Viral marketing has been around for a long time. In essence, it can be defined as a form of marketing that relies primarily on word of mouth and is designed to create a buzz that gets people talking about your product or service so that your marketing is minimal while you can sell enough “widgets” to be successful in your efforts. The idea is that your message catches on “like a virus.” Does it work?
In a word, yes. If done correctly. Marketers online and offline have been using viral marketing techniques for ages. Online, early marketers like Marlon Sanders, Jim Edwards, Yanik Silver, and a slew of others, have proven it can be successfully managed. More recently, The Rich Jerk has moved up in respectability. but what about charities. Can it work for them too?
Well, OurChurch.com CEO Paul Steinbrueck tried it to see. He failed. Was there a reason? He outlines his strategy in a great article on Marketing Pilgrim and I’d like to offer a few comments about his strategy. Maybe there is something we can learn.
Two good friends of mine, Joseph and Molly Bail, are moving to Kenya this year to start a home for AIDS-orphaned children. They need to raise $50,000 to build the orphanage. I want to help raise money for that, their living expenses, and other AIDS-related efforts.
To begin with, AIDS is a worthy cause. But there are a lot of worthy causes out there. Which one should I give to?
There are several things to say about charities performing viral marketing campaigns. First and foremost, in order for a charity to succeed in any marketing efforts it has to reach people who are interested in that specific cause. Not everyone gives to charities and those who do generally have their favorite charities to which they give. With so many good causes to give to there is a lot of competition for charitable contributions. You have to give people great reasons to give or they won’t give.
Secondly, sad but true, there is the “they don’t look like me” factor. Everyone has a mother. Many people have a sister. The likelihood of someone you know being afflicted with breast cancer during that lifetime is very high. That makes for a stirring motivation to give to the research for a cure for breast cancer. Likewise, the number of people who die each year from heart conditions makes motivates most of us because we likely know someone who will, or already has, die from a heard disease. But how many Americans, or residents of any industrial democratic and wealthy nation, will have a close relationship with a child in Africa whose parents are dying of AIDS? It may be harsh to point this out, but people are motivated more when the cause hits closer to home.
Finally, religion is a factor. Christians do great things in society. But some people won’t give to a Christian charity because they don’t agree with the underlying philosophy. Again, sad, but true. An incongruence in the underlying philosophy behind a good cause can be a stumbling for potential donors. By the same token, many Christians won’t give to secular organizations even though their cause may be a good one. It’s a factor worth considering.
95% of a viral marketing campaign’s success is determined by the concept.
I’ll have to disagree with Mr. Steinbrueck here. This may be true for money-making for-profit campaigns, but for charity people are not so much concerned with the marketing concept as they are for the cause or the reputation of the organization. The above-mentioned factors are much more important. If you are selling a product or service then concept is more important. Still, you have to think about your product and your customers. A lousy product isn’t going to create much buzz and marketing to the wrong target audience won’t either. So don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
Finally, we get to the meat of Mr. Steinbreuck’s viral campaign. Here’s his method, in his own words, and my suggestions for improvement:
Search engines. Search engines are a great source of visitors. We did keyword research on the main web page of the campaign as well as this article and optimized the text for both pages.
So far, good start. If you don’t do your keyword research you may as well hang it up. How you start will, in large part, determine how you finish.
Campaign Blog. We thought people might be interested to read about the details as the AIDS Clickathon progresses, so we created an AIDS Clickathon blog for that purpose. It’s integrated with an RSS feed, social bookmarking links, Technorati, and MyBlogLog.
Again, not a bad start. You should definitely have a blog. Not necessarily to inform people of the progress of your campaign, but to promote your product, idea, or message. Later, as the campaign takes off and begins to pick up speed, you may want to start a separate one to inform your most excited viral assistors of your progress. I wouldn’t start there.
Yes, of course, you do want an RSS feed for your blog. Every blog should have an RSS feed and bookmarking links to make tagging and bookmarking convenient for visitors. I wouldn’t limit that to Technorati, however. Use Add.this and make it easy to bookmark your blog posts no matter which bookmarking site your visitors may use.
Also, submit your blog to as many directories as you can – not just one. Of course, you’ll have to weigh one very important factor. Reciprocal links. Do you want all those links back to blog directories on your blog? That could create some useless clutter and drive traffic away from your blog. I personally wouldn’t recommend MyBlogLog or some of the other directories that require reciprocal links just for that reason. There are, however, blog directories that don’t require reciprocal links. You may consider those if you think they will benefit you.
MySpace. MySpace is the largest social networking site in the world, so we created a MySpace profile for the campaign.
MySpace is not the be-all end-all of social networking. Think about who uses it. Primarily, it is high school and college age people, the demographic least likely to give to charity. Not that there aren’t older people using MySpace, but the majority of users are younger people. That worthy of consideration.
Another thing to think about is that MySpace started as a place for musicians to promote their music. There is still a large element of that on MySpace along with other artisan types. Again, not everyone is there for music and literature, but it helps to know who you are marketing to. There are other social networking sites, even smaller ones, who might be more appropriate to your particular niche. It would behoove you to search those out.
YouTube. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million, so we created a short video, uploaded it to YouTube, embedded it in our main campaign page, and asked people to watch, rate, and comment on it.
Not every viral campaign needs a video. If you can make it work for you, great. If not, don’t sweat it. In some respects, YouTube is overrated.
Digg & social bookmarking. We encourage readers of this article to scroll down to the bottom of the page and next to where it says “social bookmarking” select “Digg It” from the drop down list. We also added a Digg and social bookmarking links to the Clickathon page.
It is nearly impossible to succeed in viral marketing today without the use of social bookmarking. Digg is not necessarily the answer to every question, but I wouldn’t focus so much on which social bookmarking site to target because with social bookmarking “targeting” isn’t the goal. The reality is, if you are worth bookmarking then users of bookmarking sites will find you. Therein is the rub.
In order to succeed in social bookmarking you have to create content that is worth bookmarking. Linkbaiting techniques work here. Create a dynamite headline or page title and back it up with extraordinary content. If you do that, you will be bookmarked no matter what your cause or message.
Directory submissions. Directory listings can bring visitors as well as help with search rankings, so we submitted the article and the AIDS Clickathon page to directories.
OK. Directories are fine. But they’re not going to make or break your viral campaign. You’ll get some traffic and maybe some of that traffic will lead to swarms of other traffic. If it does it will be because a handful of people who found you through the directory went and spread the message far and wide. Again, it boils down to awesome content on your web pages. If you do that part right directories can help but if you leave out the directories I don’t think it will hurt your campaign if it is successful otherwise. The big benefit to directories is the link popularity you gain from the higher ranked ones. That’s what I would use them for.
Press release. Getting the press to write about the AIDS clickathon would really help to spread the word, so we wrote a press release and submitted it through several online press release services.
That’s fine. But if the press doesn’t it eat up then you should probably explore the question, “Why not?” You’re probably doing something wrong.
Friend release. A friendly, informal email sent to friends and family, which they can forward to their friends. Makes it easy for them and thus more likely they’ll tell others. Plus it gives us the opportunity to shape the messag going out.
I would make this priority No. 1 right out of the starting gate. Not before keyword research and building your website, but right after that. Then everything else follows.
Our website. The OurChurch.Com website gets thousands of hits each day, so we placed links to the AIDS Clickathon in prominent places on our site.
Again, focus on this early on. This is the heart of everything you do online. Especially if you are planning to go viral. With charities, to get any kind of real success out of your efforts, you need millions of hits each day, not thousands. And speaking of hits, realize that a hit is not a site visit. Don’t focus on that. You want site visitors and you want them to get excited about your message. If that isn’t happening then you need to change the content on your website. Bottom line.
Our Blog. OurChurch.Com publishes the Christian Web Trends blog that focuses on utilizing Internet technology in Christian ministry. The clickathon and this article will make great blog topics.
I’ll say this again. If you are a religious organization, you need to consider how your religious affiliations are going to affect your viral campaign. The domain name is vitally important as well. “OurChurch.com” is not going to sway any hearts. Perhaps something more forceful like “KillAIDS.com” would have worked more effectively. If your primary marketing vehicle is a religious affiliation blog then you likely will not succeed outside of your targeted affiliation. Sorry, but you can’t change reality.
Related websites, blogs, and forums. We searched for and contacted influential websites, blogs, and forums that are already working to bring attention and relief to the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
Absolutely essential. If you don’t get the support of the people who are your most likely supporters then you can’t hope to succeed. Network with like-minded people. In fact, put them before your friends and family and ask them to offer feedback. You want them to tell you how to be successful with your goals. After all, they likely have been working in your area for longer and you want to see if they have tried what you have tried. Did it work? Why not? What did they learn?
Tell people how they can help. We specifically listed 9 ways people could help spread the word on the AIDS Clickathon page. Some of these things may seem like no-brainers, but the reality is most people would only think of a few of them on their own.
Yes, you need a call to action. Even if you are a charity. Still, if your viral marketing campaign is successful, this should take care of itself. They’ll know what to do. Nevertheless, offer the call to action. “Make” them click and they will.
Hope this helps. And may your next viral marketing campaign succeed by epidemic proportions.