Back in my agency life, clients were always asking us to create “viral” campaigns that would get the attention of the digital youth. Our inside joke was that there was a simple three part formula…

  • Create a MySpace profile
  • Enlist the Black Eyed Peas (they were especially hot at that time)
  • Put some videos on YouTube

Then… POOF! it spreads like wildfire.

Now, reading the pitches from the current lot of would-be gurus, it seems things haven’t changed very much.

The basic pieces of a social marketing campaign today seem to be…

  • Create a profile/group on MySpace/Facebook/Twitter/Jaiku
  • Launch a blog advertising campaign
  • Create a contest that has some viral hooks

This formula is attractive because none of these things necessarily requires much effort on the part of the company. It might get kudos from the Madison Avenue crowd and a few marketing pundits, impressed by your “revolutionary” foray into the frightening universe of social media, but the long term rewards from real people will be thin and fleeting unless you do a little more.

Give something good away.

I’m personally tired of the whole contest thing. Too many big companies think it’s good idea to create some kind of cheesy campaign where, for example, they entice people to make their own commercials for you or slog through a ridiculous scavenger hunt for the chance at a big prize. This doesn’t count as a giveaway because contests like this demand payment (manual labor and/or creativity) in exchange for nothing but a chance at a reward.

Instead, what I’m talking about is not all that different from the old concept of a loss-leader. You take a loss on something that will attract people to you, and then you try to deepen the relationship with those people and persuade them to (or simply hope they will) buy more stuff. What if Microsoft simply gave away the Xbox for free, knowing that such a move would push their console market share way past the PlayStation? Could the resulting increase in game sales make up for the cost of such a move?

I’m sure Microsoft has already run the numbers on this, so I won’t fantasize about getting a free Xbox, but there are plenty of giveaway ideas that cost almost nothing.

A lot of companies have quite a bit of capital in the form of information. Become the expert. Make your company’s blog the go-to source. Tell secrets. Teach people something cool or valuable. Enable. Entertain.

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