Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Viral Marketing and Community Building: The Basics

Posted on: August 16, 2007

Startups bet their money – quite literally – on economical and cost-saving means of operations. Atleast thats the straight forward and in many cases, the right way of doing it.

Raising capital to market makes sense when you are in the growth curve, the opportunity is clearly identified and you want to capitalize on the market that you have been preparing, but otherwise it could be a little too early to make that move and you could end up hurting yourself, than benefitting. The worst case scenario is when a company moves in too early, burns out loads of cash in preparing a market and failing to monetize it, and the second mover uses it to its advantage and plays it economically and reaps all the benefit.

So, in coming back to the topic, Viral Marketing is still the best way to go when it comes to launching a startup product, in creating that buzz, and in getting filtered and quality feedback before making the big bang of unleashing your product/service into the world.

There are a few things you want to keep in mind to evaluate if Viral Marketing is even a scope for you to consider, or you might have to look at alternatives. Here goes the list:

THE BASIC: You can’t create a viral marketing strategy, or a community without a way for people to contribute. Pepsi can never have a viral marketing campaign, simply because it is a direct consumer product and that is that. They can take feedbacks, but whether they get incorporated or not, is simply not guaranteed and such a stance can extinguish any spark of community or viral initiatives among its consumers.

You don’t build a product and try to viral market it. Your product has to be built from the core on a problem that is viral and hence the solution will prove to be viral in being used.

1. Build a product that people can tell stories about.
The best case scenario is when a user or a blogger picks up your product, understands what all it can do and then starts coming up with scenarios as to where all your product would be relevant and would make sense. When they start coming up with stories, or even can relate to their own travails of life and how your product is a life saver, you are all ready for a viral marketing campaign to begin.

Rule #1: There is no viral marketing without everyone who picks up your product also becomes ambassadors for your product.

2. Manage the supply. Keep the Demand.

This is also a crucial thing when building a product and going through the feedback process. One of the things you come across when building a web service is that you will quickly realize that most of your beta invite applications will be from people who possibly are from a certain genre of people – either hardcore developers looking for extension APIs, people scouting for new applications, or people who are bloggers. In all cases they are extremes, and the feedback you receive will also have that flavor in them. It is very important to ensure that your reviewers don’t run the roadmap of your product, but are mere guidelines and a voice in your head. It should be your vision that should drive the development and releases.

That said, you also need to listen and incorporate some of the needs of these first adopters. So, I would strongly suggest to pick who your first reviewers are going to be, ensure that they can represent whom your primary customers would be, and incorporate most of their reviews and requests. Be picky about who gets to see your product first, and be serious about their feedback.

The second point is that, limited supply also lets them know that they are not reviewing a product that has already gone mainstream, but they feel part of the process.

Rule #2: Involve those who are crucial.

3. Build the Brand. Make it easy to identify.
You can cite this as a direct applied example from the blogging world – blog badges. People are willing to stand for something that they lend their names towards. Make it easy for people to announce their stance.

Rule #3: Make it simple.

4. Build a community. Let people vocalize. Make it Transparent.
There are users, developers and there are folks from the media… and then the pyramid rises merging with it the higher users that you can eventually target, mostly formed of conglomerates of the primary users. People like to know what others are saying.
In many cases, a community is very much a fibonacci series. The third step doesnt come unless one adds the other two numbers in front of it, and so on – and that cant happen unless everything is out there in the open.

Rule #4: Promote, push, and encourage transparent community. This is the premise upon which Facebook survives today – they were not afraid of making an open apology, which stole the hearts of many and propelled them to a bigger arena

5. Count your lucky Stars. Credit them.
Within every community there is a volunteer who is quite active. They say the general rule is that the community is divided by the 80 – 19 – 1 proportion. The 1% are those who are actively contributing and make it a cult to be part of what you are doing. The 19% are those who occassionally contribute and the 80% are those who are mere consumers. You need the 80% and cant expect much. But how effectively you translate the 19% to add to the 1% and grow them will make a difference.

Let me give you an example. The entire wikipedia work is a result of 1% of its community. We all know the size and quality that they keep up within that community. Imagine 19% more adding to that. You can expect an exponential of 19x in return. That speaks for itself.

Rule #5: blur the lines between your core team and the 1% of active contributors.

Truth be told, there are very few products that can truly benefit from this marketing strategy. There are a fair bit of Forced Viral Strategies that companies lately have adapted, which focuses on luring one with a bait and forcing the next one to adapt to benefit from the service. Most facebook applications seem to follow that trend. I will write about that more in the days to come.

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2 Responses to "Viral Marketing and Community Building: The Basics"

Viral Marketing and Community Building: The Basics

Viral Marketing is still the best way to go when it comes to launching a startup product, in creating that buzz, and in getting filtered and quality feedback before making the big bang of unleashing your product/service into the world.

Hi Vijay,
Excellent article.
Just to add that while beta is good to get valuable feedback, a lot of startups these days remain in beta for a long time thereby loosing first movers advantage. one needs to balance feedback & speed to market these days, caution indeed needs to be taken not to launch a shabby product though.

No product is perfect when launched and is progressively elaborated specially true for web 2.0 scene.

Cheers
Tarun

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