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Viral marketing for your web site

Leveraging human nature in order to maximize the effectiveness of your promotional efforts.

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Viral and/or recursive marketing

Successfully creating a positive feedback loop in traffic and revenues should result in you getting a steady rise in both over time (assuming you have the infrastructure in place to accept them). Heck, it's even possible the growth could be explosive, making too much success the problem, rather than too little.

So how do you set up such a thing? Basically you do it by getting satisfied customers to pass the word along to their friends, family, and associates about your site, products, or services. If they do this automatically by merely using the product, so much the better. For example, a free email service that inserts an ad for its service in every email its subscribers send out is a prime example of setting up a positive feedback loop. The more subscribers you get, the more high potency marketing (friends and family word of mouth) you get.

Unfortunately, success here may frequently depend upon you reaching a certain critical mass in numbers or quality of early customers first. Which means a competing big business with lots of ad dollars easily makes your own effort disappear. A competitor with a celebrity endorsement might do the same. Even someone with more good luck on their side can leave you in the dust. So what do you do if you have negligible promotional funds, no celebrity strings to pull, and average luck?

Educating yourself in viral or recursive marketing should help in at least some cases. Some of the techniques and technologies discussed later in this paper can often serve in the general process. But you'll want the sort of education I'm speaking of here to enable you to make best strategic use of such tools.

Making shrewd use of networking, or generating new and crucial connections, is the key.

Most of us possess very limited funds and time for such a marketing assault, and so must focus what resourcs we have upon the most valuable targets we can find, hoping that those targets will then basically do the rest of the work for us on their own.

But there's obvious problems here: One, how do you identify the key people required here ('trend setters' or 'socio-metric stars'), and two, how do you contact and persuade them to help light your particular figurative wildfire?

There's also the problem of the 'memorability' or 'catchiness' or 'stickiness' of the site, idea, product, or service you're pushing. If the thing isn't attractive enough from a standpoint of gossip, novelty, surprise, usefulness/value, etc., there's little chance folks are going to talk about it for long. And so your campaign will go nowhere. And the core concept itself can at best provide only perhaps half of the 'catchiness' required: the rest of that quality must come from the times and existing circumstances themselves. In short, the people-at-large must be ready to embrace it. History is full of ideas which appeared ahead of their time, and so failed once or more times before catching on in the popular imagination.

If the notion of determining the 'catchiness quotient' of your idea or business options intimidates and dismays you, don't worry: that's a very suitable response. For it can be highly difficult to anticipate just what might be the next big or even small ideas to catch on among the public. Politicians spend huge sums on ongoing polls towards that effort, and big business spends even more time and money seeking the same thing. It's no easy task by any means. And usually if and when some individual does succeed at it once, they never do again. So it would appear much of your success here will almost certainly depend upon random luck.

However, the I Ching might offer one clue: harmony. Something catchy will also be something that resonates with lots of people naturally. A brief catch-phrase that sums up a bewildering array of present-day complexities, like "Where's the beef?" (an American oldie from decades past), for instance. People in general seem to always enjoy coming across new ways to re-package a lot of uncertainties and complex questions into one simple expression like that.

So how can your efforts best be brought into harmony with the masses? Examining the basic needs, motivations, and priorities of human beings should be useful here.

Some fundamental aspects of human nature circa 1998 included desires to learn, act in a moral way, be socially and sexually accepted and involved in various relationships with others, gain prestige and influence among chosen social circles, engage in physical activities, be independent, retaliate against perceived offenses, and see justice served. Dislikes or discomfort stemmed from hunger, pain, and anxiety.

To scientists, only the desires for justice and independence, and the fear of rejection seem to be unrelated to genetic imperatives (and so be culturally-instilled behaviors or goals).


Passion or some sort of high-powered emotional energy or enthusiasm is another element that may be necessary to improve the odds of success here. For example, Eric Drexler's book Engines of Creation many years ago seemed to succeed on this point, at least among some groups of folks, like myself. I liked the book so much I bought extra copies and gave them away to co-workers, while raving about its ideas.

It appears that discussing an idea at length with others will usually help show you the concept's strengths and weaknesses, and how to best leverage one while minimizing or eliminating the other in your subsequent presentations. Advertising firms and political parties do this routinely in order to better hone their messages and make them more effective.

Believing in your own idea and efforts, and their potential for success, appears to be a necessity as well-- but of course any experienced entrepreneur is well aware of that.

Presenting your idea or site in story-with-a-twist form (if possible) may be the most effective way to get the ball rolling.

Other elements that often seem helpful to viral marketing strategies include:

* giving away desirable freebies of some sort, upfront
* making it easy for recipients or users to distribute your wares (or news of your wares) still further on their own
* easy scalability (to enable fast expansion)
* leverage the natural behaviors and motivations of people
* leverage existing networks, and the resources of others

-- THE TIPPING POINT, AND HOW IT WORKS WITH BLOGS; May 16, 2003; How to Save the World blog by Dave Pollard; blogs.salon.com/0002007/

-- Mental epidemics 06 May 00 by Paul Marsden; Review of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown; From New Scientist magazine, vol 166 issue 2237, 06/05/2000, page 46

-- Elements of a Viral Marketing Strategy; The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson; Web Marketing Today, Issue 70, February 1, 2000

-- BUSINESS: THE TEN MOST IMPORTANT IDEAS OF 2003; How to Save the World blog by Dave Pollard; February 2, 2004; blogs.salon.com/0002007/

-- COULD PURPLE COWS REVIVE KM?; May 9, 2003; How to Save the World blog by Dave Pollard; blogs.salon.com/0002007/

-- HOW TO INCREASE YOUR READERSHIP; March 23, 2004; How to Save the World blog by Dave Pollard; blogs.salon.com/0002007/

-- Advertising Report -- Study: User Satisfaction Key to Viral Marketing By Christopher Saunders May 9, 2002 | Advertising Report Archives

Exploiting the phenomena of urban myths

Modern urban myths include some viral marketing aspects, and may spread these days via e-mail and cell phone and text messaging almost instantly-- unlike the years or decades they could require in decades past.

If you could get yourself or your web site or products or services suitably ensconced in a long-lived urban myth (new or already existing), you'd have a good shot at realizing financial gain from it for years to come. At least if the effect wasn't too diluted due to its essential form, or possessing too low a threshold for others to cross to feed on the myth too.

Establishing a suitable trademark in regards to the myth could help keep dilution at bay-- but also hamper the spread and market clout of the myth too if not properly handled.

The subscription model as a viral marketing technique.

The concept of viral marketing would seem to include the high probability of repeat sales to customers. To me, that indicates expiring subscription models, among other things. Sure, selling any sort of perishable general commodity implies recurring sales too, but as can be seen elsewhere on this page the more 'commoditized' the wares you're selling, the less exclusive your franchise on those sales, and the less likely you'll do well with them-- unless you're already a large and established business in that particular field.

10-16-04 UPDATE: How I'm evolving my own viral marketing techniques on site-- with working examples!

First off, I revamped my hum drum web site store page by dumping some obvious 'me-too' affiliate links (those work best embedded in content pages elsewhere anyway), and establishing the page as a useful web destination in its own right, rather than merely a store front. To reduce visitor distractions I also eliminated some donation links there (there's another page more appropriate for those on-site; plus, donation links aren't nearly the most cost-effective revenue channels you can possess).

How'd I make it a useful destination page? By transforming it into a mix of portal and web log. The portal part lists native site pages of various product and service user logs I maintain, as well as specialized subject guides. So basically it's a fresh presentation of my existing content from a different perspective, compared to elsewhere on site.

But I made the page still more potentially useful by annointing it the primary clearinghouse of site update notices and general news or information alerts I used to post in Newz&Viewz. This change gave the page its own unique value to visitors while also solving a long running problem for me: namely, my news alerts and site update news used to get bogged down in Newz&Viewz due to the often time-consuming nature of completing the other content offered there. Now the short and sweet updates/alert log frees up that info from dependence on my completing heavier and deeper stuff in Newz&Viewz. And it also means my alerts log can be updated very very frequently. Frequent updates tend to attract attention in Google and elsewhere. And help keep visitors coming back for more.

You can see this revamped page at The WebFLUX Store and site updates/alerts weblog.

Smack in the center of all these useful log and guide links, and above the alerts/updates log itself, I present my own unique site offers.

These offers currently include Sponsor your favorite page on-site! and Choose which site pages are updated!. Please visit these pages respectively to see the business models I'm using there.

In theory I benefit in several different ways from this arrangement. How?

Notice that the updates/alerts page connects almost exclusively just to my own site pages, offering a different portal to my content than exists elsewhere on site. This should give me at least a minor traffic boost for some of those other pages.

And any time I boost traffic I also may boost my pay-per-click ad revenue on those pages so equipped.

But the traffic boost doesn't stop with the portal aspect. Recall the updates log also details recent changes/updates to particular pages over the entire site. Many which are not themselves user logs or guides, but appeal to wholly different sensibilities. So yet another traffic boost should come from that.

There's more viral marketing to be seen in the Sponsor your favorite page on-site! and Choose which site pages are updated! pages themselves. How? Both offer up their own 'catalogs' of site pages available for their respective types of sponsorship.

These 'page catalogs' offer up yet another form of site content presentation to visitors. With more detail as to page content and structure than even exists in the two different types of site maps available for the site.

The page catalog for Choose which site pages are updated! is the smallest, for a variety of reasons. Suffice it to say I try to make this catalog as convenient and potentially rewarding for both myself and sponsors as possible, by listing only pages I'm reasonably sure I can do a decent update upon when given the chance. You can view it here.

The page catalog for Sponsor your favorite page on-site! is really, really big. So big it's a portal in its own right, linking to various 'departments' of content available on site. The different site sections currently available include:

How to live well on very, very little: the best ideas for obtaining the essentials of modern human sustenance for minimal cost
Civilization's best defenses against war, terrorism, technological stagnation, and economic ruin AND News, media, and politics
Bleeding edge references
X-files genre fun
A speculative AND authoritative look at mysteries and possibilities of the past
Selected fiction features and related pages on-site
Specialty guides
Specialty portals
Web logs relating to various topics
User logs for various products and services
The rise and fall of star faring civilizations in our own galaxy
The Signposts document; An illustrated speculative timeline of future technology and social change OR How advances in technology may reshape humanity (timeline and perspectives speculating about the future of technology and humanity)

Notice that anyone considering being a sponsor is likely to browse around the pages listed in the catalogs for a bit. So even if they don't actually sponsor a page they may either find a page they want to tell others about, or click on one of the ads some pages present to them. So basically my overall site traffic likely sees another boost, and I get more shots at pay-per-click ad revenues. Or even better, I get a paid sponsorship! Viola!

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All text but for obvious quotes above copyright © 1993-2008 by J.R. Mooneyham.