My company is going to be launching our "go-live" site in approximately 3-4 months time and we have begun to brainstorm ideas for a viral marketing campaign. We are well aware of utilizing social sites like Stumbleupon, Digg, Reddit, etc but right now our ideas are limited to our small group of cofounders.
Not only are we looking for additional ways to market virally, but we do not really know where to begin with regard to putting together an actual campaign that would be attractive to users on a site like the ones mentioned above. We have also looked into creating a "youtube video contest" where user submitted videos will be voted upon with a winner being chosen for a prize, but I personally believe that you need to market the contest itself which pretty much defeats the purpose!
We actually have a decent sized marketing budget for a startup so I am positive we can establish a decent size user base if we choose the right avenues. One thing I know for sure is that if we go at this alone we are going to hit a big learning curve and with that comes a waste of valuable money. My end goal just like any other marketing campaign, is to do as little of that as possible with the highest ROI.
The question I need answered is whether or not it would be wise (cost efficient) to hire either a marketing firm to handle or specialized consultant to handle this task for us? (this would be a very expensive option and are not sure if it is worth it) I was also thinking that maybe we could contact a head hunter so that we may hire a temp person on a short term contract for 3-6 months. Since we are located near metropolitan New York, I have even bounced around the idea of hiring an "ambitious intern" from one of the bazillion universities in the area. Any thoughts, guidance, or personal experience on these ideas would be great. Please also feel free to post additional ideas as well. Oh and just so you are aware, our marketing budget is in the $60K-$80K range and we do not have an office setting to monitor an individuals daily work.
One approach is the 37 signals "hollywood" type launch - They wrote about this approach in their "getting real" book on chapter 13 (can read the book here ). With these foundational things in place, do other promotions that drive desired site activities. Example: create a portfolio, make a trade, etc.
Also make sure that the current "pre-launch" site is crystal clear about what the product is, what "hair on fire" type of benefit it provides to the intended target audience, and what costs (if any) they are going to fork over to be a member. First impressions matter.
EDIT - adding in a response to "hire firm or someone with good ideas?".
My quick answer: hire an advertising agency when you've got your product offering down. I think there is a huge difference between the go-live goal and the ultimate goal - explosion of users. It's a rare thing to launch a site, do one promotion round and receive tons of traction. More likely is a launch event, several iterations of the core offering so you get the value proposition right, and with evolution comes social exposure & growth of customers. Doing an all out social assault when you're not 100% sure of your product seems a money sink and a good way to burn publicity. Would rather spend that money on reaching out to current participants, getting honest feedback, making changes, and publicly posting your progress.
It sounds like what you need is an advertising agency, and ideally one that specializes (or at least has experience) in your niche. My company (Inedo Media ) is just that, but our focus is probably different than what you need: we help software companies engage and sell their products to software developers.
An advertising agency's scope goes a lot further than simply placing ads ("media buying"). They are your outside point of view and should work hand-in-hand with you to do market research, strategy, messaging/positioning, creatives, and placement... whether that's for social media, direct mail, banner advertising, or anything else. As we put it... it's your job to build and sell a quality product; it's your agency's job to have your product stand from the competition and deliver qualified visitors to you.
A quick google search for (your niche) + (advertising agency) will turn up plenty of results (and some folks might even give you some recommendations), but what's critical is to learn how to evaluate an agency. But to do that, first consider how an agency will work with you.
Though some agencies will have a different language and a different number of steps, the process is near universal. If there is no process (i.e., they simply follow your direction), then don't even bother. The key things to look for are:
'Viral' tends to mean - big results at small expense. More specifically, the dream is that you make a one-time investment in the site or/and some related materials - and this snowballs as people are motivated to spread it around.
That's a great dream, and when it works it's fantastic; definitely you should look for outside help on this. You want high creativity and you want experience for the best chance of results.
And you need to be aware that there's no viral magic bullet. Lots of people have that same dream and never realise it. So budget-wise, I'd be looking to leave plenty in the kitty for conventional marketing activities - the kind of thing where you can be reasonably sure that $X will get you Y visitors.
You could certainly weave into that some internal work. I really like http://www.deviantart.com/ as a place to find talented young digital artists. OK, it can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, but commissioning (say) 2-3 people whose work you've seen to come up with something exciting can be a whole lot better as an experience than running a contest. You can do this with YouTube as well, but what I like about devart is that you generally get some insight into how people handle constructive criticism and their level of commitment and sustained creativity.