How to Launch a Viral Marketing Campaign

This is a guest post by Greg Howlett. He is a Christian concert pianist, educator, and recording artist. He is also a blogger and Twitterer. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

If you are a writer, musician or artist, you are facing huge challenges in today’s marketing environment. Even if you are signed by a marketing partner such as a publisher or recording label, this is no time to rest on your laurels. But the good news is that social media is increasingly becoming an effective marketing tool that is accessible to everyone.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sodafish, Image #9613716

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sodafish

This article will give you a social media plan to help you build your brand and your fan base. As an independent Christian pianist, I have used this strategy to sell tens of thousands of CDs and related products over the past few years.

Before I get started, let’s quickly take a look at state of marketing in 2010.

Never before has it been easier to reach potential customers. Using digital technology, you can reach your audience for pennies. But as it turns out, inexpensive marketing is a double-edged sword because it attracts more competition. This is because the technology that makes production of media inexpensive, also creates a low barrier of entry.

As a result, the market is flooded with products, and the consumer is overwhelmed. Because of the glut of choices, it is difficult to create a product that attracts attention and is even more difficult to convince your audience to buy. Proven strategies of the past are being abandoned, because they clearly no longer work.

That being said, brand-building is one strategy that will never go out of date regardless of technological advances. And the good news is that building a brand has never been more feasible than it is now—if you are willing to use social media and use it well.

I am not going to focus on the typical strategies such as Facebook, blogging, and Twitter. Those are all things that you need to do, and they all can work. But simply blogging or having a presence on Facebook is not enough.

The power of social marketing comes when you find a way to get consumers to do your marketing for you, spreading your message across the world like magic. If you can make this happen, you will be successfully running something that is really coveted in the marketing world—a viral marketing campaign. For the rest of this article, I want to discuss ways to create a viral marketing campaign using social media.

Viral marketing needs four things to work properly:

  1. An offer (preferably free) that has value
  2. An easy way to distribute the offer
  3. An incentive to get consumers to pass the offer along to their friends
  4. A way to make the campaign profitable

I want to elaborate on each of these.

  1. An offer (preferably free) that has value. When thinking about viral campaigns, many people think of funny videos. Funny videos do have value, but I would encourage you to consider something different. There are just too many companies trying to do funny videos and it is hard to stand out. Rather, come up with an offer that has more legitimate value. For example, I offer free online piano lessons for church pianists. I have also offered free downloads of CDs and printed piano arrangements.

    The key is that whatever you offer has to have real value, and it probably needs to be free. People will not jeopardize their relationships by promoting an offer that has no value, and they will usually not promote offers that are not free (unless the brand is already very strong). Think hard about an offer you can make available that is inexpensive but has great perceived value to others. Be creative; there are numerous possibilities, particularly if you create digital media.

  2. An easy way to distribute the offer. You must provide an easy way for people to get your offer, and ideally, it should be delivered automatically without requiring your involvement. For many of us, our offers can be distributed digitally on our websites. If you can host your offer on your own website, that is the best scenario. If you cannot, there are other websites that allow you to do these kinds of campaigns. For example, musicians can use BandCamp to deliver their music offers to consumers.
  3. An incentive to get consumers to pass the offer along to their friends. It is critical that your consumers are “paid” to pass along your offer. Sometimes, their payment can be as simple as the thanks they get from their friends when they pass along funny videos. But, I would not count on that being enough. Try to find a way to offer something extra to people who will post your offer in places like their Facebook status or on their blogs. These are the people who are critical to your viral marketing success.
  4. A way to make the campaign profitable. Viral marketing is primarily about brand-building. But it is also a great way to sell other products, build a fan base, obtain concerts and speaking engagements, and much more. Don’t make your offer something that you can’t afford to give away. Also, set goals for what you hope to obtain from your campaign.

Execution is key to this type of marketing. Plan and test carefully before you launch. When you start something virally, there is no way to stop it and no way to fix mistakes. When you are ready to launch a campaign, you simply have to send out a short email to your fan email list. After that, if it is going to work, you don’t have to lift a finger.

When a viral campaign works correctly, it is a beautiful thing to watch. Consumers are relying on their friends’ opinions more and more for purchasing decisions. So putting your fans to work promoting you is also a great way to grow your brand, grow your fan base and even generate revenue. Consider revamping your social media marketing efforts to include this supercharged strategy.

Question: What ways have you found to be effective in creating viral campaigns?
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