In Case You Wondered: Viral Marketing Works

After I posted about the fabulous-but-short-lived Omaha Steaks deal, I was a little surprised to reach a record of nearly 6,000 hits in one day on my blog. Evidently this was a very popular deal, and between links on Money Saving Mom and other blogs and deal sites, a lot of people tried out Omaha Steaks. I would bet that other sites like Slick Deals got exponentially higher numbers of hits than my post, so I can’t imagine the volume of calls, orders, and subsequent complaints Omaha Steaks received.

Last week I was further surprised to receive the above letter (click to read the bigger version) from Omaha Steaks via overnight UPS. The letter notes that my post “generated tremendous interest” and that I clearly “have influence and the ability to spread information online.”

The thing is, I’m not deluding myself into thinking I’m particularly influential. Prior to the Omaha Steaks deal, I was averaging about 150-200 readers a day, and many of those were people who googled random things like “dolphin woman” (I’m not kidding, it’s a little bizarre how often that one comes up!) and arrived at my blog. The real point is that I don’t have extraordinary “influence and ability to spread information online.” On the contrary, the point is that on the internet information spreads very quickly through obscure sources, and can go viral (spread wildly) through unexpected channels. I am surprised more companies don’t realize this and pre-emptively set up a crisis control New Media presence to keep tabs on how the internet is affecting their brand so they can quickly contain problems such as the one that Omaha Steaks ran into with this deal.

Presumably to cope with the unexpected onslaught of orders, Omaha Steaks changed the terms of their offers several times and retroactively applied the changes to people who had already completed the orders. Many people understandably got a little upset over those changes after their credit cards had already been charged and emailed me or left comments on my posts letting me know the various types of action they took. I’m sure a lot of those angry people told all their friends and family about it, plus probably blogged about it, posted on message boards, or mentioned it on Facebook or Twitter – effectively making the impact of Omaha Steaks’ attempt to rectify the situation that much worse.

It’s interesting to consider how Omaha Steaks could have handled the situation without damaging their brand online. I wouldn’t presume to know what sorts of structures they had in place, or how they actually perceived the problem and decided to handle it. I am reazonably sure they did not set out to make people angry and lose business! Without knowing the specifics, I would guess that if the company had had a more agile online New Media presence before this incident, they could have reacted more quickly and minimized damage more effectively. I did notice that the letter they sent me cc’d an employee of a social networking firm, so hopefully they are moving forward in that area now (as an aside, if you or a business you know of is looking for a way to establish an affordable New Media program, feel free to contact my husband’s business – New Media is one aspect of the work he does for small businesses and organizations). Again, I want to emphasize that I don’t think Omaha Steaks had it out for people, I just think they may have underestimated the way the information was spreading on the fallout their actions might have.

Finally, many people assumed or asked about how many $20 reward codes I got from the referrals. As you can see from the letter above, I got five – and they are pretty much useless to me since they are for $20 off an $80 purchase, can’t be combined, can’t be used with other offers, can’s be given to others, can’t be sold on eBay, and so on. Josh asked if I wanted to black them out before posting them, but they are non-transferrable; I’d totally offer them as a giveaway if they weren’t. These are not the terms stated when I first set my referral link, but I do understand why Omaha Steaks would be disinclined to give me gift cards with no strings attached for every two people who used the link from my post! For a minute there, I did have visions of being able to fill the freezers of all my friends and family, but let’s get real. Sorry y’all. 🙂

We ARE enjoying our cheap steak burgers, and it WAS a blessing to get some cheap meat. I hope that even if the process wound up being frustrating for you, you were able to get something resembling a good deal in the end.

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