|Marshall (Roc) Burns|
Physicist, Entrepreneur, Philosopher, Explorer
|Copyright © 2002, Marshall Burns. All rights reserved.|
There are certain actions characteristic of a company or product whose customers spread the word for them. This page provides a brief discussion of what a company can do to be as viral as possible.
Viral effects can cause exponential decay instead of growth if the impressions transmitted are negative. Underlying any viral initiative must be a quality product backed by diligent customer service. The offering of the company should be simple, attractive, accurate, and credible in order for prospects brought in to be converted to customers who will go on to spread the word to others.
If the company already has a good history documented by customer testimonials, show them off as evidence that new customers can expect to be happy.
Listen Monitor and nurture the climate of buzz about the company.
A company can initiate communication messages with advertising, news releases, and product documentation, but once those messages go out into the marketplace they take on a life of their own. Then customers and others familiar with the company initiate their own messages about it, which may be true or false, and may be positive or negative. It is important that a company understand the life of its own messages and related messages in the marketplace about it as well as about its competition. This is easier than ever to do today by searching for mentions of a company and its products on Internet bulletin boards, Web sites, and newsgroups, although one must recognize that the search engines do not find nearly all the traffic there is.
In addition to monitoring existing message traffic on the Internet, a company can also create its own private forum where customers are invited to sound off, ask questions, and help each other. Such a forum may consist of one or more of an e-mail list, an online bulletin board, and/or a chat room. This allows the company to listen to discussions of problems in a closed environment not available to the public.
One of the most basic human needs is to feel connected to others. A company or product that connects people to each other will be difficult for people to break away from and will entice customers to attract others to participate.
The most viral type of connection is one that requires both people to be using the same type of product. The classic examples of this are the modern communications technologies: telephone, fax, e-mail, and instant messaging. When these technologies were new, they were only useful to the extent that other people had them too. So anyone who got them would prod their friends and associates to get them.
For this reason, nothing is more viral than valuable member-to-member (M2M) services because they naturally create motivation for customers to enroll their friends and/or other important contacts. Ideally, M2M services should be those where the value arises naturally from the fact that both parties are members. If a company takes a service that could be useful when a member is talking to a nonmember, and makes it only available on an M2M basis, then the value of that service in general has been reduced. So it is important to look for services that are naturally M2M.
People like to connect with other people who are like them. Often the common interests among a group of people revolve around certain products that they buy. The best example of this is a fan club, a group of people connected by a common appreciation of a musician or other personality. There are many other kinds of clubs that are defined by products, such as exotic cars, pets, model railroads, audio equipment, computer software, and others. Such a club becomes an anchor-point for feelings of pride and loyalty that customers feel toward a company and its products. Customers that connect to each other around a companys products in this way are more likely to be both loyal and viral.
Before the Internet, clubs generally formed locally among people who could meet regularly face-to-face. This is no longer a limitation, as people can now form bonds in cyberspace across great geographical distances.
Stand Out Exploit opportunities for passive virality.
Reach Out Make it easy and rewarding for customers to bring in others.
Provide tools to help enthusiastic customers tell their friends, relatives, coworkers, and other people they interact with about the company and its products. Consider offering incentives to encourage it, but consider this carefully because incentives can backfire if they seem cheesey or self-serving for the company. The best incentive is when a products value proposition is strong enough that the customer wants his friends using the product, without any feeling that the company is asking for referrals.
Hum Nurture the communications network.
In The Anatomy of Buzz, Emanuel Rosen describes a great, complex network of human communication that carries messages from person to person like the airline system carries people from city to city. Just as the airlines have hub cities from which flights radiate, the buzz network has hubs, people who are responsible for transmitting most of the messages. These people are both well-connected and talkative, and they are essential to any companys virality.
If the viral network is to buzz, the company must hum in tune. This is where the theme of a viral campaign comes in, Resonance is fertile. Using the results of the section on Listen above, the company must tune in to the tenor of the marketplace and send out signals that the marketplace will synch with.
Identify, nurture, and learn from network hubs. Analyse sales data to identify customers responsible for bringing in new customers. Make personal contact with those individuals. (a) Thank them. (b) Where they have actively referred people, ask if there is anything that can be done to support their efforts to spread the word. (c) Ask if there is some way they would like to be rewarded or acknowledged. Consider their input in developing future plans. If they wish, give them advance notice of news so they can remain experts in their communities.
Identify and fill in network holes. Analyze sales and industry data to find structural holeslarge groups of people that are not customersby geography or other parameters, and look for ways to promote communication to them from the active parts of the network.
Court attention of mega hubs. Issue news releases about important developments and accomplishments. Post them on the company Web site and send copies to a targeted list of important trade, press, and celebrity contacts.
Amplify Exploit the launch of new products/features to stimulate and optimize new buzz.
Coordinate ongoing viral plans with other plans in the company for the launch of new products and features and with other exciting corporate news and milestones. Use these events to stimulate buzz in the community. Consider ways of timing and executing the release of information (sneak peaks, limited access, surprize) so as to create anticipation and privilege. Be vigilant against hype that could backfire and cause negative buzz.
|Marshall (Roc) Burns|
Physicist, Entrepreneur, Philosopher, Explorer