Message infection Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002

Even in the world of the Internet, word of mouth still rules the day.

One of the best ways to market your Web site is to rely on positive word of mouth and referrals to drive people to your site. Since this has the potential to reach thousands or even millions of people, this time-honored strategy has been given a new name, viral marketing. It has become one of the hottest online marketing trends this year.

This marketing technique is not only simple and inexpensive, it also can be implemented quickly. All you have to do is motivate your users and make it easy for them to spread the word about your products and services. You are putting your friends and customers to work for you. Just take a look at HotMail and ICQ, which have both enjoyed consistent, double-digit growth per month with little or no marketing dollars.

You could do the same — if you plan your strategy carefully. A viral marketing plan doesn’t need to include all of these strategies, but the more you can incorporate, the better your results.

1. Make sure your site is providing a resource or great service. Start by building a core user base, then expand. The more successful your site is at achieving repeat traffic, the better your chances of getting users to spread the word.

2. Make it easy for users to recommend your site. Consider a friendly notification link to encourage users to refer interested parties to your site. The link should be tied to an e-mail program and provide for referrals a direct link back to your site.

Another option is to install a “Recommend-It” button through a Recommend-It referral system. These are fee-paid services that provide attractive recommend-it buttons and forms for your site, as well as incentives and tracking information.

If these don’t appeal to you, simply tell users through the copy on your site to “Please remember to tell your friends about this site.” Examples of this can be seen at www.culinary.com and www.careerperfect.com.

3. Prompt users to e-mail pages of your site or a link to friends. This resembles the Recommend-It strategy, but allows users to send specific content and useful data. This allows users to e-mail specific products and information to interested parties, who can view the information via e-mail and have the option of going directly to the site. A good example can be found at www.officebydesign.com, which allows visitors to send photographs of furniture items as gift ideas via e-mail.

4. Make sure your site’s URL is prominently displayed on all outgoing e-mails, correspondence and collateral. This encourages word-of-mouth recommendations virtually unsolicited.

5. Develop periodic newsletters or other communication vehicles and encourage your audience to forward them. If you encourage readers with a friendly reminder to forward the information, they are more likely to do so immediately.

6. Provide incentives to refer visitors to your site. Enter users in a cash or prize drawing for every individual they refer or forward to your site. A prime example can be found at www.lifeminders.com.

Keep in mind that viral marketing is simply one component of an online marketing plan and shouldn’t represent your entire marketing campaign. Such marketing is most effective when used to support and reinforce your existing online campaign.

Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a strategic eBusiness technology and Internet solutions firm based on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Reach him at (412) 321-2992 or at info@elliance.com.