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RISMEDIA, Jan. 21, 2008-(eM+C Weekly)-Viral marketing, also known as word-of-mouth marketing, if used properly, can be a highly effective and cost-efficient tool in your marketing mix. A viral idea or content has greater impact and more credibility when it comes from a friend, and by transferring the work of distribution to consumers themselves, you minimize costs – significantly improving your marketing ROI.

According to a Jupiter Communications survey, 80% of online companies say they do some form of viral promoting. A study from Sharpe Partners also revealed that nearly 9 of 10 adult Internet users in the U.S. share content with others via e-mail. In fact, 81% pass viral messages on to at least one other person, and almost half are likely to pass that message along to two or three other people.

A MarketingSherpa 2007 study points to the “experience chasm,” which gives a significant edge to experienced viral marketers. Response Media has tested numerous viral programs for consumer packaged goods firms, and as a result here are a few tips to deliver value beyond simple “buzz.”

1. Use viral as a stepping stone to build relationships and grow brand affinity.

Whether building prospect databases or driving online sales, understanding which sites and which people have the greatest probability of spreading a message is the key to getting something to spread.

2. Viral works best when integrated into your overall marketing mix.

Viral is not a stand-alone technique. It needs to be used strategically as a means to an end, rather than simply as an end in itself.

3. Get real.

Marketers model the viral market opportunity to set goals, performance metrics and realistic budgets. Developing behavioral and motivational profiles is far better than banking on a single creative approach applied across different strategies.

4.Test. Refine. Test Again.

Analysis of behavioral models and multiple cycles of multivariate testing (creative, message, motivators) will allow you to turn your viral marketing into a predictable, measurable marketing channel.

5. Allow people to download the content in a useable form (JPG pictures, MPG videos, etc.).

Viral marketing succeeds when you have a topic that motivates customers to talk and you help them to share that conversation.

6. Provide an interactive Web site dedicated to creating a strong online community.

Experienced companies also reach out to customers and prospects by putting a special offer in an e-mail, which becomes an easy-to-forward means of building buzz.

To gauge viral success, you will need to analyze metrics such as pass-along, click-through and conversion rates. Separate the click-through and conversion rates by original customers from referrals and evaluate their respective performances. This will tell you how many customers took advantage of your offer and how far the viral spread, i.e., where the offer was taken advantage of with regards to where it was originally seeded.

Don’t overlook data management best practices. Experienced viral marketers have developed specific guidelines around the forward-to-a-friend e-mail functionality to protect against malicious activity and to ensure a more positive consumer experience. From ensuring that the code blocks multiple submissions of the form by same session/IP address in a short time span, to checks for obscene content, the form and function of forward-to-a-friend campaigns need to be thought through from the outset.

Be aware that if your viral effort is aimed to primarily create brand awareness, not many reliable utilities exist to track and gauge its success. This is why anyone with viral experience typically stresses the importance of using viral marketing as one component of a larger approach.

Creatively integrating the viral program into your overall marketing mix, setting realistic goals, and testing and optimizing will help drive rapid, positive exposure through trusted word-of-mouth networks for minimal cost.

Source: http://www.emarketingandcommerce.com