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One of the most misunderstood Internet marketing strategies is viral marketing. The fact is, it’s not really an Internet marketing strategy. It’s been around a lot longer than the Internet. But the Internet does take it to the next level and make it more powerful.

Simply defined, viral marketing is any kind of marketing that gets other people talking about your brand and sharing with their friends on a large scale. That can be done online or off line.

Off line viral marketing usually begins with a customer experiencing a product or service. Then that customer goes out and tells a handful of other people – let’s say 10 – about the kind of service or quality experienced at your business. Some of those 10 people – let’s say half – go and check it out for themselves. Each of them likes it in turn. They go out and tell 10-12 of their friends each and a handful of them go into your store to experience the product or service. Repeat that 100 or 1,000 times and we have off line viral marketing.

The same phenomenon works online as well. The difference is that people are now more likely to talk about you to their online friends – in chat rooms, forums, on blogs, and through interaction on social networks.

Viral marketing is nothing new, but it sure is powerful.

Yesterday we talked a little bit about Google TV and how it will change Internet marketing in general. Today I’d like to narrow it down a little bit. Specifically, Google TV promises to make big changes to video marketing. But how?

I think the most obvious way that Google TV will change video marketing is in giving video marketers more options. Currently, you have a few online video directories – like Hulu and YouTube – where you can upload your videos.

All the video directories have their own unique spins and ways to profit from video marketing. YouTube is the most popular. Google TV promises is to make those video channels available to more people. It is no stretch of imagination to consider that people who are not currently on the Internet will have access to it through Google TV.

Another way video marketing will change with Google TV is with distribution. I don’t know if anyone has considered this yet, but can you imagine uploading your videos directly from your TV, VCR, or DVD player to an online directory like YouTube or MetaCafe? It might not seem possible now, but I think it could be possible in just a few years to convert analog video like VCR recordings into digital in a few clicks – and you’ll likely be able to do that on your TV.

A third way Google TV will change video marketing is by making the videos a higher quality.

If this seems like science fiction, it is. But the technology is available to make it happen so it isn’t far fetched. In what ways do you think Google TV will change video marketing?

Viral marketing – is it just for online marketers or can it take place off line as well?

Viral marketing is just another name for word of mouth. It can manifest itself in any number of ways, online or off line. For instance, online viral marketing can occur when a video grows popular because many people have bookmarked it or shared it with their friends. Maybe they sent the link by e-mail or they bookmarked it on their favorite social bookmarking site. Perhaps they favorited it on YouTube or shared the link on Twitter or Facebook. The fact that a lot of people shared the video in a short period of time means the video has gone “viral”.

This phenomenon takes place off line in the same way. Suppose you open up an ice cream shop in your neighborhood. On your first day of business you get only 10 customers. But all 10 of those customers tell five friends, each of whom visit your store the next day.

That’s 50 customers on day 2. But what if those 5 customers told 10 of their friends about your ice cream shop? They e-mailed their friends, called them on the phone, talked to them at church or school. Wherever they bumped into their friends, you were mentioned.

Now you have 510 people who know about your ice cream shop. On day three suppose that half of your first day customers came back to visit you again. And suppose 20% of your second day customers returned. Furthermore, suppose that half of the people they told about your shop came in as well. On day 3 of your shop you’d have 265 customers. Now you’re really growing!

Now, suppose those customers each told 5 of their friends about you. And they all came into your ice cream shop some time over the seven days. Getting the picture yet?

Viral marketing can, and often does, take place off line as well as online. The key is to provide a remarkable service, something that people will talk about. If you can do that then you’ll go viral, whether you are online or off line.

StumbleUpon is a social media service that allows web users an opportunity to show their like for a web page by “thumbing” it up or to show their dislike by “thumbing” it down. The service has a reputation for two things:

  • Sending lots of traffic to many websites
  • Being responsible for high bounce rates and low conversion rates

Many webmasters use that second point to justify not using StumbleUpon at all, but that is a msitake. It is true that conversion rates are low and bounce rates are high as many people will stumble a site sent to them by a friend then immediately leave without really reading what they stumbled. Of course, users on other social media sites do the same thing.

But it is possible to go viral on StumbleUpon. And when you do you’ll be really excited that you got some Stumble notoriety.

If you do the following three things on StumbleUpon you’ll greatly increase your chances of going viral and getting a reaction from your Stumble traffic.

  1. Write a killer headline. Content is good, but no matter how well written and compelling your content is, if your headline doesn’t grab people’s attention then they will never read your content. Make your headline outstanding.
  2. Get rid of the popups. Most people don’t like them and if your site is full of popup advertising and other annoying web pests then Stumblers will not give it a thumbs up.
  3. Be active. Don’t just stumble your own content. Be active in stumbling the content of your friends and other users. Use the StumbleUpon toolbar to send a note to your most trusted friends about a page you want stumbled. Let someone else be the discoverer. If you thumbs up your own content and that’s all you do then you could get banned.

Going viral on StumbleUpon is not as hard as it seems. It is possible, but you’ve got to have great content that starts with a great headline and a clean site free of annoying ads.

It is generally recognized that Hotmail was the first successful viral marketer. Started in 1996 by two visionaries of Internet marketing, the plan was simply to provide free e-mail addresses to anyone who wanted them. Whenever someone signed up for an account and began sending e-mails there was a message at the bottom of the e-mail inviting the recipient to get a free e-mail address. The more people who used the service the more Hotmail received free advertising and the more people signed up to use the service. It was an overnight phenomenon.

Hotmail was also followed by other copycat services – free web-based e-mail services. And that was really the beginning of viral marketing. After Hotmail, other marketers began to see opportunities to promote themselves for free or to get other people to promote their offerings for free.

Viral marketing works on that principle. Get others to do your marketing for you and if it is successful then an idea can take off and spread virally in a very short period of time.

Hotmail may have been first, but there are other ideas that have gone viral since Hotmail. YouTube has been instrumental in seeing certain videos spread rapidly. Other social networks like Digg, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have also done well in helping ideas to spread. And, of course, e-mail is a viral marketing mainstay.

No matter the medium, if you have a hot idea and you can get that idea to catch on then you can have a viral marketing sensation.

Here’s a prediction that is bold yet beautiful.

Cisco is also predicting that by 2013, 90% of web traffic will be for video content, a significant jump from today’s 30%.

Let’s assume that it’s also accurate. 90% of a galaxy load is a heck of a lot. The question is, do you classify it as viral marketing or social media?

I think you can say it’s a little bit of both, but viral marketing has a very distinct definition. If a video goes viral it’s because it has found its audience and the audience took it viral. Video marketing is social if, and only if, the element of networking is involved. The sharing aspect of video marketing is certainly a social element, but if video marketing consists only of uploading and viewing then I wouldn’t call that social media marketing.

So why the distinctions? I think it’s important to understand how you employ the technology. I can a lot of the videos to come being uploaded to websites for the purpose of showcasing products and services and the only viewers of those videos will be customers of the website owner or potential customers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not social media. That’s using video as on-page content.

Can such content go viral? Sure, if it hits the right audience and the audience shares it in the right places.

When it comes to video marketing, whether now or in the future when it has taken over the Web, it’s best to know who your audience is before you begin production and when you start distributing to know where your audience hangs out and to put that video in front of them there. If it’s on your website, fine. If it’s on YouTube or somewhere else, that’s fine too. Just have a solid plan.

Facebook has caught a lot of attention in the last year or so. Rivaling Google in terms of traffic, it has become a sort of powerhouse on its own for sending traffic to websites and for online marketing in general. Of course, it can be – and has been – used as its own viral marketing tool. But there is one other aspect to Facebook that has a lot of potential when it comes to viral marketing.

I’m talking about Facebook Apps.

You’ve seen them. Your friends send you the requests for kisses on the cheek, vampire bats and reading naked in the dark. They’re called apps and despite their silliness, they can be used for marketing your small business.

If you develop a really useful Facebook app then it will receive a lot of downloads and get a lot of usage. Every time someone uses your app they’ll be marketing your company.

To develop your own Facebook app you’ll need to get a developer’s API and go to work. Try to create an app that is somehow related to your business or something that is useful to your target audience. If your audience likes your app and finds it useful in some way then they’ll share it with their friends and you’ll get more downloads. As a result, you’ll get more traffic to your Facebook fan page and your web property.

Can all this result in viral activity? Yes, it sure can. And some companies are already doing it. You can too.

According to WebProNews, more Americans are connecting with their neighbors and other locals over the Internet. This is a pretty significant development and could mean that local Internet marketing is about to get a huge boost. That could be both good and bad.

Among the things that could happen locally are:

  • An increase in spam
  • A greater potential for more viral marketing campaigns
  • A boom in local search engine marketing
  • More social media involvement at the local level

And who knows the potential for any of these?

On the viral marketing front, anything that catches on locally and seems to move on its own without much effort could become viral in seconds. Through Facebook, Twitter, SMS or local forums and community websites, content could go viral just with a simple nudge. But local viral marketing campaigns still must follow the same rules and principles as all other viral campaigns. On that we can rely.

At one time e-books were a great viral marketing tool. But that was a bit of a primitive time. It’s like the Stone Age now. Cool tools, but the hammers we use now do a lot better pounding.

Unfortunately, e-books have not arrived. But they’re not exactly in the Stone Age either. There is a transition.

Thanks to two developments in the e-book publishing industry – the iPad and the Kindle – there is a revitalized interest in e-books. But it seem like the big frustration for consumers is there isn’t one standard. That makes it difficult to get a viral marketing effect with an e-book.

Not impossible. Just difficult. There is still a possibility that an e-book can go viral, but if it does so it will have to go viral in one of three accepted formats:

  • Kindle
  • iPad
  • PDF

Right now, I’d say e-books are more likely to go viral if they are in PDF format. But you can create a mini-viral effect with either Kindle or iPad versions of your e-book. But the most important thing about e-books going viral is you have to have great content. Mediocre just won’t cut it.

Every day almost you hear about a successful viral marketing campaign. Many times they just happen. They’re not planned. And sometimes it isn’t even something that is marketed. It’s just a video or an article that becomes popular for some reason. It’s like serendipity.

But can you plan a viral marketing campaign? Are those things plannable?

Well, every marketer would like to think so. And, in truth, yes, you can plan a viral marketing campaign. But planning something and seeing it through to completion are two different things. Sometimes the plan just doesn’t work out.

So what’s it take to make a viral marketing plan work? It takes more than a plan. I guarantee you that.

However, it starts with a plan. If you don’t plan for the viral marketing campaign – and I mean every detail down to where you intend to submit your content and who your target audience is – then you might as well plan for it to fail. You can’t leave it to happenstance. Or serendipity.

That said, don’t expect your viral marketing campaign to succeed just because you planned it. You have to also monitor your efforts, and your results.

When you’re ready to build a viral marketing campaign and see it through to completion, find a viral marketing expert to guide you through the maze.

With all the talk about Facebook growing into the biggest website online and developing into a good social media marketing vehicle for businesses (but only if you get a Facebook fan page), you’d think it’s the best thing since green tea. Maybe it is. But will make your marketing campaign go viral?

Let’s just lay one thing out on the table right now. Any social website could make your marketing campaign go viral, but not if you don’t have the right stuff. So what’s the right stuff?

Your content has to have mass appeal. If you serve a very niche market and your content appeals to that niche market well, but not so well to any other market then your content won’t go viral. Even on Facebook. Simply being on the most trafficked website online is not enough to make your content go viral.

Another thing you need is to get your content in front of the right people. Simply sharing your content with ten friends hoping they will push your content to the top of the viral chain isn’t going to cut it. You need to get your content in front of the Facebook movers and shakers. Until you do that, it won’t go viral.

That’s not to say that you should spam the people with the most friends. But you might send them a private message asking if they’ll take a look at your content and share it if they like it.

Viral marketing is about making the right friends in the right places and sharing the right stuff. You can do that on Facebook or anywhere there might be people who will really dig what you have to offer.

There are two types of viral marketing campaigns – successful and unsuccessful. Running either of those is no reflection on your skill as a marketer. Good marketers can have an unsuccessful campaign and bad marketers can get lucky and hit a home run. But there are certain principles of viral marketing that should be followed if you want your campaign to have a chance at success.

No. 1, whatever it is you are trying to promote should have some kind of popular appeal. You may have the very best motorized widget on the planet, but if your target market is smaller than a little league baseball team then quality is a small consideration. An idea has to have some popular appeal if it is to ever go viral.

Secondly, it helps get your idea into the hands of a few well connected individuals. Your product or service can be high quality and popular, but if you can’t get at least one well connected person with influence to plug it then chances are you’ll have a hard time getting it to go viral. I hate to plug it as a popularity contest, but that’s what it is. Even 100,000 average Joes won’t have as much influence as 1 kingpin with 100,000 average Joe devotees.

That last sentence needs some elaboration. 100,000 average Joes have friends and their friends listen to them, but they have no one to appeal to as an authority but themselves. The 100,000 average Joes who follow King Cheese, however, can always point to King Cheese as the authority. “Hey,” they could say to their friends, “If you don’t believe me then listen to King Cheese; he’s the man.” Those kinds of appeals work so it’s important to have at least one highly popular and influential person to like your idea enough to promote it.

Finally, your product or service has to have quality. It can be popular, but if it isn’t full of quality then popularity will wane.

Here’s to your next viral marketing campaign. May it be successful.

The first thing you should do before you embark on that new viral marketing campaign is to give your website content a complete look over and overhaul it, if necessary. Let’s face it. If your site is more than five years old then chances are it needs an overhaul. So do it.

What does an overhaul mean, exactly?

First, it doesn’t mean redesigning your site from scratch – though that might not be a bad idea either. It may not even mean changing every word on the site. What it probably means, at least in most cases, is to rewrite the content so that it has more a now feel to it and not an outdated feel.

If the information on your site is outdated then you definitely need to rewrite it so that it is more up to date and contains accurate information. For some sites that might mean a complete overhaul. For other sites it could mean simply tweaking a few words or lines here or there to keep the information up to date. Every site is different so every site has different needs.

The bottom line: Viral marketing won’t work if your site is out of date. Keep the content current.

OK, this might come as a shock to you, but two of the best methods of viral marketing are right under your nose and the chances are you’re already using them.

Ready? Brace yourself. The two forms of viral marketing right under your nose (and that you are probably already doing) are:

  1. Blogging
  2. Facebook

OK, now tell me you didn’t see that coming.

First, blogging. There are a lot of reasons why blogging can be viewed as one of the best methods of viral marketing. But, truth be told, it’s even better when matched up with other social media marketing methods like Facebook and Twitter. And … real time search has made it even more important because your blog posts can be indexed and set aside as a part of the real time search results giving them even greater exposure than ever before. The only thing you need to do is create great content that others will be happy to share.

Then, there’s Facebook. Facebook is like a party. That means there is more than just one way to get in. Not only can you make friends and share your blog posts and other interests with those friends, but you can also build a fan page with all sorts of great features that will attract followers and you can also build apps that get passed around and used. Both of those Facebook marketing tools can easily make your website an instant viral sensation.

Viral marketing is nothing new. It’s been around awhile in various forms. And blogging and Facebook are not the only methods of viral marketing online. But they are right under your nose and there’s a real good chance you’re already doing them. Need help making them viral?

Just about every expert in viral marketing agrees on three key principles:

  1. Success depends on the crowd
  2. Give away value before asking to receive any in return
  3. Make it easy for others to share

No viral marketing campaign can succeed without word of mouth. Indeed, word of mouth IS viral marketing. The necessary ingredient is that what you offer is so valuable that others will willingly tell their friends.

Before you can expect anyone to spread the word about your offer, however, you’ve got to give something away. Give away value and you’ll have reason to expect others to give you something valuable in return.

Finally, in order to ensure that others will willingly share what you have to offer, you’ve got to make it easy for them. If you make it too difficult for others to share what you have to offer then they won’t help you. So the key to effective viral marketing is to give away free value and to make it easy for others to share with their friends. Do those two things and the crowd will help you succeed.

Viral marketing is not so much a method as it is a skill. You can perform a viral marketing campaign in a lot of different ways. Some of them are more effective than others. Some may be more effective for different types of businesses even. Some types of viral marketing that marketers have tried in the past include:

  • Article marketing
  • Blogging
  • Link baiting
  • Link building
  • Video marketing
  • Podcasting
  • Forum marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Social bookmarking

Which of these methods you use for your viral marketing campaign depends a great deal on your goals, your strengths and your audience. For a long time article marketing was considered the king of viral marketing. Then it was blogging. These days it is video marketing. But the best viral marketing campaign is a mixed campaign that uses more than one method and incorporates a strategy of cross-pollination.

Viral marketing is much more sophisticated than it used to be. It is rare that someone mass submits hundreds of articles in one day to thousands of article directories and expects to get a flood of new traffic to their website that converts. Sure, it happens. But it’s rare.

Today, viral marketing is more about the Wow Factor. You’ve got to the wow the audience before you get them to your site. If you don’t wow them until they get their then it’s too late. So what are the tools for producing the wow effect that will get new visitors to your site?

  • Articles
  • Social bookmarking websites
  • Social sites like Facebook and Twitter
  • Videos
  • Blogs

In the old days of viral marketing, the product was mostly content. Today it is largely social. Look at the list – social bookmarking, social networking, videos (think YouTube, a social network that is also the No. 2 search engine), and blogs (a medium that is half social and half SEO tool). See the theme?

So the question is, how do you kill a viral marketing campaign? Take it out of its social context. Be anti-social.

Viral marketing is social media marketing on steroids. It is, in a word, the maximum effective use of the combination of social media and SEO. Want to kill it? Just break one of those two legs of the viral marketing stool and your campaign will fall on its face.

You’ve likely heard of the Jay Leno – Conan O’Brien rivalry that happened over an NBC late night spot. NBC and Jay Leno blamed Conan O’Brien for failing ratings when it was likely due to a younger audience being more interested in the Internet as medium than television. Just as TV replaced radio and relegated it second-class status, the Internet is fast doing the same to TV. Unfortunately for Conan O’Brien, he got caught up in that.

However, unfortunately for Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and his fans are more Web-savvy so you could say they are the future.

Pace Lattin does a good job of defending that position in a SiteProNews article. After Conan’s abrupt release from NBC, the late night funny man and his fans went on the viral attack and saved his reputation for another generation. That’s the lesson. Never discount a comic whose face is in the mud. He’ll make mud pies and spread them all over cyberspace. Isn’t viral marketing fun?

E-books were very popular at one time. When the Web was young you’d see the free e-book downloads and when you got to the last chapter of a 200-page e-book you got for free you suddenly realized you were in the middle of a sales pitch. To get the next e-book you’d have to pay something. But you were encouraged to share the free one with your friends.

Another version of the e-book viral marketing method was to offer downloaders a way to brand the free e-book under their own name as long as nothing in the e-book changed. Of course, all the links pointed to the originator’s website. Viral marketing at its best.

For awhile, free e-books went out of fashion. But they seem to be making a comeback. This might be due to the increase and interest in e-book readers. Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Sony eReader have all become more popular. So too have e-books.

The truth is, e-books are a great way to spread a viral message. They work. If you do it right you can gain a new audience and sell your services. Viral marketing through e-books is one of the most powerful ways to reach an audience online today. Some things never change.

Viral marketing has undergone a few changes over the years. In the early days article marketing was considered viral marketing. And e-mail marketing carried with it some viral components as well. Then blogging started catching on and viral marketers started employing blogs to great effect.

Along with blogs came RSS – really simple syndication. Bloggers found that people would subscribe to their feeds and read them in their e-mail. After blogging, there was social bookmarking. And social networking to a great extent.

In 2005, video marketing started taking off. Then Facebook and Twitter took off big. What’s next?

I think 2010 will see a resurgence of video marketing and this will likely be the year for mobile marketing as well. Viral marketing is about to get more complex. Only the most savvy of marketers will be able to pull off a real successful viral marketing campaign as it will likely require a multi-tiered approach employing several viral marketing methods from the past.