Startups often want to use viral marketing (aka word of mouth) because it is free, the public does most of the work for you and people are more likely to use a product recommended by a friend. My experiences with viral marketing often involves a startup asking me to turn on viral marketing like a light switch. The problem is viral marketing is not like pay per click, there is no “on” button. Viral marketing is closer to search engine optimization (SEO) because it involves multiple factors that have to be in unison.
The major lapse in viral marketing is the product was most likely not built for a viral audience. Viral marketing and word of mouth are just buzz. Business to business products are not generally viral. I’m not saying they can’t be, I’m just saying they are not by nature. Electronics on the other hand have a much better chance of producing viral growth.
I want to examine why my most successful viral marketing attempt worked, so both you and I can see the factors involved. I started working with a new startup called GotCast.com. GotCast is a site that connects casting directors with talent they would otherwise have trouble finding. Members vote and the top ten candidates get the chance to audition for the casting they participated in.
I don’t run the day to day marketing at GotCast, I am more of a consultant. I asked to handle the marketing for one specific casting which is out of my usual duties for the site. I was granted permission to do my best. The casting was for the G4 Network as they are in search of gamer girls to host shows. I undertook this specific casting because I had a theory that I could get this casting to catch on with the gaming girl community and I figured they would never find the casting otherwise. The results were better and worse than I expected.
The viral effect was better than I expected because I set records for the most visits and sign ups in one day. I actually crushed the old records as the new traffic and sign ups were 3 times the previous highs, with a consistent increase in daily traffic over the following weeks. The outcome was worse than I expected because some of the girl gaming community saw this casting as a popularity contest, and lets just say some of these girls aren’t into those type of contest. Regardless if the mentions were good or bad, the G4 contest was everywhere girl gamers were on the internet. I lost count of the number of blogs and forums that linked to the casting page and individual contestants. It was by far my most successful viral campaign to date, but how did I get it to catch fire?
The first and most important aspect was I knew that the audience for this casting had a chance to spread it virally. This was a group that was not only online, but actively participate in the social media scene for the specific reason of connecting with other gaming girls. I assumed they would talk about the casting between one another while trying to leverage votes. Another major aspect of success was a partnership with a company that validated the casting. If the casting was not being held for a major gaming network (G4), it would not have been as important to the talent. One major hurdle that I did face was this group does not like to be marketed to.
The pitch was rather simple. I asked gaming girl bloggers if they would make their readers aware of the contest because they might be interested in the opportunity. The message was passive and more of a “Hey, I just wanted to let you know” than a sales pitch. I prefer to pitch products in this way because it is more informal and easier for the target to swallow.
One mistake I think many startups make when trying to create buzz is contacting top (A-List) blogs. The largest and most important blogs have many startups contacting them (or even paying) to get a write up. Try going after smaller blogs. Smaller blogs work well because they are often looking for more material to write and love to give helpful plugs to new sites where larger blogs need more “breaking news” stories. Since the gaming girl community is rather small, the larger blogs picked up the story after the smaller blogs got the story to spread through the community (blogs and forums).
Quick recap on why this viral marketing attempt worked:
Even if you have all of these factors in your favor, you still might not achieve viral growth. Every segment is different and will respond differently. Although I did actively push this product into the gaming girl circle (I assumed this group would never go to a site like GotCast) the best viral marketing is when the users create the buzz for you.