The Internet is a vibrant community, and everyday, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and innovators are finding ways and means in order to maximize its potential. Others opt to create their own tools; others innovate on previous methods.

The same is true for marketing strategies of many companies (both start-up and established) online, some employ tried and tested methods, like multi-level marketing; others create their own methods, at times from the simplest of inspirations. Viral marketing however, is a newer phenomenon than multi-level marketing.

Viral marketing was said to have began after a California-based animator decided to send the graphic animation of the popular ‘dancing baby’ to a couple of friends. After a considerably short amount of time, the animated file was found appended in various emails being passed around online.

What is viral marketing anyway? Viral marketing in its very nature, aims to utilize existent social networks existent in the Internet. This is done by sending out product samplers (as in e-books, documents, graphics, etc.) and, in effect, having the people using the Internet to pass it around to people they know that would deem it to be interesting or useful content to them.

This means that viral techniques are very much reliant on a word-of-mouth mechanism. By giving away for free a sampler of a product or service, primary recipients can forward and refer the company to the people they know; what this necessarily does is that it allows any party to conduct marketing to a huge amount of people with less effort, and provides the benefit of being personally referred by one person to his or her friend, magnifying whatever credibility that the company wishes to build.

But what other viral techniques can be considered when deciding to employ viral marketing? There are a huge number of variations of the technique, but listed below are some of the more effective methods:

1. Create an award. Many start-up websites, even as small as just interest-based websites, create awards for artists, songwriters, or web masters about the quality of the work they do on their website. The website drafts a picture or graphics to represent the particular award, then sends out emails to various entities informing them of their being evaluated for it. Recipients of the award may then be asked to post the award on his or her website, including a link to the company’s website.

Creating this sort of award creates a semblance of expertise on the part of the company, making even the more skeptical potential customers find a level of acceptance for the product or service. Moreover, the website of the award recipient will end up being another one of the many portals and access points through which the company’s website can be accessed from. More importantly, the company will inevitably receive the positive perception it wants to solicit from a word-of-mouth method when it distinguishes truly remarkable and award-worthy entries; this way, the company will inevitably be associated to the idea of excellence and quality.

2. Providing an email account is one of the most logically appealing choices when it comes to viral techniques. By providing an email address, the company is in fact building a level of patronage from users, and creating the need for continuous access to the website.

What makes it suitable for viral marketing? Aside from simply marketing content, providing an email address is an almost automatic advertisement for the company. Every time each person writes his or her Internet address, it would be inevitable to necessarily advertise the company by the domain name appended to the email address (i.e.

3. Offering a free newsletter with bonuses is actually another effective viral technique. This not only gets the attention of people, but even makes people who would have otherwise been indifferent to the marketing strategy consider it because of the compensation in the form of the promise of the bonus which is free.

Aside from this attractive feature, newsletters achieve something that other techniques do not, to directly communicate to potential customers while forwarding useful information to them. Newsletters also afford the company the enjoyment of having people read more attractively written and information packed articles lightly and relevantly splashed with the pitch of their product or service.

4. Offering free e-cards is a service-based viral technique, wherein the website provides various designs and styles of e-cards that users can make use of when sending e-cards to their friends and loved ones. Within the service, users have the ability to modify and personalize the messages in the e-cards, send it to their intended recipients, and receive a copy of the e-card as well as to confirm its content.

What is unique about offering free e-cards is that it is a viable service that is popular among Internet users. One user can make use of the service, and when the e-card arrives to the recipient, he or she receives it with an option of sending the sender an e-card as well. In effect the recipient ends up using the service as well in order to return the regards sent by the sender; and also then he or she may recommend the service to others.

5. Using forums and discussion boards by advertising in a user’s signature when posting is a tool that has been used aggressively by many Internet users, particularly those simply plugging a personal venture. Basically, a picture or video or sound file that serves to advertise a product or service, alongside a link back to the company’s website is added to a single user’s signature.

This is effective because of the sheer longevity of the post in the discussion board or forum. Moreover, people of similar interests religiously visit these online avenues for discussion, assuring the regularity of traffic around this viral technique.

At the end of the day, a viral marketing technique is called such because of its characteristic spreading through the Internet population the way an epidemic or a wildfire does. By maximizing these low-cost strategies, one may end up minimizing costs and maximizing profits with increased traffic and positive perception.

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