Three Easy Steps to Test Your Viral Marketing Ideas

Viral marketing may be one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to market a product or service, but achieving success remains more of an art than a science. In fact, one of the most frustrating aspects of viral marketing is that you can spend a lot of time and money on what seems like a great idea, yet ultimately be faced with disappointing results. I’ve been playing around with a simple framework to put my viral ideas to the test before committing major resources. Call it “viral ideas split testing.” I think you’ll like it…

Step 1: Brainstorm your viral ideas

Try to come up with at least ten simple and original ideas—nothing too complex. If you want to create videos, consider creating black and white sketches or pictures with captions; you can use that later as the basis for your storyboard. If you plan to create tools, consider writing simple JavaScript prototypes first.

And what better place to draw inspiration for successful viral ideas than social media sites? Use the search function in Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon or other sites with keywords related to the topic of your campaign to find previously successful submissions.

Another good way is to modify your profile on StumbleUpon and limit it to the topic you want to research. Start stumbling and bookmark the best ideas you find. Remember, the goal is not simply to copy, but to use these as inspiration to come up with ideas that provide similar benefits.

Step 2: Test each idea on StumbleUpon Ads

Create a campaign for each idea on StumbleUpon Ads and select the most appropriate category. You can refine the campaign further by selecting country and other demographics. (Note that a lot of StumbleUpon users don’t fill out their profile completely and this will filter them out.)

You might not want to use your regular StumbleUpon account because you are testing, and may not want your friends or fans to see what you are up to.

StumbleUpon Ads also gives you immediate feedback about your campaigns based on the number of thumbs up and thumbs down. It is interesting to pay attention to the lack of thumbs up or down too. Based on the testing I’ve been doing, a large number of people don’t vote and that needs to be accounted for as well.

It is a good idea to leave the campaign running until you are able to collect feedback so that you can tell what you are doing right or wrong. Pause the campaigns with the lowest success rates. Use the information you gather to improve the content you are trying to push or to think of something completely different.

Step 3: Improve and offer your winning campaign

After tweaking your campaigns, you’ll successfully figure out the winning idea. Dedicate your time, money and resources on improving the content of that one. Pitch the content to one or more power Stumblers and Digg power users and watch your content spread like wildfire!

Do you have a viral marketing strategy? Please share it in the comments.

12 replies
  1. Jez
    Jez says:

    Providing the method behind the madness once again 😉
    Out of interest, how much success have you had with viral marketing?

  2. Web Design Newcastle
    Web Design Newcastle says:

    I really need to start making use of Digg and StumbleUpon more than I do. I can't help feeling I'm missing something.

  3. Jeff Quipp
    Jeff Quipp says:

    Great point testing it on stumble. My concern is that if the test gets too many thumbs down on Stumble, Stumble may choose not to serve it up anymore after necessary modifications are made to make it more popular.

    Will Stumble reconsider if its moved to an entirely different page, or will there be a cool-off period for the whole site?

  4. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Out of interest, how much success have you had with viral marketing?

    I just laid out a plan and started testing. I thought it would be good to share these tips as I discover them, vesus later when they might not be as effective.

    Will Stumble reconsider if its moved to an entirely different page, or will there be a cool-off period for the whole site?

    You can submit the page with a new URL and it will be treated like a new one (after they approve it).

    You will probably want to make the changes to the actual page and keep running the same campaign. Why? If you resubmit the same content with a new URL, the page can be seen again by the same users and they will probably vote you down. Not good.

  5. David Hopkins
    David Hopkins says:

    Nice idea. Had not heard of StumbleUpon Ads. The kind of feedback this could give you is priceless for serious online promotion.

    Personally, I think your viral ideas will be more successful if you make it appear that there is no real benefit in it for you. Saw a good video by Seth Godin speaking at Google about getting people to care about your brand as the best way to market yourself. I have been aware of this for some time, but Seth has some great insights, personal experiences and cases studies to really expand your understanding in this area.

    One viral idea I came up with recently, I’ll give you an example first. I have this site that lets you check your rankings on search engines. I thought I could add a button that would allow people to email their rankings to friends once they have been found. The idea behind this is that people want to brag or inform other people about their own achievements. If you have some article about SEO on your website and it has a button to email it to a friend, it is unlikely that many people will send the article to a friend because it is not about them. If you can create personalised information about them on your site that they will be proud of they are much more likely to tell other people. The instigator may be someone who only uses the internet for poking and email, they might not use Digg, have a blog etc., but the people they send it to might have a Digg account, a blog etc. Using this method could potentially tap into a new source of promotion that is hard to use – people who don’t have the ability to link or bookmark, but do have an email account.

    I can’t really think of any other good instances of where this could be used, but i’m sure a seasoned marketer like yourself could come up with something.


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  1. […] Three Easy Steps to Test Your Viral Marketing Ideas […]

  2. […] using forums as a staging platform to see how good your idea is, this could easily be the 4th step of Hamlet’s post. After all, if you start the thread and it bombs – doesn’t that suggest that your target […]

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