Two of the most popular buzz words in the online marketing realm right now are link baiting and viral marketing. These two tactics are a great way to build links and to build branding when constrained by small marketing budgets, but there are several things you need to remember when planning these types of campaigns.

In this ten part series, I'll be covering many of the things that you need to take into consideration when planning a link baiting or viral marketing campaign. While there's no need to integrate all of them into every campaign, understanding what they are and how they work can go a long way toward helping you plan an effective launch strategy.

In part one of the series I look at the importance of a good headline. In part two, we explored the need to make your campaign easy to spread. Today, I'll be helping you understand how to find and exploit motivating factors in order to get more people interested in your product or service.

Human being are all driven by something. Sometimes it's the need to fit in, sometimes it's the need to explore, sometimes it's the need to be happy, sometimes it's the need to be seen as a leader...the list goes on for miles. One of the keys to getting people to spread your ideas is to find out what motivates them and to make sure that your campaign appeals to it.

With that in mind, let's take a look at three common ways that companies exploit motivators in order to get people to participate and spread the word.

The Need to Have Power

One of the goals of viral marketing and link baiting is to identify thought leaders and to launch your campaigns via those individuals. This works because thought leaders tend to have great influence over the masses and by giving them the opportunity to once again "lead the way" you build their reputation as a source of unique information which allows them to maintain a position of power.

A great example of this concept in action was the launch of Google's Gmail service. Instead of opening the service up to the public right off the bat, they made the service invitation only and gave the original account holders (mostly Google staff and friends) the ability to earn invitations that they could pass on.

This created instant buzz without Google ever spending a single penny on advertising. Why? Because having a Gmail account before everyone else (and scoring a good username) became an instant display of online power. Invitations were begged and borrowed and even bought (on eBay) as Internet users scrambled to prove that they were "connected" enough to the people in power to snag their own accounts.

The Need to Be First

While this technique is closely tied to the need to have power, the need to be first tends to be successful no matter how many levels down the viral path you head. In these types of instances, it's the rush to be the person that passes on the cool story, the cool viral video or to point to the latest YouTube clip.

It doesn't matter that the person in possession of the video may be the seventh or eighth person in the chain to get it, it doesn't even matter if one of their friends or co-workers got it the same time they did, it simply matters that they be the first person to pass it on.

A great example of this concept was Office Max's "Elf Yourself" campaign. (I'd link to the site, but Office Max shut it down and now forwards the URL to their home page...will people NEVER learn?) The idea behind this campaign was that you could upload a photo of yourself and watch as the site turned you into an elf. You could also call a toll free number and record a message which the site would then change to make you sound like you'd escaped from Snow White's cottage.

People uploaded images, snagged their own "elfed" photo and passed it along to friends to invite them to do the same. The campaign was dubbed a huge success as more than 36 million people "elfed" themselves. In fact, the average time on site for the campaign was 15 minutes and drew coverage from CNN, Vh1, Good Morning America and quite a few other media outlets.

The Need to Fit In

Another motivating factor (especially if you are targeting teenagers) is the need to fit in. Sometimes viral and link baiting campaigns spring up unexpectedly because a more traditional campaign or outreach strikes a chord with the target audience. In these cases, peer pressure rules the day and the race is on to make sure that you have everything that your friends have.

While marketers traditionally think of these campaigns in terms of targeting the teenage crowd (your friends are using Moto Razrs and iPods, why don't you have one?), the truth is that there's space for this on many levels. Techies fall prey to it when the latest and greatest computer components come out. People that customize their cars end up jumping on the bandwagon when a new trend takes hold. Even women fall prey to this technique as they start to wish for things that other women have.

That brings me to my next example. With scrap booking already one of the hottest trends among moms and grandmothers, ($30 billion and getting bigger by the day) the companies that make scrap booking products are doing booming business. Fiskars, long a popular brand, but fast losing ground to cheaper products sold by mass retailers, decided to launch an ambassador program to reach out to the scrap booking community.

The program launched with four women acting as the voice of the company. Each woman appeals to a different demographic and has her own blog where she talks about her latest projects and what Fiskars products they used to create it.

Sounds simple enough, right? The "Fiskateers" program has been so successful that efforts to track the mentions of Fiskars products on forums, blogs and at local events has shown a 5 fold increase in weekly mentions of the products in just four months.

Become their friend and invite them into your circle. Just make sure you let them know that part of being in your circle means using your products.

Other Options

There are quite a few other options. You can appeal to someone's sense of charity by starting a campaign that makes a donation each time someone visits your web site or purchases a product. You can appeal to their sense of vanity by making it clear that your products will help them be a better person. (Dove did a great job of this with their Evolution campaign.)

Basically, you just need to ask yourself what appeals to your target audience. What drives them? What makes them tick? Then, you need to figure out a way to work that into your campaign.

In part four of this series I'll explore the idea of finding and utilizing existing networks to help the word spread quickly.

April 27, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Making Link Bait and Viral Marketing Work - Part Three