Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sharon Baker from Shortcuts, tips on viral Marketing

These are pretty basic but interesting nonetheless.

> Tip #1. Leverage existing online communities

Try those online communities – we don't mean Facebook.

Seeding agencies
Baker and her team used agencies to help plant their viral seed. Companies like BzzAgent and SheSpeaks organize consumers who like to try new products and services. If they like a product, they are encouraged (but not required) to spread the word about it. These communities are predisposed to word-of-mouth, Baker says.

"I'm a participant in [similar] viral communities. You do talk about them naturally to say, 'Hey, I'm a part of this community and you get to try these great products.' "
Local shopping tips
Baker is leveraging services that offer local shopping tips in the regions Shortcuts services. For example, DailyCandy sends free shopping-tip emails in a range of metropolitan areas and has mentioned Shortcuts. These sites are frequented by frugal mavens – people who love sharing shopping tips with friends.

> Tip #2. Offer an incentive

Consumers appreciate a good service – especially when it's free. But they like additional incentives even more. Baker and her team give registrants a $2 credit on their next grocery bill in addition to the coupon savings. The credit is an incentive to try the service and mention it to friends.

> Tip #3. Reach community experts

Experts populate every field. Most have a website. Baker reached out to The Coupon Mom, Stephanie Nelson, a regular media source. Baker does not solicit coverage from experts (though she's not averse to doing so in the future). Instead, she makes sure the experts are aware of Shortcuts and its mission.

> Tip #4. Talk to customers at the point of sale

Shortcuts favors in-store promotions, reaching customers while they buy groceries. Customers can find brochures and trained clerks donning Shortcuts pins at the checkout. They also host in-store registration events, where customers can learn more about the service, sign up and receive the $2 credit.

"It resonates with consumers to be at the place where they're actually doing their shopping," she says.

> Tip #5. Talk to customers in real-world social groups

Baker works with promotion agencies that target local grassroots organizations. She gets Shortcuts brochures distributed to groups like the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) in regions with participating stores. The meetings are social events, prime ground for viral buzz, and are usually dominated by Shortcuts' core demographic: coupon moms.

> Tip #6: Get on the news

Shortcuts is newsworthy because the technology could replace an American staple – clipping coupons. It can be discussed also in the context of the slowing economy – a daily news topic.

Also, local community news is a great conversation starter. Baker and her team work to become part of the news. They said they have scored a lot of local print, TV and radio coverage through standard story pitching and press releases.

> Tip #7. Balance with other efforts

Viral marketing is not the only strategy Baker says she uses. Word-of-mouth is a part of a larger marketing campaign that involves:

Search engine marketing
Online banner advertising
Emailing AOL's members

Still, viral marketing is important, Baker says: "Twenty-five percent of our existing users have come from hearing about [Shortcuts] from somebody else, a viral source, as opposed to a targeted marketing effort through paid media."

> Tip #8. Watch what works

Baker's team scans the Web constantly looking for Shortcuts mentions. You can track your mentions through Google Alerts – a free service that sends immediate updates when Google's spiders encounter your keywords.

A Shortcuts blog or news mention usually means an uptick in registrations, sometimes as much as 30% to 40% higher than the previous week, Baker says.

Sharon Baker of AOL Shortcuts will speak at the ad:tech Chicago conference August 5-6. For information on it and other upcoming conferences, go to http://www.ad-tech.com.
Tags: "aolshortcuts", coupons.com, "viralmarketing", "viralonlinemarketing"
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