Adam Penenberg’s Crazy Viral Book Blitz

adam Adam Penenbergs Crazy Viral Book BlitzBefore the release last Tuesday of his new book Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves, author Adam Penenberg, a New York University journalism professor and Fast Company contributor, crafted a new media strategy that banked on the Internet’s chatty users spreading his words.

He got coverage on popular tech blogs, and sent out a bunch of Twitter tweets . He recruited web design firm StudioE9 to launch a web site with interactive graphics, concoct a Facebook application that would tell users “what are your friends worth” and create a leaderboard ranking the widget’s users and Web celebrities. A video from his publisher, Hyperion Books, was posted on YouTube. A Viral Loop iPhone application popped up in the app store on Monday.

Mr. Penenberg and his digital marketing team are currently brainstorming ways for people to “redeem” their ability to spread the word about his book. 

Along with the tech approach, Mr. Penenberg is also following through with traditional book publicity stunts. There was the book party last week at the Daylife office on Broadway and today, on Oct. 20th, he will read from his book at the Greenwich Village Barnes & Noble at 7:30 p.m.

Phew! That’s a lot of work for a 274-page business book. But Mr. Penenberg got on the phone with the Observer last week and explained that there is a method to the marketing madness.

In fact, he is executing the tactics he wrote about in his book, in which he explains how social media companies like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter grew their businesses: They created smart services that harnessed Web users’ inherent compulsion to share and collaborate. Anyone who signed up for Facebook usually spread the word about the social networking platform to their friends–they recruited them to join one by one. After all, what’s the point of being on Facebook if the rest of your friends aren’t on there too? “To use the product you have to spread the product,” said Mr. Penenberg. “Skype was like that. You needed the other person to download the service so you could talk to each other.”

Mr. Penenberg’s challenge was to apply those principles to try to sell his book.

“I don’t think you can make the book go viral,” he told the Observer. “But you can make the idea of the book go viral.”

Ah-ha!

So the idea is this: if he can get enough Viral Loop mentions on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and iPhones, maybe users will actually pick up a paper copy of the book while browsing Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. Essentially, every time someone mentions Viral Loop on the Web, they’ll be marketing Mr. Penenberg’s book, for free–maybe without even realizing it!

“As that old publishing adage goes, the more people hear the title of your book, the more likely they are to pick it up,” Mr. Penenberg said.

Mr. Penenberg was a guest editor for the Oct. 5th issue of Publisher’s Weekly, and wrote in his essay that the book industry has always been viral. “Only after book clubs took to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood did the book began to climb bestseller lists, for example,” he wrote. “Today, word-of-mouth has become global in scope, and your readers now also act as your prime marketers. Not only do they tell friends and family about the books they like, they blog and tweet about them. They post reviews on Amazon and insert endorsements into the comment threads of Web sites. They download and spread videos created to promote these books, amplifying their messages. They regurgitate reviews and articles in their Facebook newsfeed and list books they like on their profiles. Suddenly one positive mention of a book can reach thousands of people in a single bound.”

But will there be enough “positive mentions” to sell his book? According to Mr. Penenberg, 13 percent of the people who downloaded the Facebook widget clicked on the “buy book” button and purchased Viral Loop on Amazon.com. Not too shabby.

As for Mr. Penenberg, he’s still sending out the word on Viral Loop any way he can: do-it-yourself style. “I explain how some of the most fabulous, most fast growing companies got their start, how they came to be and how did they grow so fast, and I think those kinds of lessons you we can use in our own businesses,” he said.