By Matt Smith, Co Founder and Director of Strategy, The Viral Factory.
The other week my business partner Ed described how to create a viral by comparing the process to that of writing a pop hit.
I have been wracking my brain to find a way to compare seeding a viral to promoting a pop hit so as to elegantly link the two pieces. Annoyingly I have failed: seeding a viral is nothing like getting airplay for a popular song.
Actually the more I think about it, seeding is not really comparable to anything. It’s the bastard lovechild of PR, media planning/buying, shameless self-promotion and sucking up to people. The closest I could get was comparing it to deliberately infecting a tube train full of people with swine flu by sneezing in their faces, which is nasty and unhelpful.
Before explaining how to do it, let’s start with what it is. “Seeding” has come to mean different things to different people. We use the word in the context of a viral marketing campaign to mean anything aimed at getting people to share a viral.
Viral spread is a random and unpredictable thing which can happen immediately, or take ages to get going. Marketing campaigns, by contrast, usually have start dates, and viral marketing campaigns are no exception. Seeding helps start viral spread on demand.
So how is it done? Well the easy answer is pick up the phone to us and we’ll do it for you. But let’s assume, just for jollies, that you’re insane enough to want to have a crack at it on your own: a few words of warning: it’s hard work. It takes time. There’s no magic formula. If you get it wrong, not only will your campaign fail, but you’re likely to piss a lot of people off. Welcome to our world.
Seeding activity breaks down into two sorts: “paid for placement” and “outreach”. Paid for placement, as the name suggests, involves finding websites that you’d like your viral to be featured on (usually because they are some combination of influential and popular with an appropriate audience), and paying them to feature it.
Research which sites you should be on then ask the client for lots of money to pay them with. Easy!
Outreach is the harder bit, and is usually what people mean when they refer to seeding. It involves “reaching out”, or “contacting” to use the proper English word, to influential people online and making them aware of your viral.
In the context of Web 2.0, influential people usually run a blog, or have a highly followed or respected Twitter, or Digg or Reddit account. When they post something, lots of other people see it, and many of those other people will re-post it.
You can’t pay these people to take your content, they find that insulting. They might accept a gift of some sort but don’t bank on it. The surest way to get them to take your viral is:
1) Already know them
2) Make something relevant and good
3) Give it to them while it’s still brand new
It’s a tricky business as I said before, so here’s a handy ‘cut out and keep’ guide on how to navigate the Web2.0osphere:.
1) Find the best people to talk to
Seeding doesn’t mean writing one email, and then sending it to every email address you can get your hands on. That will do you no good at all, in fact it will anger a lot of people, some of whom may be experts in doing nasty things to companies on the Internet. Think: who is most likely to be interested in what I’m promoting and – crucially – find it worthwhile telling other people about?
2) Get to know them
People generally don’t like unsolicited marketing crap from people they’ve never met, despite what some DM practitioners might have you believe. If your content is brilliant they might not mind, if it isn’t beware. If you have already been in contact with them and built up a relationship, then they are far, far more likely to respond.
3) Be highly respectful
In their world, these people are well known and influential – that’s why you’re getting in touch with them, remember? They are used to being treated with respect. You are approaching them with a piece of marketing material so you’d better treat them extra nicely or they’ll be rude to you, and possibly your client, possibly very publicly (they run an influential blog, remember?)
4) Contact them personally
An obvious corollary to rule No 3 – spamming people is the height of disrespect – is to contact people personally, whether by phone, email, IM or RG. And take the time to talk if they’re in the mood. If they ask questions, answer promptly and be friendly. Unlike in the real world, on the internet working in advertising isn’t an excuse to throw your weight around and behave like an arrogant twat.
5) Focus on what you can do for them, not the reverse
Unless they run a marketing blog, it is highly unlikely that anyone you reach out to will give a toss what your marketing objectives are. They’re interested in anything you can give them that will help them look cool and entertain their audience.
6) Make sure your content is portable
Do not expect anyone to be interested in helping you drive traffic to your website, even if it does have a cool quiz / game / competition / film on it. The quid pro quo is that you give them something that attracts traffic to their blog, not forces them to drive traffic away from it.
This means seeding embeddable content, in the form of an embed code. Plan your campaign accordingly. If you don’t know what an embed code is, stop reading now and Google it. Or give us a call. Seriously, you’re wasting precious time reading this article and you need help.
7) Use YouTube if you can
If you’re seeding video, there are lots of different video sharing sites you can use to host your clip, and then seed the embed code. If possible, choose YouTube. It’s the one people trust, and it gives the best data.
There you go. It’s time-consuming and delicate, but get it right and you’ll get an enthusiastic response, lots of highly engaged viewers and a very happy client.
But before you go rushing off to seed any old piece of video content you have lying about, one last word: you can safely ignore all the above if your content is mediocre or worse. You’ll be wasting your time and energy, it won’t work, and you’ll be made to feel small.
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