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How NOT to do your viral marketing campaign

As you may have heard, AOL has released the search query data for about 500 thousand users. Though the identities were renamed with ID numbers, some people may still be identified from the search queries (at least by those who know them or some detective agency).

Now, of course, the move was probably to generate some link love and popularity that AOL wanted (to be mentioned in the research papers in the universities, of course), but apart from that, AOL has gained the publicity it didn't want.

Here is what went wrong with AOL:

  • released their data which is a breach of user privacy, no matter how good the users are covered
  • they released the data after Google got a court decision not to disclose any data

Clearly, though the data will be used thoroughly both by ethical Internet marketers and unethical fraudsters, AOL will probably not gain the halo of a research fascilitator. Instead, AOL has probably gained the hat of a lousy service provider, backed up by hellish customer service and now the privacy insecurity.

What can be learned from this case:

  • provide ultimate value and your product will spread like fire: just search for 'aol releases data' (Google link)
  • pick a short title to easy the word of mouth marketing
  • if you do anything wrong and you don't live up to your message, your viral campaign will get you bad publicity instead of good one (or you won't get noticed, at least). So focus on prividing great value and respect to your potential customers - you'll be fine then.

Of course, the "success' of this endeavour is simply due to the fact that web service providers (Internet marketers, web designers and usability consultants, like yours truly) are more prone to checking blogs, forums and news sites for such information and this may well have attributed to this viral 'campaign'. But nevertheless, the lesson is a good one at all cases.


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