Let’s start with a riddle: which would you choose?
- A million dollars right now
- One cent today, two cents tomorrow and four cents the next day, and so on for the next 30 days.
Given this is a post about viral marketing and that you’re doing a riddle, you might suspect that option two is the better choice. You’re right, but I bet you don’t know just how right.
Choosing option two would earn you a whopping $9.7 million more than taking the $1 million up front.
And, in this scenario, if you were able to continue doubling your money for an additional four days, you’d become the richest person in the world by a margin of $100 billion. 10 days after that, on day 44, you’d be worth more than the value of all goods and services produced in the entire world.
That’s the power of exponential growth, and the objective of viral marketing.
What is Viral Marketing?
Viral marketing refers to any marketing activities that aim to organically spread a message from person-to-person in an exponential-like fashion.
Viral growth is organic as it spreads by person-to-person sharing, not continued marketing on your end. The goal is to create something that people want to share.
Exponential-like because true exponential growth (the mathematical kind) is impossible. But, no worries, a growth rate 100 times slower than true exponential growth would still create the most successful marketing campaign of all time.
How to Go Viral
There are two main types of viral marketing: inside-out and outside-in.
The classic example is the telephone: the more people who have phones, the more people you can call, so the more valuable a phone is to you. If you have a phone and no one else does, it has no value whatsoever because you can’t call anyone.
A more recent example is CharityX, a new way to give to charity that uses inside-out virality to help anyone make a huge impact for charity. You can choose any cause you care about, and thanks to viral marketing, make a bigger impact than you ever thought possible.
Here’s a great example. In 2014, a young man named Pete Frates was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. A born leader, Pete soon wanted to know what it would take to cure the disease.
“One billion dollars.”
Pete was up for the challenge. He ignited a movement of people around the world who would dump a bucket of ice-cold water on their heads, donate a little bit to the ALS foundation, and pass it on. In the eight weeks following, the Ice Bucket challenge would raise $115m to fight ALS.
Two Viral Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses
If you don’t have inside-out virality (most companies don’t), your only choice in viral marketing is to create an outside-in campaign, like the Ice Bucket Challenge. And frankly, a truly viral marketing campaign, one of Ice Bucket level growth, is immensely difficult to do and depends just as much on luck as it does on skill.
So, are small businesses hopelessly left out of the viral game?
Nope! You can take advantage of viral marketing in any type of business of any size. Here are the two easiest viral marketing techniques for small businesses.
1) Run a Contest or Giveaway
Contests are an easy and effective way for any business to dabble in viral marketing. Here’s how to create your own free contest:
- Choose prizes. If giving your product or service away for free works as a prize, that’s perfect! Otherwise choose gift cards or prizes somehow related to what you do.
- Define your goal. What do you want people to do? Share a post? Take a picture? Use a hashtag? Follow you on Twitter? The key is to choose a goal that only asks people to perform a simple task that that they already know how to do.
- Share. Once your contest is set up, share it with the world. Post on your website and all social channels. If, like many new or small businesses, you don’t have a very large following, you might look into using Facebook ads to promote your contest.
Example Instagram Contest
Chicago caterer Tasty Catering frequently runs Instagram contests that allow people to win various picnic-themed prizes by sharing photos from picnic events and using their contest hashtag: #MyKindofPicnic.
Example Viral Video Giveaway
Milwaukee-based Zilli Hospitality Group runs a yearly win a wedding contest that asks soon-to-be couples to create and share a video about their dream wedding. The winner gets prize money toward their wedding. ZHG’s 2016 contest actually went viral, with one video generating over 50k views.
2) Set up a Referral Program
A brick and mortar business can start a referral program in less than an hour. Here’s a simple framework for getting started:
- Choose a reward. Gift cards are perfect. Choose an amount that makes sense for your product or service. If you sell $10 widgets, it doesn’t make sense to offer anything more than $1, so a referral program might not be right for you. But if you sell $10,000 events, you can offer a $25, $50 or even $150 referral reward and still make plenty of profit. The aim is to balance profit with the incentive for referrers.
- Update your website. Add a page to your website that explains the program and allows to report people they have referred. You should also add a field to your contact form along the lines of “How did you hear about us?” and include an option for “referral”.
Side note: this is also a great way to start tracking your leads.
- Tell your customers! If your customers are used to receiving email from you, you might try an email blast. At the very least, add a new blog post and share on your social channels.
Pro-tip: add a link to your new referral page in your email signatures.
Software or ecommerce companies must use a different strategy that allows for automated tracking of online referrals. The good news is that nowadays even those with limited computer skills can set up an online referral program in a few hours thanks to referral software.
Example Small Business Referral Program
Check out this simple and effective referral page from Windows Catering in Alexandria, VA. I bet you can set up a similar page up in 10 minutes!
How to Apply This to Your Business
Any business of any size can take advantage of viral marketing, the simple ideas I covered in this post are just the start.
I hope reading this post has inspired you to think of a few ways to bring viral marketing into your company. Remember, a simple referral program can be set up in less than an hour. Give it a try, there’s nothing to lose!