How can I start a viral e-mail marketing campaign?

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A viral e-mail marketing campaign uses word-of-mouth behavior to increase awareness of a product, service or concept. The value of such a campaign, which often uses shock or humor, lies in connecting with the right people (via social channels) and offering relevant content that motivates them to take action—forwarding your message.

Like a real virus, a campaign starts out as a single entity and uses its host and their resources to grow, replicate and double with each interaction. To become viral, the campaign needs to find the right host—or recipient—to begin with. An individual will receive a message, which he or she then passes on to friends using relevant sharing tools prominently displayed in the e-mail. These friends trust the person who sent the e-mail, so they're more likely to open it. They in turn do the same thing, and so forth. Before you know it, the message has gone viral.

So what can you do to ensure a successful campaign?

  1. Make it unique. What makes you respond to an e-mail and take action? Is it because it's unique, makes you laugh, shocks or excites you? You want your campaign to have a similar effect, so try applying these reactions to your message.
  2. Offer a valuable reward. Think along the lines of a free report, survey, white paper or even a coupon. Just ensure you're able to deliver on your promise or you run the risk of your company getting bad mouthed virally.
  3. Optimize your message format. It's a good idea to have an HTML and text option that's optimized for people who open their e-mail mobile devices.
  4. Accent your corporate identity. Make sure your branding, logo, website and contact details are all clearly visible. Without this, no one can identify who started the campaign, so what's the point.
  5. Include a call to action. A vital feature. Tell your customers—explicitly—what they need to do and how to do it. It could be along the lines of “forward to a friend now” or “share on your social network.” Many campaigns fail because they don't include a call to action. Don't be one.

Georgia Christian is the editor of online e-mail marketing service Mail Blaze (

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