Exploring Viral Marketing: Part 1

Marketers love it when a product goes “viral.” It means that someone has picked up on their message, and it’s getting passed along to more and more users, generating a buzz of (hopefully, positive) interest. What artist doesn’t want to be the object of attention of millions of people?

While viral marketing was primarily accomplished by word-of-mouth prior to the Internet, online viral marketing is a bit more diverse. It uses social media — such as Facebook.com and Twitter.com — as well as Web sites, blogs and e-mail, to achieve a marketing objective, such as building interest in a brand. Online viral messages might take the form of a text message, video clip, image, podcast or ebook that users can easily forward to other sites and users, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s visibility and effect. How does a viral phenomenon start, and how will you know when it does?

The DNA for a Viral Marketing Phenomenon

For a story to go viral on the Internet, you need stellar content, a network of people and links that make the content easy to share.

What makes for appealing content? News that is significant and timely; things that are free, zany, laugh-out-loud funny or celeb-related. The story, whether told via text, audio or visual format (or a combination of the three), should appeal to common motivators that entice people to check it out. Did something wacky happen in the studio? Is your latest creation absolutely ingenious or somehow tied to current events? Perhaps some celebrity just bought one of your pieces.

It’s very difficult to purposely create a viral marketing buzz yourself. You can post a zinger of a photo on your Web site or issue a great news release, but you can’t force people to talk about it; you have to let chatter happen organically. (Think of “viral” more like online referral marketing rather than in a pejorative sense as if you intended to stealthily spread a disease.) Once you become familiar with what’s being passed around online in your niche of the art world, you’ll learn who some of the movers-and-shakers are — in particular, bloggers, podcasters and vloggers (video loggers). Those are people who can help disseminate your message to a receptive audience.

Finally, the story has to be easily transferable to encourage sharing via e-mail, blog posts, Web site updates and downloads. Content has to be super-easy to find. The URL, the “home base” for the story, should be permanent — a dead link will kill the virus.

Monitor the Commotion

To know when a story is going viral, you have to monitor it. Where to look? Wherever individuals of high social networking potential (SNP, for short) may roam. Blogs are a favorite place for online social butterflies to share information. According to Technorati.com — a blog search engine — bloggers collectively create nearly one million posts per day, and blogs are represented in top-10 Web site lists across all key categories. In addition, since each blog appeals to a particular segment of the population, once word-of-blog reaches that audience, it has a high probability of being passed along. If you want to know what information is being disseminated about you and your artwork on the blogosphere, join Technorati (it’s free) and set-up a watchlist of keywords and URLs.

You could also conduct periodic keyword searches on Google and Yahoo, but it’s a lot easier to simply automate the task by creating a Google Alert. After you sign up, you will receive e-mail updates when Google’s Web crawler has fetched pages containing recent news, blogs and videos that contain your search terms (your name, your Web site, titles of your artwork, etc.) and added those to its indexer database. For video content, mefeeia.com is the place to go. On MeFeedia, you can search videos, TV, music, Web shows and news video.

That’s a lot of monitoring, though, and wouldn’t you rather devote more time to art creation than to art chatter surveillance? It’s easier to stay on top of watchlists and other alerts if you keep track of them all in one place. Tools like Google Reader, Netvibes, My Yahoo!, and Bloglines are free Web-based services that allow you to consolidate the information you want into a customized Web page. Place all of your alerts, watchlists, widgets, RSS feeds from news media rooms, blogs and vlogs of interest, social networks (like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace) into the page, and you’ll stay updated without having to visit each site regularly.

Conclusion

The Internet offers a whole new playground for marketers because it’s fast, inexpensive, and far-reaching. If you want to see yourself and your work plugged online, start monitoring the cyberworld. Identify and follow the places and people — the bloggers, vloggers and podcasters and other e-publishers — whose seal of approval could impact your art career. Then you can take steps to attract their attention and even push along a story as it spreads through the cyber galaxy. In part II of our Viral Marketing series, coming soon, we’ll tell you how. AC

 

Contributing writer and communications consultant Ligaya Figueras specializes in business writing, marketing and media relations for visual and performance artists, writers, nonprofit organizations and specialty service providers. Follow Ligaya on Twitter at twitter.com/LigayaFigueras, or friend her on Facebook at facebook.com/ligaya.figueras.

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