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. In part three, I helped you understand how to find and exploit motivating factors in order to get more people interested in your product or service. Today we'll find out how to use existing networks to make sure the word spreads to the right audience quickly.

Since viral marketing and link baiting rely on conversation for the spread of the ideas, and since people are already communicating with each other online, finding and using these existing channels of communication is paramount to the success of your campaign. The Internet has allowed individuals around the globe to create online connections with people of similar interests. Finding the groups that are talking about things related to your viral offering and then helping the conversation spread through those channels will go a long way toward making sure that your message reaches the right people.

It's been said that the average person has influence over 8-12 people. That might include family, friends and co-workers. By extension, those same people have secondary influence over dozens (even hundreds) of people. With the advent of conversation on the Internet, that number has increased exponentially. One blogger can now reach millions of individuals with a single post.

So where do these conversations take place? For the most part, they can be broken down into four primary places.

Email Lists

Email lists are one of the oldest forms of mass conversation on the Internet. Long before people spent their days perusing forums or commenting on blogs, they conversed via email. Most people are familiar with the idea of email newsletters. (In fact, we offer up a few of those here at Search Engine Guide.) The problem with these, when it comes to viral marketing and link baiting, is the conversation only goes one way. That doesn't mean that a mention on an email newsletter can't have an impact, it simply means that it limits the conversation.

A better option for launching viral marketing and link baiting campaigns is to do some research on any listservs that appeal to your target audience. Sites like Yahoo Groups are a great place to start, since they have email lists on every topic under the sun. (There's actually a group for the Magic Bullet for pete's sake.) The site CataList also offers a large index of Listservs.

Once you've located a listserv that fits with your topic, take the time to browse the archives. Find out if it's ok to announce your campaign. If it is, create a unique and compelling post that's heavy on the value, low on sales. If it isn't, considering approaching some of the more prolific posters to see if they might be interesting in what you have to offer.

Discussion Forums

Before everyone decided they were tired of being one of many voices and ran off to start their own blog where they could be the sole voice, people had conversation in discussion forums. Despite the rapid increase in the number of blogs, people are still going to discussion forums to have conversation.

There are forums for any and every topic imaginable. From professional lawn services to salt water aquariums to independent films to Hello Kitty, I'm not lying when I say there really is a forum for every topic imaginable. Taking the time to do a little research to see what the popular forums are related to your offering can go a long way toward helping you reach a large, targeted audience.

It's important to remember that just because you've found a forum that might be interested in your campaign doesn't mean that it's ok to make a post about it. Taking the time to read the forums terms of service to see if you can share your campaign will go a long way toward staying in the good graces of the forum administrator. If an announcement is prohibited, then you'll either need to target a specific forum member, or join up and spend some time establishing credibility first.


At 71 million and counting, the number of blogs continues to explode. Bloggers around the world are sharing their thoughts in record numbers on topics as mainstream as the Viginia Tech Shootings and the 2008 Presidential elections to topics as obscure as knitted sushi and the Herculoids. With that in mind, the chances are good that there are blogs out there (and by extension, blog readers) that are interested in whatever it is you have to offer.

That's why it's essential to learn how to use tools like Technorati to research the topical blogs that reach your target audience. Take the time to find out what blogs are a good fit, how often those bloggers post, what they like to cover, how approachable they are and what their readership looks like.

The next step is to take the time to approach them. You can do this by opening a dialogue in their comments area (refrain from promoting your campaign, simply open conversation) or by emailing them directly. By follow the tactics of building a relationship in the hopes of building links, you should be able to establish a contact point for helping to spread your campaign.

Social Media Sites

In looking at some of the more traditional forms of online outreach, (did anyone else think it's funny that I'm already relegating blogs to "traditional" forms of outreach?) it's important not to neglect social media sites, one of the fastest growing conversation outlets on the web.

Whether it's online communities like MySpace, Facebook and Maya's Mom, social bookmarking sites like and furl, social news sites like reddit and Digg or visual communities like Flickr and YouTube, all manner of social media is growing at an astounding rate.

As with the other four categories, the goal is to find where your target audience is spending time so that you can communicate with them. Whether it's a Flickr group dedicated to the Mr. Bento lunch box or a YouTube Channel of adoring Nintendo fans, people are finding ways to integrate new technology to discuss their interests and their purchases.

Since the conversation tends to run in a different manner on these sites, you'll need to get a little creative in the ways that you approach things. That said, much like with blogs, listservs and discussion forums, you can always take the time to find the most respected members of the community and then approach them with some type of plan or campaign.

A Word of Advice

Above all, keep in mind that no one is going to talk about your campaign just because you want them to. If your idea isn't good enough for someone to easily want to talk about it, then it probably isn't good enough to go viral. Keep this in mind when putting together your proposals and if you run into a situation where no one wants to get in on the game.

In part five of this series I'll explore the idea of building relationships in your community in order to gain credibility and access to launch points.

April 30, 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 Four