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Spread a Cold, Catch a Customer

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You've seen how lightning-quick the flu can be, spreading through your workplace or your kid's school from one person to another. With viral marketing, the incubation time is even faster, with customers helping your message to infiltrate the web.
This article was adapted from Frank Fiore's book, TechTV's Starting an Online Business. Frank is a regular contributor to InformIT.
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Let's face it. The best kind of marketing is the kind you don't have to do yourself. Especially if you're a small business on the web with a limited advertising budget. Viral marketing is like it sounds. You could also call it word-of-mouth, spawning, self-propagation, organic. And in a way, viral marketing is a wolf in sheep's clothing. I mean, how else can you get a piece of unsolicited email into the hands of recipients that doesn't look unsolicited?

Spreading the Germ

That's the beauty of viral marketing. The marketer is someone the recipient knows and trusts, and through association, your message is trusted. As the volume of permission email and unsolicited email increases, viral marketing will become more important for your business. Why? Because as people are inundated with email offers, they'll come to rely more on their peers to learn about and recommend new products or services.

Viral marketing on the Net has a long history. Probably the first use was by Netscape. The small "Designed for NETSCAPE" icon was first used as a status symbol by webmasters to show that their site was the latest in web page design. It didn't take Mr. Gates and crew very long to see the power of viral marketing—soon "Designed for MS Internet Explorer" icons quickly spawned next to Netscape's.

A couple of years later, the creative marketers at Amazon.com took viral marketing beyond this simple link. When Amazon.com created the first affiliate program on the Net, they spawned a whole new generation of viral partners eager to promote Amazon's book site to their web site visitors. Today, more than 100,000 affiliates promote Amazon.com and gain a small commission on each sale directed to them.

Affiliate marketing or associate programs are now one of the hottest viral marketing methods on the web. There are hundreds of small, medium, and large companies offering their programs and selling their goods and services to any web site that wants to earn a few extra bucks. But you don't have to have a costly or complex affiliate program to use viral marketing in your business. There are other ways to motivate your customers and visitors to do the marketing for you.

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