Be Contagious... Spread The Word!

"Melissa" invaded our computers in late 1999, then "I Love You" in 2000. A year later, the "homepage.htm" attachment virus is wreaking havoc online. And now, in 2002, we have not been spared. A fury of Klez.Gen worms as they spread like wildfire has brought the web to a crawl at times.

Of course, we should never open any attachments from unknown sources. It's a warning we are told again and again. However, the devious (and perhaps even brilliant) way these viruses in particular work is that, after opening the email attachment, it sends more virus-infected emails to people in your address book without your knowledge.

(By the way, I must add that the attachment's file carries the extension "htm.vbs," which is a visual basic script file and not an HTML file -- which, at first glance, can be confusing. In addition, once opened it exploits a flaw in Outlook's email reader, thus only Microsoft Outlook users are susceptible.)

While most anti-virus warnings tell us to never open an email attachment from someone unknown to us, how can we desist doing so when the email apparently comes from someone we do know? In fact, that's the real flaw such viruses exploit: It's not the software per se, but the instant credibility such emails are given. They ostensively originate from people we know, making them unsuspectingly harmful and instantly trusted.

Because of that vulnerability, they spread like wildfire.

But this "human flaw" can also be used to a marketer's advantage. Often called "viral marketing," the object is to have the knowledge of one's business or website spread on the web -- like a virus -- through other people's efforts.

By freely propagating a file, a link, an email, an ebook or even an advertisement, the knowledge of your existence on the web literally proliferates through other people's efforts. Such forms of viral publicity can become quite effective --> and the news about you can spread quickly and effortlessly.

If your online business is unique, focuses on a niche or is the first in some category, the knowledge of your existence will spread almost naturally. But using the Internet as a way to automate, leverage and increase the spread of that message can help to multiply your marketing ... Exponentially.

For example, viral marketing, which is also called "word-of- mouse," often uses small files (such as freeware, ebooks and even videos, like the recent "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" craze) that can be easily downloaded and spread around. It can also be web-based (such as traffic generating scripts, like referral systems, affiliate programs and greeting cards).

But one question remains: Is viral marketing limited to the electronic realm? Does it need to be web-based? Not really.

Word can spread online with results that are faster and more far-reaching than any other form of word-of-mouth advertising. Add an element of curiosity, and your "message" will populate emails, message forums, newsgroups and websites -- as if on their own, like a virus. Thus, if you can create some kind of "buzz" about your business, site or product, or even any kind of buzz through which you are visible, you've got it made!

No need for files, web-based scripts or even a website.

Here's a case in point. Nearly half a million people a day were calling a New Jersey investment firm's voice mail just to hear the sound of a duck quacking. Their automated reception, which began with those typical corporate prompts, such as "To request a new account kit, press two," included as its last option: "If you would like to hear a duck quack, press seven."

The brokerage firm, which has a mallard as its mascot, decided to throw in the sound of a duck quacking as an option on their toll-free line -- it was a joke at first. Being the last in a series of seven message prompts, they had thought that nobody would notice or even care. But in a very short amount of time, people started calling the line to hear the sound of the duck, tying up the brokerage's phone system in the process.

With the phone number circulating throughout the Internet and by email, more than 270,000 people called the toll-free number by the end of the first month. "We didn't do anything," said the brokerage's CEO. "We just left it on our voice mail -- the Internet took care of the rest."

Nevertheless, the first step in viral marketing is to develop your unique selling proposition, or USP. Aside from all the other steps, if you master this one you will create word-of- mouth advertising as a natural byproduct, without effort.

But if you want some help, then in order to springboard your viral marketing you should add an element of curiosity to your efforts. (By the way, why do you think most "how to" types of information products are sold on the basis of "secrets" they contain? People are just plain curious -- it's human nature.)

Then leverage your marketing by using tools that can help the viral process -- and you will multiply your visibility quite rapidly. In addition to referral traffic generators, strategic alliances and affiliate programs, these specific tools can be used to stimulate both curiosity and third party referrals.

Write an ebook. Program a mini-app. Offer a checklist. Record a sound byte. Digitize a video. And distribute them freely.

Speaking of affiliate programs, they are probably one of the easiest and most popular methods of viral marketing. Online, they have made companies, such as, synonymous with the word "ecommerce." Using other people's efforts to help expand your reach online, generate traffic and sales, and even recruit other affiliates, has never been easier.

It's risk-free, cost-free and hands-free.

The technology is available. So why not use it? Check out the following software programs, CGI scripts and others that can help manage your own affiliate program:


With your own Affiliate Program, you can recruit affiliates who will help propagate the knowledge of your existence on the web and, like a virus, multiply your online marketing punch. If not, create a file that offers something of value to people within your target market and distribute it freely. At the very least, create a "buzz" about your business or website. It may "catch on!"

About the Author

Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, author, speaker and consultant. His specialty are long copy sales letters and websites. Watch him rewrite copy on video each month, and get tips and tested conversion strategies proven to boost response in his membership site at today.

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