Since there's all this talk about the swine flu and worries if it possibly spreading to epidemic proportions, I thought it was appropriate to address this idea of viral spread.  After all, the concept of viral marketing is based in how things spread like diseases.  You can have widespread influence without having to be a hot shot nowadays, much like one little mutant germ multiplying can cause havoc.  The tools on the internet allow you to share with complete strangers, so now it's all about how you work the system to get your ideas out.  Play your numbers right and you can go far.

I don't know if it's just my interest or if grassroots marketing really is as hot a topic as I think it is.  I personally believe it is a powerful way to get your message across, but it certainly does come with its downside.  So let's explore the pros and cons of this type of marketing strategy.  Traditionally, marketing has been all about reach through huge audiences via mass media - newspapers, magazines, television ads.  With the advent of "social media" or what have you, individuals are empowered to connect with each other on a scale never possible before.  Along with this comes a lot of unforeseen opportunities.

First of all, social media has a much lower upfront cost as compared to established media.  However, the trade-off is a lot more time spent to maintain it - after all, it's all about creating and sustaining conversations and relationships.  You can spend a lot of money on a marketing campaign or you can spend a lot of time building your brand and reputation via social media.

Secondly, social media has a far reach.  It basically operates on the word of mouth spread that can function much like compound interest, multiplying in power over time (or in this case, people).  Everyone's got their own personal and professional networks that they can tap into.  Then each of those people in turn have others who they know outside of the original person's network, people they can tell the news to and continue with this branching out.  Much like a tree, one original trunk can yield so many more branches!

Similarly, being able to get to so many people and gain this level of visibility is one of the main benefits.  And this can all be done with little planning in terms of marketing strategy.  In fact, it can't really be controlled.  Instead, this acts as a sort of quality control, ensuring that the product, service, or information must be good and valid for it to get the kind of spread it wants.  Of course, there will always be those bad apples that get through, the spam of the social media world, but the value of viral spread far outweighs the drawbacks of those and smart consumers can easily spot and filter out the useless stuff.

Yet, because it is nearly impossible to control what people choose to say or do, especially with a certain level of anonymity in nearly all sites, it can be dangerous tool too.  When people hide behind a facade, they get bolder with their actions and do some harmful things.  It's hard enough to track who did it, much less prosecute them for misbehavior.  The difficulty in regulation can breach upon a lot of rights yet also be defended by the freedom of speech.  This is definitely something that the lawmakers of each country should be looking at, to protect people from abuse of the system.

Finally, everything that goes up at any point, even if only for a few seconds, may leave a permanent mark.  Between tracking and the immediate spread of sensational news, even if you slip just once, it's hard to ensure that that won't be following you for a long time to come.  Even things sent in private or confidentially can be leaked, so tread carefully in everything you do.  Things in digital form can be permanent in ways that you never want.

Social media can be a robust medium for grassroots marketing, if used carefully and well.  There's a lot to explore still and I'm sure people's mindsets will change along with this new way of reaching out to them.  Now it's a matter of keeping up with the new forms of media, but also not forgetting about some of the old methods.  A good mixture can be achieved and it will vary depending on the aim, industry, and target audience.  Nonetheless, social media is sure to be a key new part to a revamped recipe.  It offers the personalized attention that people have been lacking!

 


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