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A few weeks ago, I was asked by a company marketer – let’s call the company High-End Department Store – to participate in their first attempt at viral marketing activity as a brand influencer for Sam Edelman, a popular shoe designer.  To participate, all I had to do was write interesting blog posts about my experiences wearing a pair of Sam Edelman shoes.  They provided the shoes and a list of “hot spots” for me to go wearing them.  This assignment lasted 2 weeks and culminated in a private shoe party for those in my network, the networks of the other 3 influencers, and some of their “key” clients.

I volunteered not just because I love shoes and social media, but because I figured I’d learn a thing or two about the burgeoning world of influenced viral marketing. And boy did I learn some things. I decided to write a brief white paper on my experience, Turning the Tables on SM Viral Marketing.  Below I’ve summarized the lessons I learned during my brief time as a product influencer about the do’s and don’ts of running a viral marketing strategy.

1) Equip your influencers with an understanding of your goals and some tips for how they can help you achieve them. 

While my contact at this High-End Department Store did a great job of getting me excited about my free pair of shoes, she didn’t do too much when it came to making sure I understood her goals for this activity and what I could do to help her.  For some key things she could have done to help my posts be as “influencial” as possible, see the white paper.

2) Make sure your influencers have enough to say about your product and are prepared tweet about it multiple times a day.

Now, I love shoes and have a gift to gab… but even I ran out of steam after a few days. Having some daily suggestions from my contact would have helped me keep the tweets fresh and interesting. It would have also kept me a lot more engaged in the program.  These suggestions could have come in the form of scenarios to work through with the shoes as well as topics I should cover.  And for “filler” tweets, she might have provided links to some good third party reviews of the shoes or other interesting shoe-relevant websites.  There’s more detail on this tip in the white paper.

3) If you enlist your customers to blog for you, be prepared to be just as involved in this activity as they are… and be sure to live up to any commitments you make to them.

In my case, the High-End Department Store contact went dark once the recruitment process was complete.  As a result, when challenges arose – such as shoes not arriving, “hot spots”  not knowing who we were, and general confusion about what we were doing – we had no choice but to tweet and blog about it in hopes that maybe our contact was listening. (As I note in point 4 below, we  later found out she was not.) So what would I have done differently?  My ideas are outlined in the white paper.

4) Listen to what your influencers are saying (and show your support)… letting them see your level of engagement will only raise up theirs.

This is, of course, a tough one.  There is a fine line between supporting and influencing your influencers – one you don’t want to cross.  That said, no one likes to hear crickets when they are putting themselves out there…especially if it is in front of those who know them in their non-influencer life.  Find creative ways to reward good posts and address issues and challenges they may be expressing in their posts. See my whitepaper for more information on the opportunity lost by my support person’s lack of engagement.

 5) Have a plan.  Social Media may seem all fun and games… but it isn’t. 

It may feel like a casual and spur of the moment channel, but it is ANYTHING but if you are a marketer looking to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and the host of other consumer-focused social media channels to reach your customers.  It is just as calculated, structured, and thought-through as the commercials you shoot, the ads you design, and the marketing events you plan.  After all, if I read about a cute pair of Sam Edelman ballet flats and a Girl’s Night Out Shoe Event on my friend’s blog and I go to the store and NOONE knows about the party, the shoes, or anything else… there is a huge break in your marketing strategy.  For an outline of key plan components, see my white paper.