Viral marketing is the web equivalent of two neighbors talking over the fence, with one recommending a good product to the other. If you’ve ever recieved an ad for a site from a friend with a note saying “I thought you may like this link”, then you have participated in viral marketing. The web makes viral marketing easy. Much of the buzz about new sites on the web still relies on informal viral marketing. Sites can become overnight sensations, strictly by word of mouth, via e-mail.
Viral Marketing works when we trust the person sending us the message. I am much more likely to click on a link in a direct marketing message forwarded to me by my friend or a relative than to click on the same link in the same message when it comes directly from the merchant. I know that my friend who sent me the link must have gone to the merchant’s website, pre-screened the merchandise for me, and my friend who knows me and my tastes, thinks it will be to my liking. I also know that it was a little bit of a trouble for him to forward me the message rather than to simply delete it. So, even if i don’t buy a thing on that website, i might just visit the site, let my friend know about what i think and thank him for sending me the link. That way, Viral Marketing creates a buzz.
In the above example, my friend knows me and my tastes, so I have no reason to suspect his motives. If i knew he were making a commission on any of my purchases, I would be less inclined to click on the link, not because I wouldn’t want him to make few bucks, but because I would assume that my interest in the product might be the secondary to his interest in making a sale. When a business sets up a viral marketing program, it has to be careful to balance its interests in getting its customers to forward ads or attach ads to their own email messages with the interests of those who receive the ads in believing the content is relevant. Viral marketing programs tend to rely on e-mail. There are two types of these email campaigns – Commercially-Run and Merchant-Run viral campaigns.
Commercially-Run marketing programs attach an Ad to the end of email message sent by the participants in the network. Participants enroll at the vendor’s site and select the merchant program in which they want to participate. The Merchant-Run programs often times simply rely on a simple statement like ‘Forward this to a Friend’, somewhere in the ad that the customer receives. The merchant may offer an incentive to the customers who forward the message or may not offer any incentive at all.
In the ideal viral marketing program, customers are given an incentive to send ads only to their friends and associates who might be interested in making a purchase. Good viral programs should see high conversion rates, much higher than those of banner ads or typical affiliate programs – because the marketing should be better targeted to the audience. Promotion by someone we know, is a good example of a successful viral marketing campaign because of the high rate of participation by existing customers.
There are few ways to compensate members of viral network who refer customers to you. The two most common ways are by giving them a coupon good for a percentage off a future purchase. Some programs pay cash, but this provides the wrong type of motivation. None of the members of your viral network, which is drawn from your customer base should be making a living or attempt to make a living by viral marketing your site. Paying cash motivates people to spam email lists, which reflects negatively on your business, even if you are not awate it’s going on.
Viral marketing works best when those doing the referring are users of the product or service. If they’re already buying from your site, then a coupon toward a future purchase is almost as good as cash, and it has the double benefit of rewarding them and encouraging them to purchase again soon.