Facilitate Viralocity on Social Media

In our previous post, Partner and Cross-Promote on Social Media, we took a look at leveraging your partners to promote your social media efforts. In this post examine ideas for helping your social media efforts go viral.

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Facilitate Viralocity

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about being viral online. It’s not about infection, at least not bodily infection, but about getting people excited enough about you that they pass your messages on to others.

One of the earliest and most impressive successes in building a business using viral techniques is Hotmail. Now known as Windows Live Hotmail, Hotmail was started by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith in mid-1995. By the end of 1997, when Microsoft bought Hotmail for $400 million, it had 8.5 million subscribers. How did two Silicon Valley wage slaves start the free email movement and make millions? At the bottom of every Hotmail email message, the service tacked on the following text: “Get your private, free email at http://www.hotmail.com.” So every message their 8.5 million subscribers sent could go viral. The best thing about this technique is it didn’t require any change in behavior by Hotmail users. They just went about their business, emailing people and spreading the word about Hotmail.

Many online marketers are absolutely obsessed with the concept of going viral, and many will profess to know how to be able to take your messages and make them viral.

But one thing to understand about viralness, virality, viralocity, or whatever you call it: It is not a technique. It’s a destination. There are no tried and true techniques for creating viralocity. Most often, viral phenomena seem accidental.

Take the Blendtec YouTube videos[1] for example.

Blendtec makes powerful blenders, and so someone got the bright idea of doing a series of short videos called Will it Blend? Starting way back in 2006, and featuring Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson, each video — designated either “Try this at home” or “Don’t try this at home” — blends a range of items from 50 marbles and a handful of golf balls to a new iPhone.

It was the iPhone blend video that went viral, racking up more than 9.8 million views, and counting. Combining the fetish power of the game-changing mobile phone with the eccentric idea of obliterating things with a blender equated to tremen­dous viralocity. Since the first iPhone bit it, the company has trashed a series of iconic electronic gadgets, including an Olympus digital camera, an iPad (11 million views), and an iPhone 4.

Was it planned this way? No. It was just a wacky— and cheap— bid for attention from a small company with a small marketing budget. It went viral because . . . well, just because it was bizarre, over the top, and cool, we guess. For almost no money, Blendtec has reaped more than 192 million YouTube views, 440,000 subscribers, and a 7X increase in sales.

So why do we mention this? Did you see the part about “almost no money?”

You could go viral as well. But to do so, you must be hooked into the zeitgeist[2] of your community, and the larger society. Offbeat, quirky ideas are what generally go viral. But if you try too hard (we’re looking at you, LonelyGirl15[3]) you could do more damage than good.

What you can do is enable your supporters to take viral actions, like embedding a link to your Website, Buy button, Facebook page, or other social networking site as signatures in their emails. Or enabling a Tell A Friend feature on your site, or add a social media sharing service such as AddThis[4] to your site so fans can bookmark you on Delicious or “Like” you on Facebook. You can offer your users branded badges they can add to their blogs or Websites

The first step to viralocity is to ask users to pass it on. We talk more about these techniques in the series that starts with the post How to Scale Social Media. Other ideas include the following list, created by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson[5] way back in 2000 but still very relevant more than a decade later:

An effective viral marketing strategy:

  1. Gives away products or services
  2. Provides for effortless transfer to others
  3. Scales easily from small to very large
  4. Exploits common motivations and behaviors
  5. Utilizes existing communication networks
  6. Takes advantage of others’ resources

These attributes of viralocity may be simple, but, as we’ve indicated, going viral is more art — and luck — than science.

Facilitate Viralocity on Social Media is the 60th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 190. At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?Social Sites DefinedWhy Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Influence via Blogging on Social Media

[1] Blendtec’s YouTube channel: bit.ly/9pHXIh

[2] Google zeitgeist: bit.ly/cy2fhg

[3] LonelyGirl15’s YouTube channel: bit.ly/dBib9J

[4] AddThis: bit.ly/d6oL2B

[5] Wilson’s The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketingbit.ly/9be3Fg

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