Social networks have become an extremely popular way for people to stay in touch with each other. Things can go pretty viral on it. While a lot of the publicity on these sites have gotten is because of the teens and college students that use them, businesses have discovered they are a useful way to build their networks as well. Some of the sites are very bare-bones, but some of them are quite elaborate. One thing most of them have in common is a place for visitors to leave comments.

Many times these comments are messages back and forth between friends, but some of the messages are small digital pictures and graphics with a pre-written message. There are web sites that provide these comments free to their viewers. If you see one you like and want to share with a friend, you can copy and paste a small line of code into your friends comment box, and the comment will appear.

When you look at these comments you will notice that on every one there is a company name or web address at the bottom. Most of these graphics are clickable links that will take the viewer back to the web site of the person that created it.

If your comment is attractive or quirky enough, social network users will start sharing it with their friends. When their friends (or their friend’s visitors) see the graphic, they will click on it to see what other comments you have to offer. While many businesses are using these services to build their networks, the majority of users are teens, young adults, and women.

If your business is aimed toward adult men, this method may have limited success, but if you are marketing to the younger generation, you can bring a flood of traffic to your site with this method. A similar service you can offer is free e-cards. People are always searching for cards to send to friends, family members, acquaintances, and co-workers.

They are easy to use, and have maintained their popularity over the years. These cards come in several different varieties; with or without music and static or animated. Some are very simple animations; others are very elaborate Flash animations. Once the person finds the card they like, they can fill in the message box, add the email of the person they are sending it to, and press the send button.

An email is sent telling the recipient that their friend has sent them a card, and it gives them a link to click that will allow them to view the card. The person receiving the card gets a message from a friend to enjoy and a small line telling them who sponsored the card. Because you are hosting the card service, the viewer is already at your site.

You just have to give them a good reason to click the links that will take them where you want them to go.

In early 2006 job listing service CareerBuilder.com launched a program called Monk-e-mail. With the click of a mouse you could choose which chimpanzee you wanted to use with your card, then personalise that chimp with different clothing, glasses, hats, and backgrounds. Users also had the option of writing or recording their own message, and even had a text to speech functions that allowed the chimp to deliver your message.

As an extra bonus, when you move your mouse around the screen, the chimp follows your movement.

Within 3 months of launching, over 14 million monk-e-mails had been sent. The kicker is that CareerBuilder spent no money in marketing this service. In the first week CareerBuilder sent out 1,500 monk-emails to employees and agencies, and word of mouth did the rest. That is what you call viral!

Monk-e-mail was so original and quirky that the buzz quickly spread across the internet, and even made it to the main stream media outlets. You do not need to create a program as elaborate as monk-e-cards but, it does need to be creative and unique.

If you do digital photography or graphic art, this could be a very good way to use your talent to build traffic to your site, or you could hire a freelance designer to create your cards for you. Do a search for e-cards and you will get a good idea of the types of designs people are using. As always, quality and uniqueness are an advantage.

If you missed part 16 of our viral marketing series you can find it here