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.

To recap:

Today, we'll look at the need for scalability. The goal of link baiting is to send links and traffic. The goal of viral marketing is to build brand and send customers. But what happens when your link building or viral marketing campaign is so successful you find your server crashing and your inventory depleted? What happens when you hope for the best, but fail to plan for your wildest dreams? You look really, really bad, that's what happens. This is why it's essential to understand the need for scalability and to build it into your campaign plan.

With that in mind, I'm going to take a quick look at three key areas that small businesses often fail to adequately plan for when they launch viral marketing or link baiting campaigns.

Server Loads

About three years ago, Search Engine Guide made the front page of Slashdot. That was back when a Slashdot listing sent enough traffic to crush even the strongest server under it's heavy load. The team at Gossamer Threads, our hosting company, noticed the sudden traffic spike and allocated the proper resources to keep our site sailing smoothly along. In fact, at the time this traffic spike happened, we weren't even on our own server yet, making Gossamer's ability to handle the load even more impressive. The lesson here was that Robert had taken the time to research and carefully select our hosting company rather than simply signing up with the cheapest option available.

I had a similar thing happen with The Lactivist during the pork board incident. While the traffic spike from that incident only took me up to about 80K visits in a two week period, that was still enough to eat through all my bandwidth in a matter of about two days' time. Thankfully, my host sent me notice that I was nearing my limit and did an automatic increase each of the four times that I burned through my allotted bandwidth during that month.

A host that doesn't or isn't able to act quickly can leave you in a tight spot if your campaign leads to a huge influx of traffic. After all, someone who visits your site and finds it down isn't likely to come back.

Inventory Loads

There's nothing more annoying than seeing a great price in a newspaper ad, heading straight to the store and finding a big empty space on the shelf. Especially if you've also heard about that price on TV, on the radio, in a magazine, via email and from your next door neighbor. Well, nothing more annoying unless you're the business owner sitting there smacking yourself in the head as you realize just how many more of item X you could have sold if you'd planned better.

The same thing holds true online. While it's a wonderful idea to take advantage of viral and link baiting campaigns to drive traffic and generate new sales, it's absolutely essential that you have a plan in place to make sure no one is surfing away from your site muttering about the stupid sold out notice. This holds especially true for discounts and coupons. After all, if you use a coupon to drive someone to your site, you'd better be willing to honor it, no matter how many people show up at the door. (That's a valuable lesson about the problem with "loss-leaders" often end up leading in terms of loss.)

If you are selling a product, anticipate massive success and be prepared with backup supplies. If you are offering a discount or coupon, ask yourself how many products you can sell at that price without losing money. If the answer isn't "as many as possible" then you might want to rethink your campaign plan.

Conversational Response

Sometimes the problem with a campaign that really takes off isn't so much what it does to your server or to your inventory, it's what it does to your online reputation management tactics. If you're used to being able to check out all of the new sites that are sending you traffic or watching the conversations that take place about you online, you might find yourself a little swamped under the mentions that come with a successful campaign.

A site can quite literally go from a handful of mentions a month to thousands of mentions in a single day with the right type of campaign. Have you ever asked yourself how you might handle that type of influx? How will you monitor to see if the response is positive or negative? How will you respond to the posts that need clarification or to the posters that flat out get it wrong?

This is why it's important to have a solid reputation management plan in place before you launch a viral or link baiting campaign. That might mean hiring a service or it might simply mean setting up analytics and monitoring services that will help you keep tabs on the conversation.

In part eight of this series we'll look at the need to be able to act quickly. Since viral marketing and link baiting can often launch on their own or can change directions on a dime, it's absolutely essential that you build a marketing system that can maintain flexibility.

May 15, 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 Seven