Viral marketing is a very powerful way to get your message out. With the New Year its important to relook at how you are marketing your business and avoid making these 10 common mistakes that may prevent you from having the success you deserve!

1. Failing to understand how to make a marketing piece “viral”

Often people create what they call a viral marketing piece when it is nothing more than a brochure and an advertisement. It is way too self serving. It has no possibility of creating buzz. While there is no guaranteed formula for creating a viral marketing piece, there are many things you can do to increase its effectiveness and its viral nature.

2. Failing to make it interesting enough to pass along

Whether or not there are external incentives to encourage the viral spread, if you failed to make the article or e-book interesting enough with high quality content that is useful or entertaining, you couldn’t pay them enough to pass it along. If on the other hand it is very useful, high quality or entertaining, it will get passed along with or without any other incentives.

3. Failing to provide incentives to encourage people to pass your message along

While there are many successes where the sender was not rewarded for passing on viral information, it works better if you can provide an incentive. Provide an incentive that you don’t have to pay up front. Instead provide a success incentive. If the desired outcome is met then you give them money, commissions, discounts, extended memberships, additional MP3 recordings, more articles, more eBooks, etc. Whatever incentive you decide to use, make sure it is easy to sign up for and easy to collect.

4. Failing to provide an incentive for people to respond to your call to action

The way to sell with a viral marketing piece is to do so at the very end, in the conclusion, in the summary or in the resource box. It doesn’t need to be a hard pitch, just an offer for an ethical bribe that will move them to visit your website, call your 800 number or send an email to get whatever you are offering.

Experience has shown that the incentive should be related to your product or service. If you are a law firm, don’t offer a chance to win a Corvette or an iPod. Too many unqualified people will sign up and waste your time following up with them. Instead if you are a law firm specializing in Intellectual Property, offer a free e-book on “How you can increase the value of your company with patents and trademarks.”

5. Failing to effectively promote their viral campaigns

Because we’ve heard of some success stories where no promotion was needed, it is easy to fall into the trap that yours too will be one of those. I’m not sure what the statistics are but the vast majority of viral marketing requires promotion to make them successful.

6. Failing to encourage others to pass it along

There is a wonderful piece of wisdom you should apply to viral marketing – “you have not because you ask not.” Does your viral marketing ask the reader to pass this along to others? This can be done in the resource box with something very simple like, “If you found this useful, please pass it onto others that might be helped by it too.”

If it is a viral article and you have also it published on your website, have a button or link on the page that says “Send to your friends.” While it is true the “Send to your friends” button won’t make it viral all by itself you never know which “friend” that gets it might decide to promote it to their list of 100,000.

7. Failing to send out anything less than a blockbuster success

While it would be nice to repeat viral marketing successes like Blair Witch, Hotmail, Purple Cow or ICQ those are rare occurrences. Just because your idea falls a bit short of phenomenal doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Let’s say you shoot for exponential viral results and only obtain a moderate success, it is still a success. The fact you got free visitors to come to your site is great.

I love Michael Jordan’s quote when he attempted to go into baseball after his wildly successful basketball career. “I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.” Even if you think it won’t blow away Blair Witch’s success, try it anyway.

8. Focusing on a single viral piece rather than a viral process

One thing I’ve noticed in my business career is that we tend to adopt the John Wayne syndrome, go big or go home. We give it ONE try and if it fails we go home. I don’t know of successful business people or successful marketing campaigns that take that approach. Instead of giving it this one shot and then not doing anything after that, create a process for creating, promoting, testing and measuring continual viral marketing efforts.

9. Failing to test and track the results

To be successful you need to experiment with different titles for the article or e-book; test different ethical bribes; try different promotional methods; approach different list owners. Find all of the elements that can be tested in your project, test various combinations and measure the results.

10. Not recognizing it is different from word-of-mouth marketing

I fell in love with word-of-mouth marketing early in my consulting career. After 10 years of consulting I analyzed every project I’d worked on, every client I’d worked for and wrote down the source. To my shock, 95% of all of them came from word-of-mouth. The good news was it was cheap (free). The bad news it was unpredictable and couldn’t be controlled on-demand like I needed.

Viral marketing is like word-of-mouth in that one person passes it on to another but typical word-of-mouth comes from one person asking the other if they know how to solve a problem. It is much more reactive than proactive. Viral marketing is proactive.

Viral isn’t one person coughing in another person’s face, it is one person coughing in a crowded room causing it to spread like wildfire.