Posted by Jay Wilkinson

A few years ago, I got an email from a friend who was helping to organize a big vote in the city of Lincoln where I live. It was about a new arena that the city was building—a $200 million project. Voters were divided over the issue, and the debate was fairly intense on both sides.

The subject line of this email simply read:

“You must check out this website-hilarious.”

The link included in the message was “” Obviously I wanted to find out what this was about, so I clicked on the link, and the page I landed on said this:


That’s it. Just “YES”—and the date the polls would be open to vote.

It was an interesting, inexpensive use of technology and viral marketing. The email was initially sent to a few hundred people, but over the course of just a few days, thousands landed on the website. It’s remarkable how simple, yet effective viral marketing can be.

Another nonprofit conducted a scavenger hunt on the front page of their website. On their homepage, visitors saw five trivia questions about the organization, along with a statement that read, “Find the answer to these questions and win a free t-shirt.” Users had to search the website for the answers. Everyone who got them right won a shirt.

The organization thought this would be a fun way to give away a few hundred t-shirts that featured their old logo. By the time the promotion was all said and done, however, they ran out of inventory.

What happened? The promotion went viral. People emailed the answers to their friends, encouraging them to log on and get a free shirt. The great news is that the organization’s online contributions more than doubled during the month, which paid for the shirts ten times over.

Take note: Viral marketing campaigns don’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, the simpler the better. Just remember, the key is to motivate your audience, not manipulate them. Be creative, clever and provocative and get your audience talking—then let them take it from there.