From startup to... sundown: comments on viral marketing
A common vein that I see in many VC/angel communiques is the keyword 'viral'. It is one of the two oft-abused jargon (the other being 'long-tail'). I have written before about how things get viral. It is a common perception that exclusivity breeds popularity. Kind of a oxymoron...but is there any truth in it?
This article in Always-On may provide a clue. The first step towards generating a viral buzz is to harness the power of the collective intelligence - the early-movers who have an ephemera of interest long enough to comment on it, write a passing mention to it. Identifying and targeting these people would be the starting point towards generating a word-of-mouth momentum.
For example consider the 'Pirillo Effect' - the founder of Lockergnome is famous for searching out mentions of his name and posting comments (earlier days I hope!!). It is entirely an effort to try and pinpoint the early-movers who would later help him to become a blogosphere celebrity. And guess what, it worked.
Though such marketing tactics work well (and are well desired by investors) for eyeball-retentive businesses, they might be off target for more mainstream businesses. For example, while it is quite understandable that Gmail generate a buzz by maintaining the facade of exclusivity to penetrate the already overcrowded email arena, I do not believe Salesforce.com would do as well employing similar tactics. That is because the channels of intelligence that potential customers of Salesforce subscribe to, are not mainstream. Instead they depend on single, focused sources of information, a.k.a Engadget, Extremetech, etc. Listening to feedback from such sources, may be passed off as listening to the community.
This was employed by Microsoft RSS team when theymodified their spec in response to Phil Ringnalda - a move which earned them accolades.
Of course, the Scobleizer helped too... but more on that next time.