You may have heard of this strategy for getting a tweet to go viral: offer a freebie, but only make it available after a certain number of people have tweeted a link to your offer. Sounds great, but will it work for you? (How can you make it work?)

Over at Mashable today, Brenna Ehrlich posted something that got me thinking about that:

On Tuesday, musician St. Vincent (a.k.a Annie Erin Clark) launched a Twitter campaign asking fans to tweet #strangemercy to unlock a new track from her upcoming album, Strange Mercy.

A few days and 5,000 tweets later, the track has finally been set loose on the world...

A musician with a following may be able to muster 5000 tweets in a few days. But not all of us are in that league. St. Vincent has 392,713 followers, so she only needed a 1.3% response rate to pass 5000.

Here are a few keys to making this strategy work for you, no matter how big or small your following is:

  • Establish expectations. Someone who doesn't know the quality of your work is a lot less likely to tweet for you than someone who knows from experience that you can deliver the goods. Give away something else, no strings attached, to prove that your viral freebie is worth tweeting for. For example, you might give away the first chapter to two of an eBook, and ask for a certain number of tweets to unlock the rest of it.
  • Start small. If you've only got 100 followers, don't ask for 5000 tweets. Ask for 10 or 20 (adjust the number as appropriate depending on how many of your followers you're actively engaged with). Your first offer will get you some new followers and establish a track record. Next time, you'll be able to ask for more.
  • Use a limited-time offer. What I mean by that is that you could ask for 10 tweets. When you get them, make the full download available for 24 hours. Then ask for 15 more to open it up for another 24 hours, etc. Just be sure to notify those who tweeted for you, and if they miss the 24 hour window, give them a copy anyway. The point of the time limit isn't to lock your friends out, but to enable you to get more tweets for the same offer with less risk of failing to ever reach the threshold.