If you’re an entrepreneur with a small marketing budget (and I assume you are because you’re reading this), viral marketing can be a great tool to get the word out about your product or brand without spending much (if any) money.
The concept behind viral marketing is that is spreads like, well, a virus, by word of mouth and social media. It’s not the giant billboard downtown. It’s not the glossy magazine ad. It’s the kids passing out energy drink samples at a concert. It’s Digg. It’s telling a friend how much you like a store.
Take this blogger, for example. Douglas Karr runs The Marketing Technology Blog, and in order to promote it, is offering an analysis of other blogs in return for a mention on other people’s blogs. One little mention gets a value-added service. In just the 4 days this promotion has been running, he has already had several people take up his offer (me included). Now here’s the viral element. If you are a blogger and you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet you will click on the link to his blog to find out how you can get tips from Douglas on improving your blog. To do so, you have to put a link up. A few bloggers read it on your blog, and the promotion is as viral as the cold I’m getting today. Only without the phlegm.
The difference between viral marketing and advertising is that people are often more likely to make a purchase based on a referral rather than an advertisement. For example, if you see an advertisement for Tmobile’s Hotspot @ Home, you might not give it a second look. But if you use Digg to find out what news is hot and you come across an article that people have Dugg (meaning they find it newsworthy), you just might check out that service.
Referrals are the best way to get business. But remember, if someone will spread the word about a business they really like, they will also do it (even moreso) for a business they had a bad experience with.