REPLY TO ALL: How Can I Use Viral to Boost My List Growth?

We are engaged in email in New Zealand, where due to relatively low internet usage, and recent law changes, list growth is quite a challenge. We do have one particular challenge which I would welcome any input on, as follows:

We publish an email newsletter for the police. They aim to reach community stakeholders, but are unwilling to allocate budget to traditional media to spread awareness and generate additional sign-ups. Their website drip feeds a certain number of new recipients —approx 1% increase per month, although half of that is eliminated by those who opt out each month —so growth is slow. They believe that using the existing list, a viral campaign can help. Does anyone have any inspirational input? —Jerry Flay, managing director of Inbox

The Voices of Email had this advice:

Stephanie Miller: Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. It’s difficult to predict what sort of viral campaign will have a meaningful impact. Without knowing anything about the program I’m hesitant to offer a specific idea, but consider a simple trivia quiz about the community like “how many miles of roads are there” and “how long does the chief of police serve in office.” If the quiz is challenging but also surprising, it will get forwarded. Even without some special content, certainly test just asking every current subscriber to forward an invite to two friends. Perhaps offer some recognition in the community for doing so. But at the end of the day, the program has to be worth signing up for—if the goal is to build awareness and support, then the messages must be interesting and relevant. If they are, then subscribers will engage with them and share them.

Chad White: Sounds like you should communicate how the police and community stakeholders have been working together with great results. Some inspiring success stories may cause folks to forward the email along and spur greater involvement. So tout your greatest successes and undertakings. Also, how about providing tips and advice that would be useful to the community? Or doing a survey or fundraising activity that would leverage your email program? If you provide the right kind of information and clearly prompt your subscribers to share the information with friends, you should be able to exceed the average 1% to 2% pass-along rate.

Jeanniey Mullen: Viral marketing can be one option, but only if you have something to say that your readers will “bond” with and share with others. In other words, if you want something to be passed along, ask your current readers to help you determine the content.

Even at that though, the pass along rate will be relatively low, so you should look for ways to integrate email with, for example, a blog or social network in order to assure success.

Have some good advice that we missed? Please add a comment and take part in the conversation.

Have a question for the Voices of Email? Email Chad your question at and we’ll REPLY TO ALL by posting the answers so everyone can benefit.

–>Read other Reply to All posts