social Forward are two such tools that can be incorporated
into an e-mail message, facilitating sharing.
The foundation of online viral communication resides in delivering
well-constructed messages that offer value. When a timely and valuable
message is sent, it then has the best chance to spread throughout the
community — your target audience.
For example, Papa John’s posted a social success by sharing quality
messages online with their followers. Within 24 hours of releasing their
first Social Forward campaign, Papa John’s added 130,000 Facebook
fans and collected e-mail addresses and permission for ongoing e-mail
communications from 975,000 members.
To ensure that messages reach their target audience, marketers
must constantly evaluate their online efforts. Underperforming tools
reflect a problem in the approach or a misalignment of corporate goals.
It’s really about the culture and the organization’s objectives rather than
the tools and technology, notes Frazier. Before deployment, each company
should evaluate the reason for using social media and create a social
media plan. “Maintaining a consistent message across all channels
depends on the company culture, internal communications and
whether the people managing the social media understand the company’s
mission,” states Kelsey Ruger, vice president of technology and
operations, Pop Labs. “Company cultures that allow employees to express
themselves and actively engage with customers tend to build relationships
that achieve results.”
Survival of the Fittest
The subscriber-centric approach becomes more important as the
socialsphere matures and influences consolidation among networks
through aggregators such as TweetDeck, adds Frazier. Aggregators
fuse data from multiple social sites allowing users to access information
in one place. “Currently, TweetDeck is being used as a dashboard
to filter content and update Twitter and Facebook simultaneously.
As consolidation gains traction, marketers must provide quality content
or quickly find themselves filtered out of customer’s online
Dominating the Pack
An excellent starting point for viral marketing is video. Typically a
short visual piece, video can quickly engage the viewer when it contains
humor, information, entertainment or a combination of these
elements, continues Ruger. In April 2009, Nielsen Online reported
almost 117 million online video viewers in the U.S. Today, video outperforms
blogging and social networking. Video is just as popular as
network TV with 72 percent of U.S. Internet users watching video
clips monthly, reports The Global Web Index. Strikingly, nearly 7 percent
of U.S. Online Video Viewers forward videos to friends via e-mail
and social networks.
At a minimum, a company should make content linkable and sharable
by using tools such as ShareThis, TweetDeck, Social Twist’s Tell-a-Friend
and ExactTarget’s Social Forward. For example, adding a ShareThis button
to a website enables visitors to easily distribute content; using Tweet-
Deck combines social platforms for convenience; embedding Social
Twist’s Tell-a-Friend widget in a Web page permits sharing and broadcasting
information over 70 channels; and communicating e-mail messages
to more than 40 social networks is now possible with Exact Target’s
Social Forward, the first e-mail social sharing solution.
Tweet Now, Tweet Later
The only real problem twunkies (Twitter junkies)
have with Twitter, besides the fail whale, is there
are only a certain number of hours in the day to
tweet. Web-based, Twitter-focused productivity
tools like TweetLater hope to change that by enabling
users to schedule tweets in advance so
they can effectively tweet around the clock. But
that’s just the primary feature of this fully automated
Twitter tool. From an integrated console,
users can even track keywords on Twitter, send
automated welcome direct messages, create a
personal status feed, have a bird’s eye view of the
20 newest @replies on your Twitter accounts and
a whole lot more. But the best part for power
users? Support for multiple Twitter handles, so
Andy Sernovitz, author of “Word of Mouth Advertising: How Companies
Get People Talking” explains the art of viral marketing using the
Five Ts. First, find people who will talk such as volunteers, customers,
bloggers and influencers. Next, give people a topic to discuss such as a
special offer, great service or product, silliness, neat ad or a new feature.
Then, use tools to spread the message via Tell-a-Friend, viral e-mail,
blogs, handouts, samples and online communities. Afterwards, take part
in the conversation by replying to blog postings, discussions and e-mails.
Finally, track comments by reading blogs, message boards and feedback,
and implement advanced measurement tools.
Emerging as a leader in the online social spheres requires active interaction
with your customers by providing viral-worthy content. You
may need a force to help you win, but follow these techniques and you,
too, may be crowned a survivor.
About the Author: Michelle Wicmandy has over 12 years experience in traditional marketing
and roughly five years in Internet marketing. She is currently the webmaster
for the Alley Theatre and a freelancer for SEO, PPC, e-mail marketing
and traditional services. For 10 years, she taught marketing courses for the
University of Houston Downtown.