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How to create a viral marketing message

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Your prospects are more likely to open your e-mail message if it comes directly from someone they know. Getting someone to forward an e-mail for you, however, can take a little work. Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Cincinnati-based buzz analytics and research company Nielsen BuzzMetrics and co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), suggested these five tips to help you get started in the viral arena.

1) Start with a blog. Blogging is becoming big business, according to research company PQ Media. A recent study found that spending on blog, podcast and RSS advertising topped the $20 million mark in 2005 and is expected to grow 144% by year-end. That said, while you can use your corporate blog as advertisement for your products or services—or simply to promote your brand—you can also use it as a recruitment vehicle for those customers who are most likely to spread your word. “You’ll be able to see who is linking to your blog and read their responses to your messaging,” Blackshaw said.

2) Consider your timing. Jokes and e-mails fly all over the Web because they are tied to a recent event or piece of news, Blackshaw said. Your viral message won’t get passed around unless it, too, is pegged to something recent and trendy. “This might mean you have to tie your message to an event,” he said.

3) Integrate your Web site and your viral efforts. The real estate market is doing a great job of this, Blackshaw said. Real estate agencies send out e-mails to developers, other real estate agencies and those interested in new properties. Then they put additional information about those properties online. “E-mails about new properties tend to fly around the social networks that have a common interest in being the first to know about a property,” he said. By putting more information online, real estate companies are backing up their messages with facts that can help those properties sell more quickly.

4) Think carefully about offering compensation. “Paying people to spread word-of-mouth is a strategy that almost always backfires,” Blackshaw said. “You might get a quick hit [of forwards] overnight, but overall, the company doing the marketing gets exposed and embarrassed.” Blackshaw said the only way this option can succeed is if you’re completely upfront in your messaging, disclosing your payments or incentives to anyone who receives your e-mail.

5) Find your best “forward-to-a-friend” prospects. Most b-to-b companies ask plenty of demographic questions of those who sign up for their e-mail newsletters. Blackshaw suggested adding one more question to your mix: Would you be willing to make a recommendation about our company? “Part of the art is figuring out who likes to spread the word,” he said.

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