The Author and the iPhone App

My first book was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine. My second received stellar reviews, and Michael Douglas optioned it for the movies. Each sold a few thousand copies, seemingly half to friends and family. For my third, Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves (Hyperion), I vowed to take marketing into my own hands.

This goes beyond shamelessly pimping my book at every turn in that classic authorial manner (like suggesting to friends they buy five copies because they make great Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa gifts.) I've been blasting email, tweets and Facebook messages to announce readings, book signings, parties, and to trumpet media coverage. At all hours of the day and night I appear on local radio shows, fielding call-in questions from listeners, many of whom simply want to know how to sign up for Twitter ("Your first step is you go to, and...") An excerpt of Viral Loop ran in Fast Company, TechCrunch, and Wired in the UK, and I guest edited and penned the cover story for a special issue of Publisher Weekly devoted to virality. My publisher even created a web video for me.

These, however, are traditional book marketing techniques. Due to the subject matter of Viral Loop, however, I felt obligated to explore other types of strategies. That's because my book tells the stories behind the fastest growing companies in history--Skype, Hotmail, eBay, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and many more--all of which grew virally. By amassing huge numbers of users without spending a dime on marketing, they created multimillion and in some cases billion-dollar businesses practically overnight. The secret: Their users distributed their product for them. In other words, to use it, they had to spread it. Never before in human history has it been possible to create this much wealth, this fast, and starting with so little.

A book like this cried out for strategies far beyond the tried-and-true true marketing methods of yesteryear. I wanted to create a proof of concept in the form of a social media marketing campaign. In other words, I had to create a viral loop for Viral Loop.

I retained StudioE9, a web design and social Web marketing firm in New York, and months later we unveiled the Viral Loop Facebook application, which tells a user how much--in dollars--he is worth to Facebook, based on his level of engagement, the number of friends he has and their activity level, and his "influence," defined, in part, by how well he can get his friends to sample the widget. Over the course the course of a month we received flattering press coverage in CrunchGear, as well as the Wall Street Journal Online, MediaBistro, Mediaite, and elsewhere.

Now we've taken things a step further. We created a Viral Loop iPhone app, a predictions market game based on the book. Anyone who buys it from the app store or iTunes receives $10,000. Not real money, of course. Viral Loop currency, which you can use to bet on or short the future. Some predictions look way ahead, such as whether Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee in 2012 (81.3% of 4,496 predictions cast predict yes). Some are mid-term: Will Lindsay Lohan pose nude in Playboy (87% of more than 11,000 bettors say yes)? Others are short-term: Like will the Dow will close 25 points higher than its previous close?

The app is powered by InTrade, a thriving predictions marketplace based in Ireland that hosts thousands of trades every week. InTrade handles the marketplace. We just help iPhone aficionados access it on the run. After the $1.99 to offset steep development costs, what's in it for you? Well, when a user logs in he's greeted by an ad for the book, a description, and a link to Amazon to buy. Then it's pure entertainment. Since the app just launched it's far too early to know whether it will help spur book sales, but 13% of the Viral Loop Facebook application users who clicked on a similar ad actually followed through and bought the book on Amazon.

I'm not the only author searching for ways to market a decidedly 17th-century technology--the book--in the 21st Century, which at this point seems to be largely constructed out of bits, bytes, and digits. New York Times reporter Andrew Sorkin, author of the just-released Too Big to Fail, announced that he will be offering online access to his source material on Scribd, including Hank Paulson's phone logs and Goldman Sachs email. Before that David Carr, another Timesian, used his website to host reams of personal material for The Night of the Gun. And horrormeister Scott Sigler pushed podcasts of his books and tapped social networking sites to attract and regale fans.

Sorkin's book landed at #5 on Amazon the day it was released. Of course, that was the same day it was excerpted on the front page of The New York Times. While it may seem that you can't beat New York Times some day soon you will.

Social media is becoming woven into the fabric of our lives. With a widget, iPhone app, and approaches no one has even thought about yet, you will soon be able to reach far more people than The Times can. Then the paradigm shift will be complete.