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John Hlinko, Author of ‘Share, Retweet, Repeat’ on Hitting the Viral Trifecta

John Hlinko|Author of ‘Share, Retweet, Repeat’
Tuesday, 3 Jan 2012 | 11:17 AM ET

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Hitting the Viral Trifecta, by John Hlinko, author of “Share, Retweet, Repeat: Get Your Message Read and Spread.”

Share, Retweet, Repeat - by John Hlinko
Share, Retweet, Repeat - by John Hlinko

The term “viral marketing” has been around so long that it’s become clichéd. However, the deeper penetration of the Internet combined with the advent of hyper-viral social-media platforms mean that the ability to go viral is now greater than ever – as is the potential reward.

The key is hitting the “Viral Trifecta:” 1) Crafting spread-worthy content; 2) Finding those most likely to spread it, and 3) Giving it to them in “spread-friendly” places.

All too often people obsess on just one of these three things, to the exclusion of the others. But if you want to increase your odds of going viral, all three are critical.

Crafting Spread-Worthy Content

Think of your message recipients as if they were news reporters. You’re not just trying to inform them, you’re trying to “pitch” them, so they will spread your message to their readers. It’s not just about giving them information; it’s about giving them something that will make them look good if they spread it.

  • Use the “118th email” test: You’ve crafted a message to send to your list. Before you hit “send”, imagine a recipient just back from a hard day at work, with 117 emails in the inbox, and yours number 118—buried somewhere in the middle. Would it get read? Would it make an impact? If it doesn’t get noticed, it can’t get spread.
  • Make it novel: Include something truly new, in content or form. People like to spread new things, since it make them look ahead of the curve.
  • Ride an existing wave: Is there something big in the news? Some Internet meme already running wild? Something your recipients are already talking about? Try to make your message relevant to it, so you can ride along with the conversation.
  • Use humor: Think of the last 5 emails you spread to others. How many of them were humorous? Most? All?

Whatever you do, make sure to test. Try sending different messages to subgroups of your email list, and see which ones spread the most. Keep track of which types of Facebook and Twitter messages generate the most shares and retweets. Get creative, but get the data, and use it.

Finding the Spreaders

Nearly everyone can spread a message to many others, but not everyone actually does it. Fewer still do it effectively.

How can you find and engage these effective spreaders, the “multipliers?”

  • Look for those active on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms (services such as Rapleaf enable you to scan your email list to see this). These platforms make it easier to spread a message, since the “tell a friend” part is built in. Plus, those who join social media platforms are more likely to be overt about their opinions and actions, even when they’re elsewhere. After all, someone who is more private by nature probably wouldn’t be active in a “social” media platform, right?
  • Look for those with a large audience, i.e., big email lists, Facebook and Twitter followers, etc.: If you were pitching a reporter, you’d certainly give priority to ones with a readership of millions over those with a readership of dozens. Do the same with your customers and supporters.
  • Look for data that shows evidence of viralizing: Look for those sharing items on Facebook, retweeting your posts, and spreading your emails. The precise mechanism for the last one will vary, depending on your email system, but if it allows for personalized, trackable links, at the very least you could see whose links are showing up being clicked multiple times, and reasonably extrapolate that this is because of spreading.

The reality is, 5% of your supporters will likely do 95% of the spreading. Sometimes, it’s even more extreme. In one campaign, while scanning click totals, I found one multiplier whose spreading had resulted in over 1,100 clicks! It turns out he was a very prominent blogger. In another instance, I discovered one of the multipliers was actually a major Hollywood director – a very powerful ally to have well above and beyond email.

"Nearly everyone can spread a message to many others, but not everyone actually does it. Fewer still do it effectively."" -Author, "Share, Retweet, Repeat", John Hlinko

Once you’ve found your spreaders, you can make them even more “spread-willing” by doing things like skewing your messages towards them, and engaging them at a deeper level (inviting them to special events, giving them sneak peaks at new products or compelling news, etc.)

Using Viral Communications Platforms

While you may have eminently valid reasons to use television, radio, print, and other mediums to get a message seen and heard, if you want to get it spread, you should focus on the Internet. Your message may be equally compelling and spread-worthy in print as in an email, but it’s a heck of a lot easier for someone to click a “forward” button than to rip out the print piece, photocopy it and distribute it by hand.

Social media platforms in particular lend themselves to viral spreading, since, again, the “tell a friend” process is basically automated. That’s the whole point of social media – and that’s what makes it so spread-friendly.

Work, But Worth It

No approach can guarantee that your message will go viral, but if you craft spread-worthy content, get it into the hands of eager and able spreaders, and do it via the mediums that lend themselves most to spreading, your odds for viral success are much, much greater.

John Hlinko is the author of “Share, Retweet, Repeat: Get Your Message Read and Spread.” As one of five finalists for PRWeek’s “PR Professional of the Year” award, Hlinko has helped rally millions of supporters for causes, companies and products. Visit his website at www.shareretweetrepeat.com.

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks

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