Growing A List Organically

Remember the 1970’s TV commercial with the woman who touts the virtues of Faberge Organics shampoo? It went something like, “…And I told two friends about it. Then they told two friends. And so on. And so on. And so on…”

Okay, maybe you weren’t even born in the ’70s (Ha!) but you get the idea. Someone likes your product. They’ll recommend it to someone else. That person might pass it on to three people. And so on. And so on.

This is nothing new, of course – just good old-fashioned referral marketing.

The speed of the Internet has certainly simplified this method of promoting, which has been aptly named both viral and organic marketing due to its ability to multiply and “spread” at a rapid rate. Just think of bacteria in a petri dish. Or even mold on bread. You start off with just one tiny microbe and if the conditions are right, days later you’ve got yourself an entire little colony.

Well guess what? Email makes a worthy petri dish both because of its accessibility and the ease at which it can be passed along; hence, viral marketing within this channel can be a pretty decent way to grow a list.

Following is a trio of examples that demonstrate the types of power this strategy can wield…

  • The Power Of FUN. The other day, a friend sent me an email with the subject line, “You just HAVE to try this elf bowling game…” She’d also sent it to five other people. When I opened up the attachment (a fairly hefty 1MB), I was amazed at the graphics and sound. This WAS a video game (conveniently flagged with a sponsor advertisement complete with logo and URL) where my goal as Santa Bowler was to knock down the pins, which were “live” (and rude!) little elves. I was SO “bowled over” by this game that I forwarded it on to eight more friends. I know for a fact that at least three of them passed it on yet again.

    The genius behind this game is a company called Nstorm, which helps dot-com companies spread the word via email by taking advantage of the “fun factor” of downloadable games. End result: The companies get tons of sign-ups and/or hits to their sites because of the exponential pass-along rate. However, keep in mind that because the games have nothing to do with the offers, it’s likely that a good portion of any resulting leads may not be truly qualified and open to receiving future messages.

  • The Power Of REWARD. One example of a company using an incentive to get folks to “pass it on” is extreme travel site In its current newsletter, directly beneath the header, is a highly-visible call to action: “Send this to a friend and you could win an Osprey backpack!”

    When I signed up my friend, she received – just minutes later – a new message from… well, ME. Not from GreenTravel. Nor some impersonal server. Just her old friend Kim.

    I’m sure that GreenTravel does very well with this strategy: The email is welcome because it comes from a friend. Plus it’s intriguing as well. (After all, who wouldn’t want to receive a colorful email “postcard” that reads, “Daily Escape From…Costa Rica”)? Best of all, there’s a quick and easy link to the site’s subscriptions page where “friends” can choose from 20+ other newsletters. Cool stuff.

  • The Power Of SHARING. Content sites can benefit greatly from this strategy, though the initial payoff may be smaller than from the strategies listed above. (Now let me think… where to find a good example? Hmmm…)

    You’re lookin’ at it.

    Notice the “email this article” link above and below this (and every other) article within ClickZ’s newsletter and site? Each of these links will take you to a page where you can register your associate or friend as recipient. There are no games to enchant, no rewards to motivate…

    Despite the lack of any tangible incentives, however, this may be the most effective method of all. Why? Because presumably you’ll pass this article along ONLY if you think your “sendee” will be interested in it. And if he IS, he may very well be interested in others like it, which makes him a viable candidate to become a ClickZ subscriber himself.

When you get right down to it, developing your list is really about taking advantage of the power of contacts. Proceed with caution, however, because that kind of power can also work against you. Sure, people will spread the word if they like you. But if they don’t?

Just remember that bad news can spread as quickly as good.

Now that’s worth sharing… Pass it on.

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