You certainly know by now that the term "viral marketing" is not
just another dot-com cliché. Quite the contrary, it describes the
incredible, unmatched power of the Web to promote your business by
marrying email to the traditional concept of "word-of-mouth."
Viral marketing, the concept of making each customer a marketer by
encouraging word-of-mouth referrals, is indisputably one of the
most effective mediums of ongoing self-promotion a site can employ.
It gives Internet companies a cost-efficient, proven tool to
increase traffic and lower advertising costs.
Hotmail originally broke through the mold by proving that companies
no longer needed to spend millions on flashy advertising to become
the best and biggest in the business. With a simple viral marketing
campaign they effectively cornered the market with a budget that
spent money on original customer acquisition and not over-the-top
Super Bowl ads.
However, instead of just standing by idly and hoping it happens,
you can actually "drive" viral marketing by crafting an extremely
effective viral marketing program targeted to your audience. This
article will provide you with the key steps to create a viral
marketing program that will power your business to new heights
of success, and do it for a fraction of the cost of other
-DO EVERYTHING RIGHT FIRST
Your potential customers now have the power to tell colleagues,
friends and family about great web site experiences in greater
numbers and far faster than we could have imagined just a few
years ago. Think of the power of a dense email address book
and a few mouse clicks. In fact, that is the "fuel" behind viral
marketing. The downside is they can do the same thing regarding
bad experiences with the same efficiency and speed. Research has
shown that people share bad experiences up to 5 times more often
than they tell about good ones. Before you post a site to your
server and invite people to visit it, everything should be quality
tested and in perfect order. While software makers can sometimes
get away with shipping buggy software, you can't issue a "patch"
to a site that has already turned off your target audience
because in this market, your audience will go somewhere else,
fast. And instead of gaining customers "geometrically", you'll
be losing them exponentially.
-TWO TOOLS: Buttons and Links
There are two basic tools in your viral marketing arsenal: buttons
and links. The idea is that with a single click a visitor can share
your site with others, and those people in turn can do the same.
The goal in designing and placing these buttons and links is to
make them obvious, easy-to-use, and perhaps even rewarding to use.
By making your buttons more obvious, you give the visitor a visual
cue to pass your site on to a friend and take an active role in the
creation of your own viral marketing campaign. You can take an even
more active role and move beyond mere suggestion by actually offering
your visitors an incentive to pass something on.
-ELEMENTS OF SUCCESS
The analysis is pretty straightforward. For your buttons and/or
link to work, you've first got to get it in front of your target
audience of potential customers. Second, your potential customers
have to be able to readily tell what it is that has been artfully
put in front of them. It's that old three-click rule - if you
can't find what you want on a site in three clicks, you're going
to surf elsewhere, and if you can't understand what you're reading
immediately, you're going to tune out. Part of what needs to be
clear to potential users is what they need to do and exactly how
they can do it. If you fail in any of these elements or if you
confuse your message with unnecessary complications, you're
potential customer is gone, and you've blown your possibly one
shot at a few seconds of their attention.
Your referral tool needs to, at the minimum, accomplish seven
1. Stand out from the clutter of the page.
2. Be instantly understood
3. Embody a clear call to action.
4. Give clear instructions on how to act.
5. Be placed effectively.
6. Offer an incentive.
7. Make the offer simple, clear and obvious.
-BUTTON VS. LINK
Button: Eye-catching, can be graphical. Link: Line of blue text.
Both viable, both serve their respective purpose. The tool you
choose will depend on two factors: 1) what you want your visitor
to share with others, and 2) the context in which your visitor will
be sharing. If you want people to share content items such as
articles or white papers, you can use either a button or a link,
although a button is more appropriate as it's more attention
getting. Also, if the context is your site as a whole or a
specific product or a service on your site, then a button is
preferable because eye-catching buttons can be designed and placed
by using simple code that will load almost regardless of browser or
bandwidth. However, when the context is email, whether mailing to
your own opt-in list, doing a targeted promotion, or simply sending
"Thank you" emails when customers submit an order, you are better
off sticking with a link. Many of your potential customers don't
have email that supports HTML, and even if they do, a button can
easily get chewed to bits in cyberspace when moving across platforms
and programs. A good rule of thumb is site = button and
email = link.
-OPTIMIZE YOUR BUTTON
To optimize the design of your button, look back to the seven
elements of success. To fulfill the first rule, and to stand out
from the clutter of the page, the button needs to be small enough
not to take up too much above-the-fold real estate, but not so
small that it won't be seen. Simplicity is the key here - your
button should have a pleasing and eye-catching design, not one
that will give the viewer a headache from Flash overkill or
frightening color combinations. If your user doesn't know what
your aesthetically pleasing button is for, they're probably not
going to use it. This is where you need to do what your
elementary teacher always admonished you to do: use your words
carefully. Clearly spell out in straightforward terms what the
button is for, why you want your user to use it, and finally, how
they go about using it.
-PLACE YOUR BUTTON
Now it's time to place the button, and there are multiple placement
options depending on what you want your visitors to share and in
what context the item to be shared appears. Remember that your
button is a call to action, so the best placement is at the point
in your process where your visitors are the most engaged, and
motivated. The number one location for a product referral is the
page where the product appears and appears by itself or
differentiated from other products. Not only will your visitor
not yet be preoccupied with billing addresses and credit card
numbers, you also do not run the risk of losing a referral
opportunity because you placed the button deeper in the ordering
process, where the likelihood of an abandoned shopping cart rises.
If you provide a referral tool for an article or white paper, the
best spot for the button is at the beginning of the article or
white paper for shorter pieces and at both the beginning and the
end for pieces more than a page in length. Like most surfers do
not read every line of text on every site, it is likely many of
your visitors will also not be reading every single sentence and
paragraph of what they might send on, especially if they're doing
preliminary research or idly surfing.
Other prime locations for referral buttons, depending on your
site and on your needs, are your home page, your product or
service pages, and on any special offers. Ask yourself what it
is you want visitors to your site to pass along and place buttons
accordingly. Place the button close to names, icons, or logos
that you expect to catch attention, while also keeping the
important basics as close to the top of the page as possible.
Web sites, like newspapers have a "fold" (i.e., what's seen
before the user has to scroll) and anything considered of
paramount importance should be placed above the fold.
-OPTIMIZE YOUR LINK
A link is a link is a link. Not exactly a lot of design
flexibility, is there? The best you can do, and what you
should do it if you can, is to create links that carry at least
a part of your message. A very simple example would be
http://www.xyz.com/share. The real key with links is to
accompany them with a short, clear, and compelling message.
Also, underline or color the text of your link so that it is
obviously a link.
-PLACE YOUR LINK
Again we go back to our earlier point that the call to action
works best when the visitor has been fully engaged. If you
want people to share an article or white paper, the link goes
at both the beginning, when they're first interested about the
material, and at the end, when they've read it. If it's in an
email, you put it at whatever point in your message that you've
given your reader the strongest incentive to act. Place it too
early in the process, (before that special offer or promotion),
and it is like suddenly demanding money from your customer when
they are only halfway through the purchasing decision process.
You not only won't gain a customer, you will lose one customer
with exceptional word-of-mouth potential.
-THE SECRET INGREDIENT
Consider Three Scenarios:
1. People love your site, but you don't give them any tools,
much less any incentive, to share it.
2. People love your site, and you give them an easy and obvious
way to share it.
3. People love your site, and you not only give them an easy
and obvious way to share it, but you actually reward them for
Which scenario will result in the most referrals? Which scenario
would you yourself respond to best? Adding referral tools is a
great start, but when you also add an incentive, you've given your
visitors no reason not to act, and your response rate will
skyrocket accordingly. As e-sales guru David Weltman, successful
CEO and former IBM advisor, says, "What you get is referrals on
But before you start handing out incentives, consider what your
target audience will value and appreciate. To a tech-savvy
audience, an offer of a free "Outhouse Construction for Numbskulls"
manual will be less compelling than, say, free shipping or entry
in a contest to win a new monitor.
When used properly, nothing can match the power of viral marketing.
It is so effective because it is based on personal opinion, much
the same way an editorial carries more weight than an advertisement
because it's coming from a trusted source. You trust your friends
and colleagues to send you material that is interesting, useful,
and pertinent to you personally. Trust will always be more
powerful than flashy design and expensive ad campaigns, and
when information comes from someone you trust, it is much more
You can employ a team of designers and programmers and copywriters
to build you a beautiful and functional site. You can pay for
content, buy advertising, and even purchase lists of email
addresses. The one thing you can't buy when growing your business
is the trust of your users and the recommendations from current
customers to potential new ones. That's achieved only with viral
I hope this helps in your future marketing decisions.