In brief, this is what happens when one person forwards an e-mail to ten friends, and those ten each send it on to others. Before long, and at virtually no expense, your message has reached hundreds and thousands of people.
Not every one of those hundreds will read the forwarded e-mail, of course, and even fewer will act on it. But by sowing many seeds, you have a good chance of reaching more people than you would reach by simply opening your church doors on Sunday.
This method is especially useful for reaching young adults, for whom viral marketing is second nature. Consider a YouTube video called “Dancing,” which has spread virtually overnight to some four million viewers. Consider the campaign funds being raised among the young by Senator Barack Obama.
Another term for it is “buzz.” Another is “customer evangelism.” The point is to get people talking about your church and to stir their interest in what you are doing.
For this to work, of course, you need to have a message worth hearing and activities worth sharing. Your ranks need to be open. There’s no point in drawing people to a dry hole or a closed door. A commitment to try viral marketing requires a commitment to respond to those who come.
How does it work? First, create a simple e-mail message — colorful, brief, compelling — that focuses on the benefits to be found in trying out your “product.” Be customer-driven, not provider-driven. Imagine what the recipient yearns to gain.
Second, send a preliminary message to your congregation, alerting them to the coming e-mail and asking each of them to forward it to ten friends.
Third, send the “viral” message with an easy link to “Forward to a Friend.”
The only expense in this might be some professional guidance in how to insert a “Forward” button in an e-mail. Otherwise, it’s free.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.