Speed Kills: Viral Marketing and Customer Trust

The temperature's rising on viral marketing, a new report from Jupiter Research claims. "Viral Marketing: Budgeting Beyond Social Media," contends that about one of every five advertisers plans to employ viral marketing strategies in the upcoming year and more than half of those advertisers (52 percent) will be completely new to viral marketing. This viral explosion will mean a steep increase of marketing content in the social media space, according to the findings. While a sharp interest in networking sites and the obvious cost effectiveness of these strategies are driving more and more marketers to this space, marketers will have to battle a lack of customer trust to get their message through. Emily Riley, analyst at Jupiter Research and author of the report, explains that increased social activity online is responsible for the upturn in viral marketing. "The viral effect that used to happen offline--word of mouth--is now exponentially easier and faster. What you end up having are things that spread very quickly across millions of people." The study found that viral marketers spend more than 40 percent of their total advertising budget on Web-based marketing, more than double what other online marketers put into online. Viral marketers are also more willing to spend a larger portion of their budgets on more experimental forms of online advertising. The most popular technique for viral marketers is to tie online advertising in with offline events (44 percent), followed by advertising within blogs (40 percent), advertising that encourages consumers to contribute (38 percent), and advertising within games (35 percent). Other popular forms are using podcasts, instant messaging, and mobile messaging to reach out to customers. But marketers will have to be careful delving into this space. A mere 21 percent of consumers say that they trust product information on social media sites. Although 43 percent of consumers report that they trust professional reviews found online and 40 percent trust companies' Web sites, only 8 percent will put faith in messages found on blogs. To combat this lack of trust Riley tells companies, "remain true to the brand that you're representing. Just because you're in the social space, don't radically alter the method." She also suggests that marketers should, "provide identifiable links back to your site and true product information." The report notes that companies should be certain that there are no possible detractors in their product, as viral advertising is impossible to completely control; one defect, once spread, could completely derail a campaign. Along with securing customer trust, tying viral marketing into search, company Web pages, and offline efforts also helps to bolster the effectiveness of a campaign, the study finds. Thirty-one percent of consumers say that they most often use a search engine to find out more about a product they see featured in an online ad and 22 percent will visit the company's Web site. Investing in search and site functionality is therefore crucial if a company wants to reap all the benefits of its viral efforts. "Viral marketing campaigns don't need to be executed in a vacuum," Riley says. "A combination of viral marketing tactics, along with Web-site design and search engine marketing and optimization, really give a whole 360 picture for your customer." Related articles: The Promise of Digital Advertising
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