Editor’s Note: Dr. Wilson first published this article in 2000. We updated it in 2012.
If you’re creative, you may be able to come up with a brilliant viral marketing business plan based on my “Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing.” In the meantime, here are some viral marketing techniques you can deploy immediately that will do some good.
Encourage Links to Your Site
You can do a number of things to encourage links to your site. Here are some approaches designed to set up an exponential response to your efforts.
Write articles and encourage other to post them free as content for their site. If you’re an expert in a particular area, write an article about an aspect of it. Then offer it to complementary sites to post as free content, so long as the article contains links to your site. Your article could go far and wide, especially if it is carried on the wings of email or social media — i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Google+ — to others who will distribute the same article to their network of contacts.
Set up an affiliate program to encourage links to your products. Affiliate programs are a form of network marketing that provides financial incentive for other sites to link to yours. Make sure you pay enough to make this attractive to already-saturated site owners. We’ve published many articles here on affiliate marketing. You can find them by searching “affiliate marketing.”
Send out news releases concerning a free service or product available on your site. The key here is to have a truly newsworthy event, contest, free service, or digital download. If your news release is carried by just 5 percent of the media you send it to, you could have your URL in front of tens of thousands of readers quite inexpensively.
Encourage Word-of-Mouth Recommendations
Word-of-mouth is the very best advertising, because it is unsolicited. Here are some ways to encourage friends to share with friends, and use their network to promote your site.
Install Social Media Buttons. Nothing encourages word-of-mouth referrals like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social media sites. They all have buttons to link a page on your site — such as a blog post or a product or service you offer — to their platforms.
Make it easy to email your web page to a friend. Encourage readers to email your web page to a friend. Most content management system and ecommerce platforms offer built-in functionality for this, or provide easy access to plugins.
Encourage people to forward your email newsletter to friends. Always encourage readers to forward your email newsletter to their friends. Do this at the end of a newsletter, and you may jog some readers to do it immediately. It’s easy to do and virtually all email service providers provide the functionality.
Offer Free Products or Services that Spread Your Message
Finally, you can provide free services or products on your site that help spread your message to an increasing number of people who hear about it. This could include free coupons and samples.
You could also offer a digital game or utility for free download that carries your marketing message. Games carrying your ad or screen savers are just a couple of the possibilities. Others are games or graphic demos that people can email to their friends.
Think of unique ways your can build viral marketing techniques into your future marketing programs. Programs that carry a strong viral marketing component get you much more traffic for your investment than straight advertising.