Igniting Viral Campaigns: SES San Jose

This is going to be a great panel. How do I know? Look at the line up: Andrew Goodman is moderating this session with speakers Jennifer Laycock (Search Engine Guide), Fionn Downhill (Elixir Interactive), Justilien Gaspard (Justilien.com) and Chris Winfield (10e20, LLC).

Let’s play ball.

Andrew starts us off with a little explanation of what viral is. There’s a spectrum, on one hand there’s people sharing your stuff on the other there’s Facebook apps.

Chris Winfield starts off by asking who likes speakers who ask you to raise your hands. Hee.

What is viral marketing? It’s the spread of information quickly. Word of mouth marketing online supercharged. The Internet allows things to really really move quickly. What’s social media? In short, it’s a giant conversation online.

Blogs are a main component of conversation online. Technorati isn’t the best anymore but you can still look there to see who is in your niche. Blogs are a good place to get your message out because it allows conversation and commenting and linking.

Social Networking– Most people think that social networking is social media. Facebook and mySpace obviously but also niche sites like myartspace.com.

Online video–It’s more than just uploading something and telling your friends and family about it. You upload it, there’s comments on it, you can spread your message that way.

Forums and Groups — Discussion takes place among the members about various topics. There are really strong and passionate communities. Check out rankings.big-boards.com to see who are the really passionate communities in your niche. Forums are really powerful.

Social news and bookmarking sites — Delicious, Stumbleupon, Digg. It’s about allowing people to see what you’re interested in and sharing with the Internet. There’s also a lot of niche social sites with lower barriers to entry than Digg.

How do social news sites help? It’s not just the traffic from Digg itself. It’s from all the other people that READ Digg. Bloggers search through social news sites to find things and then they spread the message as well. People bookmark it on social bookmarking sites. People pass it through IM and email. It filters down and brings in people who don’t know anything about you.

What is “good” content in terms of social media?

  • Lists! — 10 Commandments
  • How To’s — Martha Stewart perfected it. How to tip like a gentleman (Chris says he gets stuff like that sent to him by his parents. Hee!)
  • Surveys — The 25 best colleges
  • Something really comprehensive: Anything that is going to be a really great resource long term.
  • Strong opinions and controversy: Dangerous because it might not go viral in the way that you want to.
  • Best ofs: You’re doing the work for them.
  • Calculators: Life expectancy calculators, etc
  • Video: Have the WOW factor (Will it Blend?)
  • Widgets: Make it easy, make it cool.
  • Quizzes and Badges: Give them something that they’re going to want to put on their site and that other people are going to be interested in too.

Have clear goals and objectives

Promote GREAT content.

Contribute to the communities. Give back to the people who are giving you attention

Good hosting. Don’t let Digg crash your site.

That’s it for Chris. Lots of good info there.

Justilien Gaspard is up next. Can you say best name in search marketing?

He’s going to be talking about viral marketing through three topics.

  • People of influence
  • Engaging customers
  • Promoting buzz


  • Branding
  • Product launch
  • Customer acquisition
  • Link marketing

People of influence:

  • Who influences the space?
  • Who gets the attention?
  • Where do people get their news?

You could launch and then contact these people of influence and just hope they actually read your email. OR you could be more proactive. Develop relationships with these people, build teams, collaborate with them. If you’ve shown them value before you’re more likely to get a good response when you need something later.

Sources of promotion:

  • Cartoonists — promotion for them and promotion for you
  • Bloggers — use your regular blogger or find someone to talk about your product. Make it worth their while. Don’t just focus on the A-list bloggers. Go niche and find the influencers there. Buy advertising space on a blog and use that to start a conversation.
  • Contests — Run a contest internally or as for guest judges from the industry.
  • Interviews — Experts, bloggers, journalists, CEOs, VPs. Find out from the who will promote them as well to increase reach.
  • Research: White papers, surveys, reports.

Find brand advocates and develop a relationship with them. You can offer them incentives like discounts. It can be difficult to recruit influencers but use your contacts and see if you can get connections through them.

Hire the experts as consultants and get them to do promotions through their people.

Customer promotional strategies: Focus on outgoing communications, customer service resps, brick and mortar locations should do cross promotions. Offer promotions to customers who blog about you.

Spread the buzz: Flyers, newsletters, ads.

Fionn Downhill is up next. She has a column on Search Engine Watch.

Why do viral? 78 percent of respondents “trust recommendations from consumers” which is 15 percent HIGHER than the next most reputable source, newpapers.

How powerful is it? Starbucks stock dips coincided with an increase of blog activity. People are talking about things and this is where the conversation is having. 7 out of 10 americans use the Internet for news. TV news is losing 1 million viewers per year and newspaper circulation is down about 10 percent since 2001.

Journalists are looking online for new sources too.

Budgets: Web 2.0 doesn’t cost a fortune. It takes time and a strategic approach. Plan for success. You can’t just throw money at it. Look at Walmart.

Elements of success:

  • Free things are good. Whitepapers, products or services
  • Provides for effortless transfer to others
  • Scales easily from small to very large — don’t let your server crash. Use YouTube if your video is going to crash your site.
  • Exploits common motivation and behaviors
  • Utilizes existing communication networks
  • Takes advantage of others’ resources.

“You cannot control viral marketing but you can enable it.”

TIP: Put an RSS feed on your site.

If you’re going to start a blog, have a strategy for it. Don’t just be a me too blog.

How do you enable your content?
Forward to a friend, Bookmarks, RSS (there were more but I missed it)


  • Set up your own branded channel
  • Create simple videos. Fun and quirky.
  • Tell your clients, your friends.
  • Optimize your channel
  • Link from your Web site
  • Flip Video camera — makes videos quick and easy. Amateur videos do best.

You really can do this. [shows her 10 year old daughter’s YouTube channel]

TubeMogul will distribute your video for you. It’s free and will provide reports about where it is and what traffic it’s getting.

You have to measure your success. RSS/Newsletter subscribers, Social bookmakring, comments to the blog, LINKS to your site, what blogs and forums are talking about you, monitoring referring links, Google alerts. Measure measure measure.

Jennifer Laycock of the very best blog with a puppy avatar ever, Search Engine Guide, is up next.

She’s going to teach us how to do this ourselves. The biggest challenge isn’t just “what it is and what are the tools” it’s “what the heck are we doing?” and “what’s it going to DO for me”. It’s not just Coke and Mentos, it’s Will it blend. One will sell the product, the other won’t.

  • Know Thy Customer: Deliver the goods
  • Thou Shalt be Remarkable: This isn’t the same old thing. You need to have an amazing marketing message. Zappos is a great example. Look up I heart Zappos to see how their focus on AMAZING customer service paid off.
  • Thou Shalt Try, Try Again: Most viral efforts don’t take off. You’ll have to do it more than once. Not every attempt is a home run but you’ll learn something every time.

Brainstorming the idea: [Jennifer is going to go through a huge number of brainstorming ideas. For the whole rubric, you can email her to get the pdf. I’ll cover what I can.]

What do customers love about you? What do customers not like about you? What is your biggest challenge? What sparks online conversation?

Can you do something outrageous? Can you do something hilarious (or scary)? Do you have a holiday connection? [Look at traffic spikes and drops to see what makes people talk] Can you make the “mostest” something?

What do you wish people said about you? Can you create or embrace controversy (dangerous!)? Do you have or can you connect to an underdog or news story?

What types of sites send the best visitors to your site? What motivates your customer base? Knowing the customer is key.

To create your campaign: look at your capabilities. Know if you can do videos, Flash games, widgets. Do you have a writer, researcher, humorist? Do you have an email list? Can you partner with a non-profit? Can you get your product into the hands of influencers?

Know your campaign costs: Do you know your break even point on giveaways or discounts? Can you give away something or free and if so how many?

Launching the campaign: Can you reseach and build a pitch list? Do you have a blog of your own? Take inventory of what your channels are and where you need to be. What’s going to be appropriate.

The key point is establishing relationships.

What do when pitching: Read at least five posts on their site. Comment on one or two existing posts (dig to older ones if you can). Write at least a couple sentences that are unique to the person you’re pitching. Have at least sone toher person read the meail before you send it. Contact the blogger to share feedback a few weeks before you pitch. Keep track of who you’ve pitched.


  • Make sure you pitch BY NAME (No “dear webmaster”)
  • Make sure you have the RIGHT ADDRESS (No “webmaster@”)
  • Send individual emails (no mass mailings)
  • Be completely TRANSPARENT (let them know who you work for)
  • SPELL CHECK your message
  • Familiarize yourself with their readers
  • Ask yourself if your message is RELEVANT to their readers
  • Check to see if they have a policy about accepting pitches
  • If you pitch multiple writers on the same site, let them know.

Again, to get the whole checklists, email Jennifer at Search Engine Guide.


What are the best ways to keep the viral campaign localized?

Jennifer: Is that a problem? I guess you don’t want to get calls from all over the country but I wouldn’t worry about it.
Chris: That would be a good problem to have.
Fionn: I wouldn’t worry about it either. Get into the local engines first though but I still wouldn’t worry about it.
Justilien: Open a lead generation company and sell it to the people in local areas that they’re calling from.

What’s the difference between viral marketing and buzz marketing? Will it Blend is buzz but Add This is viral to me.

Chris: Buzz and viral can mean the same thing a lot of times. Blendtec could do a little widget to link back but they want to sell blenders. You have to know what your objective is. What will people use and link back to you and buy your stuff. That’s the first question “how do you make money?”
Jennifer: Viral doesn’t have to be Subservient Chicken. It just needs to spread by word of mouth to the people you want to reach to be viral.
Fionn: For me, getting a call from the Washington Post was the huge success. For Office Max it was the brand promotion from the Elves.
Justilien: Go into forums, blogs, etc and find out what the problem is in your industry and see if you can solve it.
Andrew: Some things like hotmail and instant messengers are inherently viral but the strict definition doesn’t help much. But what you want is the cash.

Do you have any ideas of a viral marketing for a dating site for college students internationally?

Chris: Social news sites exist in practically every language. That’s a great way to get your message out there. Get someone to translate the content and put it out.
Fionn: Don’t college students do just fine dating without any help? [HEE!] Facebook is good in Europe, MySpace not so much.

What do you do if your controversy campaign goes bad?

Chris: Be prepared. Understand that you’re going to get heat and be ready. Lay out what you’re doing and why you’re doing something. Be upfront and honest. You can turn it around by giving your reasoning sometimes.
Jennifer: If you’re a larger company you probably have a PR company. If you’re a small company, find the most levelheaded person you know who isn’t involved with your company and go over your response with them. You need to be calm and not get emotional about it. Be honest and be truthful and if you screwed up, ADMIT IT. That’s the fastest way to turn it around.
Fionn: If you want to see what not responding in time with honesty with do, look at Dell. Bloggers are passionate.
Andrew: Have an internal filter. For example: involving animals could get you in trouble. [Seriously, some people think everything is animal cruelty. Have you seen the commenters at CuteOverload?]

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (3)
Filed under: Social Media Marketing
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent Social Media Marketing posts is better than the last!

3 Replies to “Igniting Viral Campaigns: SES San Jose”

I appreciate the time and effort you put into this recap. I couldn’t attend and I am thankful for detailed recaps like yours.

Susan,you see I knew you were blogging that is why I made sure not to upset you!!!…The college dating site was an intersting concept. I wonder how much research was done for viability.

Great recap Susan — thanks for making it so clear!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Serving North America based in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Bruce Clay, Inc. | PO Box 1338 | Moorpark CA, 93020
Voice: 1-805-517-1900 | Toll Free: 1-866-517-1900 | Fax: 1-805-517-1919