Seth Godin, the father of viral marketing

By Nigel Lewis

Originally published in September 2001 Seth Godin's "Unleashing The Idea Virus" went on to become the most downloaded e-book in history and a definitive piece on viral marketing. Eight years later we ask Seth Godin whether the "idea virus" is still relevant in the Web 2.0 world.

What was the idea behind the Idea Virus?

For 100 years, marketers marketed to people. You bought a bunch of ads, you interrupted a lot of people, and if you interrupted enough people with enough offers, sooner or later you made money. That doesn't work anymore. Now what works is helping people market to each other, and getting out of the way. An idea virus is a concept; a service; a product - something neat and noteworthy that people tell other people about.

Typing "Idea Virus" into Google renders 563,000 results, yet trying to understand and apply the idea can be difficult.

The idea is that it's not that simple - if it was then everyone would do it. There's actually a lot of thought and time going into doing it. The principles are universal and that's what's unique about this medium. There are only a few companies that can use television commercials or radio commercials, but spreading ideas is working for everybody.

In the Web 2.0 world we talk about community. What advice would give to those wanting to build community?

It would help if that person understood technology - at least well enough to know what it could do. They would need to be able to write. They also have to be able to seduce stragglers into joining the group in the first place, so they have to be able to understand a marketplace. They have to be able to balance huge amounts of inbound correspondence without making people feel left out, and they have to be able to walk the fine line between rejecting trolls and alienating the good guys. Since there's no rulebook, it would help to be willing to try new things, be self-starting and obsessed with measurement as well. If you were great at this, I'd imagine you'd never have trouble building a community.

We see a lot of start-ups in New Zealand try to adopt a web 2.0 site and fail relatively quickly. The disappointing thing is that people think web success is overnight.

It still takes ten years to become a success, web or no web. The frustrating part is that you see your tactics fail right away. The good news is that over time, you get the satisfaction of watching those tactics succeed right away. Listen to your real customers, to your vision and make something for the long haul - because that's how long it's going to take

We really appreciate your time, thanks Seth. If you had one bit of advice for our readership what would that be?

If I had to pick one piece of advice to give, that would be 'do it now'. Make something happen today, before you go home, before the end of the week, launch that idea, post that post, run that ad, call that customer.

Go the edge - that edge you've been holding back from... and do it today - without waiting for the committee or your boss or the market. Just go.

- START-UP


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