As if their jobs aren’t challenging enough, marketers are now taking on the added stress of trying to develop the next viral sensation, the equivalent in our industry of creating the next hit song. Thanks to the Internet, marketers—like producers in the underground-music scene—are using low-cost methods to connect with communities of friends, relatives, colleagues, peers, and people with common interests and tastes.
If the inexpensive delivery model isn’t compelling enough for you, consider this: Last year, more Internet users worldwide accessed member communities than email—66.8 percent compared to 65.1 percent, according to a Nielsen Online report. This presents a tremendous opportunity for marketers. But just because viral marketing can be low in cost doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to lose. On the contrary, you could lose quite a bit, such as your brand reputation, your customer trust, and eventually revenue.
Marketers may debate the relative merits of one viral marketing strategy over another—the niche remains, after all, more art than science—but it’s pretty clear what won’t work. For starters, measuring the wrong metrics is a surefire way to derail a good customer relationship initiative or viral marketing strategy. In this month’s Customer Centricity column, “You Are What You Measure” (page 12), Lior Arussy maintains that “the measurements you track are an indication of the customer relationships you want to have.”
To further illustrate this point, look at the plight of an out-of-touch contact center manager. If he determines that keeping call handle time to a minimum is valuable to the organization because it cuts costs, he may be doing more harm than good, especially if his customers believe that the additional time on the phone is valuable to them. In this scenario, he is detracting value from his customer relationships by rushing those customers off the phone, which basically tells them that the company has little interest in listening to them. Naturally, many will get frustrated and some may even take their business elsewhere.
Instead of shutting customers out, Arussy recommends communicating with customers to collect ideas for continual improvement. These ideas, he suggests, should result in products and services that aim not merely to please customers but to surprise them. This approach can be applied to any delivery model, because it encourages organizations to connect with their customers and add value.
If your goal is to launch a viral campaign simply to increase your brand awareness, you’re flirting with danger. I’m willing to bet that companies that create a message or gimmick in the hopes of stirring up a viral frenzy fail more than those that simply try to connect with and bring something valuable to their customers.
People join online communities to bond with other members. The way they do this is by sharing something valuable. If you want your organization to become a trusted part of an online community, you have to do the same. (For more viral strategies, read our cover story, “The Cure for the Common Virus,” on page 24, by Associate Editor Jessica Tsai.)
When it comes to creating successful viral campaigns, consider this: The currency valued by those who share items online, according to Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, senior analyst at Forrester Research, is not money, but reputation. To succeed online, an organization must connect with customers and prospects and deliver content that either preserves or enhances its reputation.
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