Keeping the reins on viral marketing?

October 15, 2008

Last year, marketing for the Nonprofit Workout was simple in one key way – we promoted it in as many places as possible. We had several hundred seats to fill, after all.

The challenge is that we don’t necessarily know what worked and what didn’t. There were obvious spikes in our web traffic and registrations that could be tied to specific e-Newsletters or partner events, but as is the way with these things, most people registered in the final weeks before the conference. And while there is a “how did you hear about us?” field in the registration process, it’s not detailed enough to pinpoint which specific websites/calendars/partners were most effective.

So the conference wound up selling out — and even had a waiting list! — and we breathed a sigh of relief.

This year we are running a training series, so the marketing plan is very different. Instead of several hundred seats available at an all-day conference, we’re only trying to fill 30 seats at a half-day training — each month. We’re trying to find the right balance between promoting it enough places to sell out each training, but not having a long waiting list full of disappointed people.

And this is where the viral nature of the Internet is frustrating. Nonprofit Workout announcement emails got forwarded; other organizations’ e-Newsletters promoted the conference and got forwarded; a nonprofit events calendar was featured in a local newspaper and that increased visibility… this is the beauty of the Internet.

But because we can’t track what, specifically, was successful (or how) last year, we don’t know the best sites to target to get the right number of training series registrants this year. We live in a culture where direct mail has been honed to a science – we’re used to there being more data than we know what to do with. Online viral marketing can explode in unexpected ways. Or it can fizzle and go nowhere. We don’t know which sites brought us multiple registrants for the Nonprofit Workout, and which ones brought us zero.

How much detail can we ask registrants and still receive responses? If we ask folks to specify which website, or blog, or e-News, or “Google Ad” versus “Google organic search”, will people take the time — in an already time-consuming registration process — to give us this information? In this instant-information age, did they even take note of where they first saw us?

As the person who watches our Analytics account, statistical questions buzz around my head. October’s workshop has sold out, but where is the best place for us to promote what remains of November’s slots? without overshooting?

How does your organization walk the fine line around viral marketing? What anecdotes can you share?

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