In our dynamic industry, new companies form all the time. Start-ups in the content technology business as well as online publishing ventures appear at such a rapid clip that it is difficult to keep up. Imagine what it's like for the executives of a new company in this business to get their brainchild noticed in a crowded field. A typical launch involves months of planning, lots of hard work, and often a substantial budget for PR, analyst relations, and advertising.
I found it remarkable, then, that a new company called Squidoo (www.squidoo.com) was successfully launched in late 2005 without any of the traditional marketing and PR techniques. Squidoo is headed up by Seth Godin, the founder of Yoyodyne (which he sold to Yahoo! in 1998), creator of "Permission Marketing," and best-selling business-book author of Purple Cow and All Marketers are Liars. What's really interesting to Web marketers, bloggers, and anyone who is planning to start a company is that Godin launched exclusively with online viral marketing strategies.
In October, on his personal blog (http://sethgodin.typepad .com), Godin offered a free 31-page ebook he authored called Everyone's an Expert (about something): The Search for Meaning Online (www.squidoo.com/pages/EveryoneIsAnExpert.pdf). In the well-written, short, funny, and provocative ebook, Godin launched Squidoo, describing it as being about online lenses: a way to filter a person's expertise on a subject onto a single page. Godin claims that by checking out a lens on a topic of interest, we can quickly find what we are looking for. A person who makes a lens is a lensmaster, and he or she uses a lens to provide context. Everyone is an expert, and Squidoo helps them to share with the world.
Within just a few hours of the ebook's release, there were more than a hundred blog posts (including one from me) about Squidoo. Godin put the viral marketing machine he so often writes about to work in promoting his own new company. As part of the viral campaign, interested people could sign up for a super-secret closed beta test of Squidoo, which was announced on the new Squidoo blog (www.squidoo.com/blog/). I was lucky enough to be chosen as a first-round beta tester, but I had to sign an electronic form saying that I would not blog or write about it until told I could do so. How cool—so much buzz that beta testers lined up to participate. As most product managers in our business will tell you, unless you have Google's cachet, finding willing beta testers is really difficult.
After about a month, Squidoo opened the beta test to anyone who wanted to create a lens and also allowed those of us who were part of the closed beta to (finally) write about the process of creating a lens on our blogs. Instantly there was still more viral marketing unleashed, promoting Squidoo all over again (such as I'm doing here). The process of creating a Squidoo lens is really easy. A lens is a single Web page filled with information and links that point to other Web pages, continually updated RSS feeds, or relevant advertising. The Squidoo FAQs say, "It's a place to start, not finish." A lens is not a blog or a Web site, but rather a way of providing detail on a topic and easy ways to point to other information. In my lens called Web Content That Sells (www.squidoo.com/web_content), I point to Web sites that do interesting things with online content and to best practice information on my site and my blog.
It is too soon to say if Squidoo will be a success. After all, despite a successful beta, it is still in beta as of this writing. It is promising that in just a very short time, nearly 10,000 lenses have been created on Squidoo. I suspect that success will be measured by the traffic that the lenses generate. Eventually, lensmasters will be paid for their share of advertising and other revenue. The Squidoo team is optimizing lenses for search engines and driving people to lens content. For a lensmaster like me, the effort is minimal, and I'm already seeing an increase in traffic to my site and my blog as a result.
What's more interesting to me about this whole launch is how it was accomplished. Sure, very few companies have a best-selling business author such as Seth Godin on staff to write and promote an ebook in order to launch a new company. But as the Squidoo launch certainly shows, econtent companies need to adopt more Web-centric tools to promote their products and services. I still see a large amount of very old-style (and boring) marketing efforts being used to launch companies and products. Yes, trade shows and traditional public relations will help, but ignore viral marketing through blogs at your own peril.