Bad Viral Marketing in Action... & Fixing It

So yesterday I mentioned that my friend Daniel announced our scholarship for bloggers...and the story went nowhere. It is quite humbling. The story would have likely made the Digg home page yesterday, but I think they pulled the submission from the upcoming stories for spamming, likely because some combination of the following:

  • many of the votes came from a button on this site instead of the site being voted for from that site

  • the domain name of our scholarship site generally sucks
  • our scholarship domain could likely use a bit of work on improving its trustworthiness
  • some editor may not have liked the story

Since I did absolutely no marketing outside of the Digg submission and a mention here, my marketing sucked...too risky, too stupid, and clearly not comprehensive enough.

I think I have been quite lucky and successful recently, to the point of becoming a bit lazy and arrogent...which totally showed in the lack of spreading of The Blogging Scholarship. My lack of focus on, and general apathy toward, the launch was apparent by the results. I phoned it in, thinking that my blog had enough reach to carry the story, just phoned in the idea, and failed brutally. We only got a couple applications yesterday, which is absurd considering how viral the market is, and how good the general idea is.

You know you are screwing something up quite bad if

  • your site has great reach

  • friends are hooking you up
  • you are giving away thousands of dollars
  • toward a cause many people care about
  • to a viral market
  • where many people share your interests
  • and many students are heavily in debt
  • and the story still goes nowhere

thus...we decided to change The Blogging Scholarship to make it more remarkable...

Instead of giving $1,000 quarterly we are going to give away $5,000 once a year.


  • $5,000 sounds much more remarkable than $1,000, and will help whoever gets it much more than $1,000 will help 4 people.

  • By doing it once a year it is rare enough that it is special. If we did it quarterly it is not going to be as much of an event, and would be harder to get coverage or community involvement.

Pinging a few friends to seed the story...hoping they can give it a bit of love. ;)


  • I know many of the big dogs in the blogging space.

  • Some of my friends have websites which are more relevant to the idea.

Another thing I could have done to make the story more popular would have been asking a few bloggers what they thought of the idea, or if I should change it at all BEFORE I launched it. But I was arrogant and lazy and did not listen to my own advice, thus we failed, and needed to reformat the scholarship to make it more appealing.

The good thing about really good or really bad viral marketing is that you usually have great feedback almost immediately after launch, and if you listen to it, you can change to help spread your ideas further.

We are still looking for lots of applications, so please apply yourself or nominate a friend today.

Published: October 26, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


October 27, 2006 - 12:14am

I own and many more extentions. Let me know if you are interested in purchasing it.

October 27, 2006 - 12:16am

Why would I be interested in that domain name? And how does that relate to this post on any level at all?

October 27, 2006 - 12:21am


Sorry about this missing the Digg train the first time, man. I'm still trying to figure out the Digg train. most diggs I've gotten for a post is something like 14, IIRC.

I dugg this this time for ya. Too bad I don't go to college, I'd apply for it. I'm looking to go once I get enough income from my site(s) to sustain me indefinitely. Easier said than done, it seems.

Keep up the good work.

October 27, 2006 - 12:23am

your honestly is admirable Aaron. Failure is generally the greatest teacher. (I think I may have stolen that off a Zen monk or an inspirational wall poster). Here's hoping this time it picks up.

October 27, 2006 - 1:40am

I still see a flaw in the current thinking. You seem to be saying the only way this will be successful is if it ends up on the front page of Digg. With how hit and miss Digg is, the thought of basing any promotion around Digg is just asking for failure. Some ideas just take longer to propagate throughout the market.

October 27, 2006 - 1:44am

I was saying that the failure of this idea was largley reliant upon my laziness and thinking that Digg would be enough.

IMHO I think this idea, if implemented and marketed better than it was, should have spread quickly, even without Digg, etc.

October 27, 2006 - 1:50am

Thanks for the clarification. I thought you where saying you where making another run at Digg ;)

October 27, 2006 - 1:59am

I think the scholarship is admirable in and of itself, but what's more impressive to me is your flexibility in recognizing your (temporary) failure. I suppose this is how successful sites and people remain dominant: by avoiding rigidity and arrogance.

October 27, 2006 - 3:19am

In addition to personally notifying big name bloggers, there are others of us who promote the heck out of educational stuff like this, that might have appreciated hearing about it and helping you out.

hint hint :)

Tracy Robinson
October 27, 2006 - 3:45am

I disagree with your statement that a $1000 scholarship won't mean much to a student. My wife is one of the ones who applied and the $1000 would help her out quite a bit, but hey, it's your call.

October 27, 2006 - 3:48am

Hi Tracy
Your wife can still win the $5,000 one. There are also other scholarships available on the of them is for women.

October 27, 2006 - 5:58pm

UI + Call To Action Confusion:

One possible reason you didn't get as many votes as you assumed your readers would provide could be confusion about the digg button is that you put in your blog. Putting a digg icon that diggs another page or site is a non standard UI approach.

I assumed the link was to digg your post about the scholarship rather than the scholarship site itself. I jumped off to the page, read the article, bounced around the scholarship site and forgot to find a digg button on the site.

I came back in today via your mea culpa, gave you a digg and discovered that the scholarship announcement page was being voted for. I should not have doubted you did it right, but the triangulation between your post, the scholarship site and digg confused me just long enough to loose track of what my intention to do what you asked.

October 27, 2006 - 10:26pm


I really don't have a dog in this fight and maybe I'm missing the point, but...

by giving the $5k away only once a year do you think you are putting too much distance between the payout?

In other words, even if it goes viral, will people remember it next year?

October 27, 2006 - 11:01pm

Do people forget Thanksgiving?

You can always give your ideas a marketing bump to gain mindshare if they are forgetten...if you do it too frequently then people are going to be less receptive to marketing because they are going to think your idea is common / frequent / less remarkable.

October 28, 2006 - 12:17am

I don't mean to rub it in but the domain you guys chose does suck. Either than that it's a great idea.

October 28, 2006 - 2:20am

Totally agree that the domain name is a real piece. It had great link equity and was affordable though...which enabled the site to virtually fund its own growth right from the start.

October 28, 2006 - 5:23am


I agree with you, and I think that you have the weight and resources to give it a boost to keep it in everyone's mind when the time comes.

I also agree with Emperor on the domain name (but no one seems to be arguing that). However, despite the name problems, I think it's a great idea and the site has a solid look!

You know, I seem to remember "some guy" saying that good SEO takes time to build...can't remember his name, but I think he wrote an extremely well selling book on the subject.

It sounds like you might have fallen a little off track, and this incident threw you back on track. You caught it quick and took steps to immediately correct it.

Great gains can come from a stumble!

October 29, 2006 - 3:33am

Great post Aaron!

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