by: John Caddell

Viral marketing is the 21st century version of the search for the Holy Grail--deeply desired and rarely attained. Why are campaigns that "tip" into mass acceptance from a small initial base so rare? Perhaps, as David Weinberger writes,
Insofar as it's about communicating a message, it's still alienating. As Doc said succinctly so many years ago, "There's no market for messages."

Thankfully, marketers have a less-sexy but more effective method of reaching their audiences--what Duncan Watts and Jonah Peretti in the May Harvard Business Review (free link) call "big-seed marketing."

Watts (who was responsible for one of the Top 5 Breakthrough Ideas reviewed in a prior was Weinberger) and Peretti urge marketers to abandon the idea of finding the core group of influencers and creating a message so compelling that they can't help but share it with three friends, and so on and so on.

Instead, create an ad that's easily resent (using technology such as ForwardTrack) to a large number of people--the big seed--and let those who are interested send it along. Rather than an ever-increasing viral epidemic, you get an advertisement that lives for a while until it slowly peters out. With a large enough "seed," the results are significant.

The Oxygen network used such a method to promote a fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina victims, and found that 7,000 messages sent ended up reaching more than 20,000 readers.

So stop searching for influentials and send your message widely. Let the influentials select themselves.

(Photo by Accidental Angel via flickr)

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