The Virus You Want to Catch

My family recently went through one of those seemingly endless cycles of sickness.  If you’re a parent you know what I’m talking about.  My daughter, Ainsley, came home from kindergarten one afternoon with a fever and missed the next few days of school.  Then the following week we got a call from my son, Aidyn’s, preschool saying he had a runny nose and needed to be picked up early, and he missed a couple days of school.  I was next with a 24-hour bug, and then it was my wife, Jennifer’s, turn before Ainsley went down with her second bout.  (Miraculously my 3 month old daughter, Aryn, escaped illness entirely.)  Moreover, almost all of our friends and family with school-age children seemed to also go through same thing where pretty much someone was sick for several weeks.  

So, which virus do you want to catch?  The one with the fever?  The runny nose?  The 24-hour flu? (Hint: it’s not biological)

Unless you’ve got a math test tomorrow the answer is probably “none of the above.”  But if you have a website, you’d probably like knowledge of your site to spread from person to person to person like a virus, which is why online marketing that attempts to spread the word in this way is referred to as viral marketing.

What is Viral Marketing?
With most forms of marketing, the goal is to get your message out to people within your target marketing and get as many of them to respond as possible.  Whether the marketing is print, radio, TV, pay-per-click search engine ads, the organization presents their message to people directly.  Viral marketing, on the other hand, is designed to spread like a virus.  The organization initiates the campaign, but the message is spread exponentially by word of mouth.  People tell their friends, who tell their friends, who tell their friends, and so on.  While viral marketing has always been possible, the Internet has expanded the reach and rate a viral campaign can spread, and social networking sites like MySpace, YouTube, and Digg have taken viral marketing to a whole new level.

Viral marketing is powerful because word spreads exponentially.

Viral marketing is effective because people are hearing about the website from a friend and we trust a friend’s endorsement over a marketing message.  Think about it.  Are you more likely to try a new restaurant after seeing a TV commercial or after a friend tells you they thought it was great?  Are you more likely to visit a website after seeing saw an ad for that site or after a friend sends you an email about it?

Viral marketing is cost-effective because other people are doing most of the work.  There may or may not be a lot of work involved in developing the concept, but once it’s launched it’s other people who getting the word out.  So, you don’t have to be a large organization to do viral marketing.  You don’t even have to be an organization at all.  You can just be an individual with a very innovative idea.  And your website could be seen by thousands or even millions of people if people think it’s interesting enough to tell their friends about. 

Extreme tips for spreading word about your website virally
If you want other people to spread the word about your website, there has to be some “wow factor” to it that compells a person to tell their friends.

  • Extremely unique.  For someone to tell their friends about a site it can’t have original content like your own poetry or about your own church.  It has to be completely unlike any other site.
  • Extremely helpful.  Offer a tool, resource, or advice a person can’t find anywhere else.
  • Extremely funny.  People are always looking to laugh and pass along funny stuff to their friends.
  • Extremely beneficial.  Give something away.  It can’t be something ordinary like an iPod, but something big or unique.
  • Extremely controversial.  I’m not recommending you be intentionally controversial, but the fact is people are drawn to controversy.  Our most read blog articles have been controversial ones – Is MySpace Safe? , Can the Virtual Church Replace the Physical Church?, and 12 Ways to Ensure Ensure Easter Attendees Won’t Come Back to Your Church Next Week.
  • Extremely generous.  Do something huge for other people and give visitors a chance to get involved.  This is the approach we are taking with the AIDS Clickathon.   

Once you’ve got your extremely interesting idea in place, there are a number of things you can do to help spread the word about it online.  You can find a list of 12 things we did – almost all of them free, by the way – to spread the word about the AIDS Clickathon in this article:

AIDS Clickathon Viral Marketing Strategies

What do you think about viral marketing in general?  What do you think about the way we’ve tried to spread the word about the AIDS Clickathon?  What did we get it right?  Where did we miss the mark?  Did we overlook some great ways to spread the word?

And BTW, my offer from last week still stands.  If you blog about the AIDS Clickathon I’ll mention your blog in my next blog article.

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

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  1. » The Virus You Want to Catch - myspacerip.com - Apr 24, 2007

    [...] Original post by » Christian Web Trends Blog by OurChurch.Com and software by Elliott Back [...]

  2. » Day 14 Update - American Idol Stole Our Idea! - Apr 25, 2007

    [...] Yesterday, I posted a blog article about viral marketing so people interested in viral marketing might check out the AIDS Clickathon as an example of how that can be done.  I also had the opportunity to do a phone interview with a reporter from the Christian Broadcasting Network about how churches are using the web.  At the end I explained the Clickathon and she said she would pass on the information to their world affairs department which might be interested in doing a story on it.  [...]