by Michael J. Shapiro | June 01, 2010

A successful viral marketing campaign was really a necessity for Buzz2009, a daylong event held last July for association executives. The conference was about social media for associations and featured a roundtable discussion about "creating an environment for viral marketing success." Naturally, the event's organizers, association newsletter publisher SmartBrief and social media advisers SocialFish, were under pressure to demonstrate their own expertise.

Using a word-of-mouth approach through select social media channels, the buzz on Buzz2009 went viral extremely quickly. As a result, the face-to-face event, limited to 80 attendees in Washington, D.C., sold out in a few weeks; an additional 5,000 people attended the roundtable discussion virtually. And all this was accomplished with less than two months to market the event.

"It was a serious blitz," says Rob Birgfeld, a director at Washington, D.C.-based SmartBrief and one of the principal organizers of the event. "We were deciding whether or not we were going to do this, and then the second we signed up for the location space, we had all systems go. It was an incredibly quick turnaround."

Much of the marketing for Buzz2009 was accomplished via blogs -- on the Buzz2009 site, as well as via the organizers' respective blogs, SmartBrief's SmartBlog on Social Media and the SocialFish blog. Even after the event sold out, the organizers continued to build the chatter around Buzz by offering a few scholarships for the conference; interested parties filed their "applications" via blog posts of their own, explaining why they were deserving of a scholarship. The most creative entries were reposted and linked to other blogs, increasing the viral nature of the show's publicity.

Of particular importance to the viral steam of the event was the name recognition of the speakers, well-known experts in viral and word-of-mouth marketing. The keynote was delivered by Andy Sernovitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. The roundtable discussion featured sought-after luminaries such as Guy Kawasaki from the site and National Geographic's Brendan Hart. Because these and other star presenters already were widely read online, word spread rapidly among readers that their presentations could be attended virtually. The buzz continued to build right up until the event: According to Birgfeld, nearly 2,000 of the people who attended virtually had registered that morning.