Get Infected: How Viral Marketing Can Help Your Library


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The handout from my poster session at the 2008 MS Library 2.0 summit and the 2008 LITA National Forum.

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Get Infected: How Viral Marketing Can Help Your Library

  1. 1.   Julie D. Shedd, Web Services Specialist 662.325.0300 Mississippi State University Libraries What is viral marketing?  1 Viral marketing is a “marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message ;” it’s word-of-mouth for 2 the digital age .” Viral marketing relies on catchy presentation, interesting new ideas, and most importantly, the credibility of the opinions of trusted friends. Why “viral”? Sounds so gross!  Because the message spreads quickly and exponentially--just like the spread of a viral infection. How does viral marketing work?  You come up with a new idea, service, or product. You tell a few people about it. Those people tell a few more people. Each of those people tells a few more people, and so on...until everyone is “infected” with knowledge of your new idea, service, or product. Why should my library try it?  3 4 5 1. It’s effective. Books , albums , events, services , and ideas have been virally marketed to great effect. 2. It’s cheap. In fact, it can be free! It costs nothing to open a Facebook, MySpace or YouTube account, or to start a blog on most blogging platforms. And users spread the word for nothing! 3. It can help build willingness to try new things. Are your administrators or staff reluctant to let you create a library blog or Facebook group? A successful Facebook-based viral marketing campaign, for example, may change their minds. 4. It gets users involved. In viral marketing, your users actually become your advertising department, and there is no better advertisement than satisfied users. 5. It’s fun! Coming up with interesting ways to spread the word can build enthusiasm not only among your users, but among your librarians as well.  What are the drawbacks?  1. You may not have complete control over the message and its presentation. When you let users be your advertising department, what gets advertised is what they like. In some cases (as in the case of “heftone” and our YouTube channel), you may not even know you’re being virally marketed! 2. Viral marketing campaigns are short-lived. This type of advertising relies on short messages being relayed quickly, and once the message has been heard, that’s it. Especially on the Internet: if a person has seen something once, it becomes “old meme.” 3. It may not work at all. If your YouTube video is boring, if your blog posts are few and don’t address current events, if you do not engage your users enough or if you simply don’t have the kind of users who would be receptive, a viral marketing campaign may not be for you.  
  2. 2. How can my library use viral marketing?  1. Build a Facebook group for your library. Post information about the library, your hours, new arrivals, programs, and librarians. Users who are on Facebook can join your group. When they join, their Facebook friends are notified; those friends can then join your group as well. Also, 6 update your group page often with news. Every time you do, your subscribers will be notified. 2. Create a MySpace page for your library or reference staff. All it takes is for a few users to “friend” you and a few more to see you in those users’ friend lists. Begin offering reference services or reading lists on MySpace. 3. Have a video contest on YouTube. This is a great way to get your users involved. Create a YouTube group. Ask for short, “clean” videos on the theme of your choice. Users upload their videos to YouTube and submit them to your group. Be sure to give the winner a prize! Alternatively, make a short video advertising your library. The quirkier and funnier it is, the more likely it is to “go viral,” or be quickly passed from person to person. Some suggestions: - When a new book about a specific region or historical period is released, hold a dance or costume contest with the same theme. Film it, and put the footage on YouTube. - Throw a party in which library users come dressed as their favorite book character. Use the best footage in a short TV commercial to advertise the library. 4. Create a library blog. Post book reviews and recommendations, author interviews, links to your catalog, and library news. Comment on and link to other library blogs. When you link to a blog on your own blog, often a “trackback” will be shown in that blog’s comment section. That blog’s readers now have a trail they can follow to your blog, thus spreading the word about your library. Viral Marketing at MSU Libraries  Facebook: MSU Libraries created a Facebook group at Libraries/20793383914. The group started with just a few Library staff members, and thanks to a little advertising and Facebook’s own viral marketing element, it now boasts over 200 members. We also created a Facebook application which anyone can place on their personal profile. This application searches the Library catalog and links Facebook members to other MSU Library materials and news. It is available at MySpace: We created a MySpace profile to publicize the Charles Templeton Ragtime Music Festival at We searched for performers’ profiles, other ragtime musicians, and notable ragtime personages, living and deceased. At present the Festival has 20 friends, and we appear in each of their friend lists. People interested in ragtime music can find us through this network. YouTube: We created a YouTube account to showcase the performances from the Ragtime Music Festival. The profile is at We have subscribed to11 ragtime-themed channels, and 7 people have subscribed to our channel. We also have 9 friends. We have had our greatest viral marketing success on YouTube. User heftone discovered our Charles H. Templeton, Sr. Sheet Music Collection, which contains thousands of pieces of late 19th and early 20th century sheet music. He posted videos of himself playing several pieces on ukulele, linked to the pieces in our digital collection, and provided ukulele tablature. This increased traffic to our digital sheet music collection and to our YouTube channel. Blogs: MSU Libraries are experimenting with blogging and with the WordPress blogging platform. The website for the 2008 Mississippi Library 2.0 Summit is built on WordPress. Prominent Library 2.0 bloggers, including Michael Stephens and Sarah Houghton-Jan, linked to our blog ( This provided the “trusted friend’s opinion” on which viral marketing depends. Traffic to our blog increased. The blogging team also posted links to posts on other blogs, which left trackbacks that readers of those blogs could follow to our site. Sources  1 2 Maughan, Shannon (2007). “Way Cool: Marketing and the Internet.” Publishers Weekly 254 no8 58-61 F 19. 3 Scott, David Meerman (2006), “Anatomy of a Viral Marketing Campaign.” Econtent 29 no 4 48. 4 Most notably, Nine Inch Nails’ 2007 album Year Zero employed what could be called the ultimate viral campaign, leaving subtle clues on tour t-shirts and USB drives. NIN frontman Trent Reznor maintains that this was not a viral marketing campaign, however, but a new art form. 5 Maughan, 2007. 6 “Facebook Pages: The Insider’s Guide to Viral Marketing.”