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How a (Free) 20 Year-old Book by Seth Godin Completely Transformed My Business


Several months ago, I began publishing a newsletter on emotional intelligence. My original goal was to build an online email course that I could then sell to my newsletter audience.

But then, I remembered a book I read a couple of years ago by Seth Godin named Unleashing the Ideavirus. The book is over 20 years old, but the concept was powerful:

Give away your best stuff for free, and it will spread.

I decided to give it a try. Instead of selling the online course to my newsletter audience, I gave it away to them for free.

As a result, my audience numbers exploded…and have led to some amazing opportunities. I get contacted regularly by people to let me know how much they appreciate my work…and others who want to hire me or license my content.

If you’re using content to draw people into your work, I recommend you read Unleashing the Ideavirus. Godin initially released it for free to help prove his theory, and the ebook is still available for free on his website.

Godin recommends you begin with an “idea manifesto,” a powerful, logical essay that assembles a bunch of existing ideas and creates a new one.

“As long as you can use your manifesto to change the way people think, talk, or act…you can create value,” writes Godin.

Once you have your manifesto, there’s a basic process to follow in spreading your ideavirus. Here’s a brief breakdown of the main points, and why they’re so powerful today.

1. Make it virusworthy.

“If it’s not worth talking about, it won’t get talked about,” writes Godin.

2. Find the sneezers.

Sneezers are those people who are far more likely to spread your idea than others. 
“Sneezers are at the core of any ideavirus,” he writes. “Sneezers are the ones who when they tell ten or twenty or 100 people–people believe them.”

2. Identify the hive.

A hive is a very targeted audience. Godin encourages identifying “a hive that has a problem and has the right concentration of sneezers, the right amplified networking, the right high velocity of communication and, most of all, an appropriate vacuum.”

The ideavirus won’t reach its full potential until you dominate your hive.

3. Expose the idea.

Expose your idea to the right people, and do whatever you need to do to get those people deep into the experience of the idea as quickly as possible. Instead of charging them to experience your idea, Godin even encourages paying them if necessary, especially at the beginning. 

4. Figure out what you want the sneezers to say.

“You’ve got to decide what you want the sneezers to say to the population,” writes Godin. “If you don’t decide, either they’ll decide for you and say something less than optimal, or they won’t even bother to spend the time.”

5. Give the sneezers the tools they need.

Make it easy for sneezers to spread the idea. Can you give me a way to share the idea with one click? Can you let me join your affiliate program in sixty seconds or less?

Reward those who are willing to share.

6. Get permission.

Your goal, says Godin, is to get attention, then build a more reliable, permanent chain of communication. Through that communication chain, you can further enhance this idea and launch new ideas more quickly and effectively–this time under your control.

7. Create a cycle.

If you can amaze your audience enough, they will naturally reinforce the virus and keep it growing.

Anyone remember the Cabbage Patch Kids? How about fidget spinners? Godin says the simplest reason some viruses burn out more quickly than others is that marketers get greedy and forget that a short-term virus is not the end of the process, it’s the beginning. 

“By nurturing the attention you receive, you can build a self-reinforcing virus that lasts and lasts and benefits all involved.”

8. Embrace the lifecycle of the virus.

“Cats was a terrific success on Broadway,” writes Godin. “But even great shows don’t last forever.”

“By understanding that the needs of the virus change over time (and that the benefits received change as well) the marketer can match expenditures to the highly leveraged moments.”

Remember, an ideavirus follows a lifecycle. Ignore the lifecycle and the virus dies out. Feed it properly and you can ride it for a very, very long time.

So…do you have a great idea that you’re looking to share? Do you have killer content that you’re trying to figure out how to monetize?

Instead, I implore you to consider following Seth Godin’s advice and give your best stuff away for free, instead. Do it right, and it’ll open up a world of opportunity.

(Check out the free emotional intelligence course I built using Godin’s advice, where each day for 10 days you get a rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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