No matter what you sell, the cheapest way to get your message out there is to get your customers to do it for you. But how do you create content that practically compels readers to pass it on? What makes someone decide to take the step of introducing your content to someone who trusts them?
Seth Godin, in his excellent book Unleashing the IdeaVirus, advises marketers to focus on the sneezers, those idea-passing folks that are always looking for a new insider tip to confide. These idea spreaders have huge social networks that they constantly pass ideas to.
But why? What motivates sneezers to “e-mail a friend” your Web page? Reputation. They like to be seen as “in the know” or “on the cutting edge” or (add your own “trendiness” cliché here). Sending good ideas to others is the main way they enlarge and strengthen their social connections, whom they call in when they need help. If you can tap into the kinds of ideas that spreaders want to spread, they’ll do the work for you.
First it helps if you can identify your sneezers. Do you have any special “insider” status you can offer that provides early peeks into your strategies and ideas? Many customers might be interested, but sneezers certainly will be.
Affiliate links are the simplest example of insider status—let your customers refer other customers and get paid to do so. When Bass Pro Shops introduced customer reviews, it randomly awarded $100 gift cards to reviewers to get the contributions started.
Six Apart, a leading blog software company, has introduced a blogging service called Vox for private blogs—the authors control which people are allowed to read them. Marketers can easily take advantage of this kind of private channel to hold trusted conversations with influential customers.
Do you allow your best customers to help you shape your strategy? If you do, they are far more likely to talk about it, because they helped create it. Do you provide wikis or other community features that help them talk to each other? Help sneezers meet other sneezers so that your message flows faster between networks.
And, as we discussed earlier, make it easy. Put the buttons on your site that helps spreaders to introduce your content to others, such as “Digg this” and “print this page.” Make sure your e-mail forwards easily without getting scrambled by e-mail software. These simple ideas are the essence of “do it wrong quickly.”
But most of all, value the relationship you have with your sneezer. Let them know how important they are. Make them feel special. And never (never!) compromise their relationship with their social network. If you decide that it would be a great idea to send an offer to every e-mail address that you got from sneezers who e-mailed a friend, then expect the sneezers to start spreading someone else’s ideavirus.