Viral marketing is much like the Tupperware parties of yesteryear, but with an Internet edge.

Viral marketing, the digital form of word-of-mouth advertising, has quickly become a staple in the branding efforts of organizations large and small, from neighborhood restaurants to popular TV shows such as “The West Wing.” For savvy meeting marketers, it's a tool that can be quick, easy, and cost-effective.

In short, viral marketing empowers loyal customers and members to spread your marketing messages to friends, family, and business acquaintances. It's much like the Tupperware parties of yesteryear, but with an Internet edge. Through the Web and e-mail, the “virus” of your message spreads from customer to potential customer.

While chances are slim that a recipient will photocopy your printed brochures and send them to others, it's easy for meeting attendees and customers to forward a targeted e-mail to hundreds of colleagues. The trick is to make them want to.

Tips and Tactics

While you can't force the “virus” to take root, you can use these techniques to help move it along:

  • Provide subscription-based content about your meeting on your organization's Web site. Provide extensive meeting details and promotions that will foster community interaction among attendees, such as message boards and listservs.

  • Encourage testimonials about your meetings at your Web site by adding a “Recommend It” button.

  • Allow registrants to e-mail meeting information and registration forms to others. Add a button to your Web site that says, “Forward this information.”

  • Publish information about your meetings in an electronic newsletter.

  • Add an e-card functionality to your site that keeps users coming back.

  • Offer a prize to Web site visitors. Create incentives for customers to forward these promotions.

  • Play to invitees' behaviors and motivations. Consider messages that focus on entertainment, humor, information, and professional development. These may last longer than financial incentives.

  • Leverage existing marketing collateral. Your campaign needs to spread to large numbers quickly, but it should also be sustainable. Use materials from the previous meeting. With additions and edits, you can extend your message and create a nice transition from year to year.

  • Create a catchy slogan that's easily repeatable, such as Internet World's theme for its Wireless 2001 show: “All Internet. All Wireless.”

  • Consider a Web-based game or animated graphics. When Nike sponsored the San Francisco Bay to Breakers Race, it created a screensaver game that, once word got out, 70,000 people downloaded from the Web. The result: nationwide exposure through the effects of viral marketing.

The Four Basic Steps

  1. Identify your target audience and understand their behaviors and interests.

  2. Decide what method to use to spread the message. This may be a simple, informative message, a slogan, or an application.

  3. Perform value matching. Make sure the message, distribution vehicle, and target segments align to deliver your goals.

  4. Determine things you can do to facilitate and extend the life of the message.

The key is to begin incorporating viral marketing as a component of your current marketing strategy. You can extend your marketing reach, increase Web traffic, and ultimately receive a better return on your investment when it comes to building your meeting's brand.

A frequent speaker and meetings technology expert, Edward Lang is vice president of strategic partnerships for Cvent, a leading meeting registration and e-marketing application service provider headquartered in Arlington, Va. Contact him at or (703) 226-3570.