VIRAL MARKETING IN SOCIAL MEDIA
By Thomas Denegre
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It took radio 38 years to
reach 50 million listeners.
Pre-Cable TV took 13 years
to reach 50 million users.
The internet took four years
to reach 50 million people...
In less than nine months
FaceBook added 100 million
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VIRAL MARKETING IN SOCIAL MEDIA
For less than a $1,000 you can launch a viral marketing campaign with
the potential to reach thousands of people, if not millions quickly and
Take for example the Blendtec Company, a maker of food processors
and blenders, who placed a series of YouTube videos called “Will It
Blend?” Arising our curiosity and sense of dark humor Blendtec
blended golf balls, an iPhone, and even a bag of marbles. It was
fascinating to watch a glowing iPhone being reduced to black powder
and shredded plastic. In a short matter of time Blendtec logged 8
million visitors while sales increased over 800%. Don’t we just enjoy
watching things being destroyed?
Burger King launched an interactive video on their micro website with a
man dressed as a chicken. In the message bar you can insert a
command and the chicken‐man would jump, run, dance, and play dead.
You get the picture. People loved the creativity, fun, and sense of
control. Within 24 hours the site received 1 million hits and by the end
of the week eight million. Not bad for a chicken man.
Down in Orlando Florida, Universal Studios launched a new attraction
based on the Harry Potter series. Instead of deploying expensive
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advertising through mass media, Universal teamed up with the author
J.K. Rowling, to give a special webinar to the top seven Harry Potter
maven fans. Afterwards, the seven maven fans shared their news on
blogs and forums with great energy and enthusiasm. The media picked
it up and ran with the story. Meanwhile, Universal setup a micro site for
bloggers and the media to ascertain more information on the park’s
new attraction. In just a few weeks this viral marketing tactic spread the
news from seven people to over 300 Million. Of course, it helps when
Content you have an established base of loyal Harry Potter fans.
In the last ten years both the media and information technology
We are migrating industries have been migrating from a traditional push advertising
environment (TV & newspaper ads) to interactive (pull) advertising
from push using interactive content. The days of advertiser content dominance is
advertising to pull; being transformed into a democratization process whereby quality
content is interacted, shared, and rated. The democratization process
allowing users allows the consumer greater control and influence to recommend
greater access, products and services to their peers. In the end, it’s creating trust
between the buyer and the seller. Trust builds loyalty and repeat
participation, and business. Trust is the glue that will cement the relationship and it’s done
control based on by allowing an interactive participation in the communication and
collaboration process. There’s nothing more powerful and trustworthy
trust. than when a good friend makes a recommendation.
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Using a combination of our imagination and creativity one can use viral
According to the 2009 Cone marketing tactics within social media channels to capture the attention
Consumer New Media Study, of millions. Of course, getting their attention is only half the battle. The
other half is harder. The real challenge is converting their attention into
62% of users polled believe sales or a call‐to‐action, and to sustain that effort over a period of time.
This is what separates the amateurs from the professionals. As my
they can influence business
mom use to say to me, “You get what you pay for.”
decisions by voicing
opinions via new media SOCIAL MEDIA ECOSYSTEM
The Social Media Ecosystem
channels. About a quarter
Social Media on Web 2.0 is simply the ability to have conversations with
have contributed their point- people through a variety of communication tools and communities. By
nature people are tribal and we seek to converse and share with other
of-view on an issue (24%) or like minded people.
contacted a company
Social media platforms can leverage the collective wisdom of the
directly (23%). 74% expect community to collaborate on a given objective, such as; to increase
companies to join sales, create content, engage customer feedback, nurture a community,
amplify your marketing message, and to develop peer relationships
conversations about their between manufacturer‐distributor‐retailer‐partner‐customer. Typically,
corporate responsibility the social media conversation is uncontrolled, unorganized, nor always
on target with the message. Web 2.0 has become a democracy of
practices happening on new information usage with a bit of anarchy thrown in.
media. MediaPost January
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The power of Web 2.0 allows the individual to spread their
conversations or word‐of‐mouth in multiple formats; image, video, text,
and audio. Individuals can leverage their social media communities,
such as FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, MetaCafe,
SocialText and a host of others platforms. The most popular social
media network activities ranged from posting messages, downloading
and uploading music, videos and images. These communities and tools
allow photo sharing, videos, communities, blogs, forums, articles, news,
entertainment, news, and tutorials. They also allow individuals to use
their collective intelligence to collaborate on online projects. The power
of these tools is the ability share, create, and product from one‐to‐many
quickly, effortlessly, and seamlessly. Good news can travel fast but with
even greater trepidation; bad news can travel at light speed.
SCALING UP WITH VIRAL MARKETING
Scaling up your viral marketing campaign requires an environment of
easy access and collaboration. Ross Mayfield, founder of Socialtext,
coined the concept of the, “Power Law of Participation.” In it, he
describes that social media portals should make it easy to access, to
read, and to share content. The intent is to accelerate productivity and
creativity by engaging participants to use their collective wisdom in
sharing their knowledge and intelligence. It’s a well known fact that the
wisdom of the tribe will exceed the wisdom of the individual.
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In James Surowiecki’s book,
The Wisdom of Crowds: Why
the Many Are Smarter Than the
Few, the author explained that
the collective decisions of the
group far exceeds the
individual and the added
dimension of social internet
sites offers a diversity of ideas.
It can easily be said the world is
our village. We see this today
on Wikipedia where a
community of people
collaborates to create and
share its knowledge base.
The new paradigm of Social
Media marketing is to embrace
the democracy of knowledge,
respect the intelligence of your
audience, and allow them the
ability to participate and
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STAGES IN VIRAL MARKETING
FIVE influence. Increasing the participation rate can lead to
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ideas going viral and establishing a collective intelligence to enrich
creativity and productivity. Here are several suggestions to grease the
skids for your viral campaign to generate a higher participation rate.
Make your content access free and easy to share
Create multiple touch points for others to reach you: website,
blog, Microsites, Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, SharePoint,
SocialText, and mobile applications.
Engage and maintain the consumer’s conversations with the
goal of closing the loop from the behavior to consider a
purchase, to purchase, and finally, to encourage them to make
People want to be understood and recognize. Promote and
encourage comments section and recommendations.
Emotions move us to action. Make it personal. Stories paint
pictures and have high retention and share rates.
Building a community of like minded people can empower
greater influence to change events politically, economically, or
socially. For example, the Presidential election in 2008 was a
milestone in using viral marketing in social media.
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My Last Snapshot It’s passion that motivates people to share something new. Think of
your passions in politics, sports, religion, cooking, or movie stars. When
something stirs your emotions you want to share it immediately.
Viral marketing offers a rapid and almost effortlessly dissemination of
an idea (word‐of‐mouth) from one‐to‐many by leveraging both internet
and communication tools from one person to millions. Think of tribal
communication behavior, think of gossip, think of how people when
empowered with special news want to share it with their friends and
circles of influence. A viral message will spread rapidly when the idea is
quickly understood and the person feels empowered to send it to other
people. The best viral messages are emotionally charged stimulating
the person’s desire of happiness, greed, anger, hatred, and other
passionate emotions. Emotionally polarized messages moved quickly.
My Last Train Ride Neutral emotions go nowhere.
To make viral marketing work you need the tools to spread it and the
audience to receive it. As was previously mentioned the evolution of
Web 2.0 offers great power, intelligence, services, word‐of‐mouth
recommendations, and the delivery of relevant information in real time.
Today, Web 2.0 can deliver multiple formats of content quickly,
seamlessly, and effortlessly, which is; email, video, photographs, audio,
and text messages.
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EMOTIONAL & BEHAVORIAL DRIVERS
Excellent viral marketing will seek common emotional trigger points to
motivate a person into action. People like the sense of exclusivity and
the power to invite their friends into the club. It makes them feel cool
as you were one of the inside people. Other common emotional trigger
points can be happiness, humor, anger, envy, pride, or greed.
For example, when EA Games launched their next generation soccer
game called FIFA Soccer in 2006, they used tricksters from Toronto’s
Ryouko mixed martial arts team to create an amazing video display of
stunts and acrobatic feats. Using a combination of traditional and viral
marketing, EA leaked the video to selected fans in Europe reaching a
peak hit rate of 1.5 million fans.
Social activity and the underlying emotions that drive it are a means to
an end, the tools that execute the logic of survival. Status, leadership,
power, affiliation, reciprocal altruism, cooperation, sharing of
knowledge, trading of goods, pair‐bonding, and even aggression are all
part of the social environment that help a group work toward that same
survival end game.
At the base of this is a powerful drive to connect what is felt. Humans
feel a strong need to connect with others to make sense of their world,
to not feel lost in a sea of infinite possibilities and to share in mutual
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benefit. Though the subconscious motivation is survival, the conscious
emotions are social.
In trying to take the guess work of anticipating people’s emotion, today
we can use behavioral targeting to understand and predict user
behavior and purchasing patterns. One way is using Internet software
cookies which are placed on the user’s computer to track their behavior
on websites to identify their unique tastes and interests. Cookie
placement is like giving someone a unique cell phone number. You can
analyze where and to whom. You can track when an online
advertisement is served, and improve it based on the feedback and
relationship you already have. The gathered information is then used to
create audience segments, which enable advertisers to make
reasonable choices about where to buy advertising space. For example,
AOL Advertising offers behavioral targeting plus a host of services that
can effectively target your audience with precision and the
methodology behind it. Another favorite is AudienceScience which has
Target Audience Segmentation methodically divided the global audience into many types of segments.
What doesn’t work? Social media is similar to having coffee with a few
of your friends in your kitchen. When a man intrudes and announces
his big sale at the furniture store its invasive and annoying. No one likes
it. Early in the history of FaceBook this is what advertisers did, until they
understood the nuances of their target audience. Advertisers
discovered that FaceBook users rarely click through ads, but happily
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This is not Viral Marketing participated in events, communities, and causes. Now it’s easy to
become a fan of Coke or a gangster in Mafia Wars.
Unlike direct marketing where you can predict a given response rate of
1‐3%, viral marketing can be hit or miss. On the positive side, a viral
marketing campaign can be done inexpensively. On the negative side,
you might have to deploy multiple types and levels in a campaign. You
may also have to engage traditional media to seed the viral messages.
Common elements for making a viral marketing campaign to work are:
Make the content seamless and easy to send or transfer
The content uses existing internet and telecommunications
Products or services are given away for free
The content is emotionally charged: Polarized messages will
motivate action in people
The content can easily scale from a few people to millions
Please don’t be invasive or
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BUILDING YOUR VIRAL MARKETING
To be successful in social media and using viral marketing tactics
requires the same discipline as any other marketing endeavor.
Good planning and goal setting
A commitment for the long run and the patience for campaigns
to gain traction
Ample dedicated resources to sustain conversations and offer a
quality level of service.
Being authentic, transparent, and honest. The end goal is to
develop ongoing trust and loyalty.
Make your touch points intuitive, easy access, and minimal
Building your social media viral marketing campaign requires four
1. Start with the proper planning, messaging, target, audience, and
2. Build a story with wings to fly.
3. Select the media channels to disseminate your story.
4. Measure and manage user attention and participation.
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STEP 1 – PLANNING, GOALS, TARGET AUDIENCE
Identify and understand the needs and wants of your target
audience – put each individual into segments based on actual
behavior across the web.
If your product requires consideration to purchase, then
determine the level of research your prospects are doing today
on the internet.
Identify your competition. Determine what websites your
target audience has been visiting recently and what draws their
If you’re going to advertise on other websites, then determine
which of those sites are already converting ads into leads in
Determine which social media sites are attracting your best
prospects and understand their behavior.
Determine the health and reputation of your brand by tuning
into relevant blogs, microblogs, and forums.
On your website run A/B tests to measure messaging and
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Monitor and measure the prospect’s conversation along the
entire communications chain; from emails, live chats,
recommendations, and call center. You’ll need strong
interactive marketing software tools such as Aprimo, Eloqua,
HubSpot, and Omniture.
Close the conversation loop with your visitors by encouraging
them to complete a comments or product recommendation.
What are your goals?
Capture their attention
Engage them in a conversion
Call to action
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STEP 2 – BUILD A STORY WITH WINGS
Every good viral marketing campaign requires an emotional story that is
original or sticky. Video by far is the fastest and easiest tool to spread a
story that sticks. In addition, a sustainable campaign will need layers of
various components to keep the momentum going. Using the billboard
affect, users will give you three to five seconds to receive your message
to take action. All the elements of your viral campaign should have
GOOD STORY ‐ You’re a story teller. Stories paint pictures and
evoke emotions. Good stories are remembered, original, and
begged to be shared.
When the story catches on be prepared for sequel stories,
bloopers, and behind the scene blog. Keep putting the logs on
Be sure to have a comments section. Observe it closely.
Sharing emotions is acceptable but edit offensive language and
Your goal is to engage in conversations and eventually a call to
action leading to the fulfillment of your goals.
Keep the conversation personal, for example don’t place
barriers between your stars and audience. People want to
connect directly to the artist or rock musician.
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EMOTIONAL ‐ It must offer an emotional appeal. The more
polarizing the emotion then the greater chance of becoming
ORIGINAL‐Do not be predictable. Be original and creative.
Fascinate them. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Can you
make them say – wow?
RELEVANT‐The story must be relevant to your target audience.
Soccer fans are fascinated with advertisement demonstrating a
trickster pro team.
WINGS–give it the wings to fly whereby the message is
designed to be portable, scalable, and shareable.
DYNAMIC‐You need to develop momentum and sustainability.
This requires multiple entry points to experience your message
such as (video, blogs, TV, print, quality content, and tie‐ins). A
well done story will demand a sequel, behind the scenes
production, bloopers, and interviews.
CATCHY‐You must have a catch to it that hooks people in and
there will be reward in the end. Ask yourself, what’s in it for
me? Does it entertain? Does it provide great information?
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And two don’ts
Please don’t compel people to forward their emails for viral
Please don’t use obvious commercials unless they are especially
clever, entertaining, or funny.
STEP 3 – DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS
A successful viral campaign will have multiple steps and components. In
2006‐7 Microsoft launched a ten month five‐step marketing campaign
for Halo 3 for the purpose of gaining new gamers and building brand
awareness. Step One was an advertisement played on a Monday night
football game using an attention getting reenactment of the Halo game.
The ad reached 8 million households and another 3.7 million viewers
when placed on YouTube. The advertisement triggered Step Two
inviting gamers to be beta testers; they acquired 850,000 users. Step
Three was a scavenger hunt using a combination of online websites and
traditional media channels. Step Four was co‐sponsorships with major
fast food and beverage companies. Finally, Step Five was an impressive
back story reenactment of combat action scenes. Altogether the
campaign sold 3 million copies in the first week.
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For a viral campaign to be sustainable it will require multiple steps,
components and channels to build awareness, capture, engage, and
convert your target audience. Naturally, your channels of distribution
will be determined by where your target audience shops, researches,
and socializes. You can begin to research your target audience at Digital
Scientists or Audience Science.
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Today, FaceBook is the fastest growing social media platform and a
great starting point to launch a viral marketing campaign. In 2010, Pepsi
announced they will not advertise in the Super Bowl. Rather, they will
invest their advertising using Social Media platforms. Unlike the one‐
way push of TV advertising communications, FaceBook and other forms
of social media allows you to capture your audience, engage them in a
conversation, nurture the relationship, convert them into sales, retain
their loyalty, monitor and shepherd their word‐of‐mouth
recommendations, and scale peer approval ratings without restraint.
FaceBook Statistics for early 2010
There are now 350+ Million users
50% perform daily updates
Less than 1/3 are college students
30% of users are just in the U.S.A.
The fasting growing segment is greater than 35 years old
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VIRAL MARKETING IN FACEBOOK
The first place to start on FaceBook is to build your own
profile and company FaceBook page. Naturally, you
want to cross link all of your portals to one another;
website, LinkedIn, FaceBook, and Twitter. FaceBook
has excellent tools to identify and target you audience
down to the granular and local level. Use it. Similar to
tribes, FaceBook users with like minded interests will
gravitate to stories and events. Always make your
content with good quality. You want to be authentic
FaceBook requires dedication, creativity, and
interactivity. To compete for attention you must
constantly provide a steady stream of content,
promotions, events, and communications.
As a company you’ll have to define who you are to the market. What’s
your brand and personality? Your purpose is not to sell but to inform
and share knowledge. Through tacit approval FaceBook users will accept
you and be your fan.
Engaging FaceBook users requires a two way conversation or being
interactive. Feed them a good story or video to determine if they will
click the “LIKE” button. Encourage them to comment. As your level of
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trust increases with the users, seek to convert their actions using
promotions and discounts into joining a website or making a purchase.
Get your FaceBook fans involved in contests and promotions. Make
them do things to share photographs or videos. Let them all share in the
fun and discovery.
STEP 4 – MANAGE & MEASURE USER ATTENTION
There’s a scarce commodity called the consumer’s attention. Some call
it the “Attention Economy,” whereby a marketplace has developed such
that consumers agree to receive services in exchange for their
attention. If you want the attention of a consumer, just think of “what’s
in it for me?” News feeds are a primary example where they provide a
steady stream of current news in exchange that you
look at their advertisements. The end game is to
prompt a “call‐to‐action” from the consumer. Since
you can never ask directly for a sale, you must
provide a steady stream of relevant news,
entertainment, knowledge, or tools. By using
behavioral targeting tools you’ll be able to steer
quality prospects to a call‐to‐action.
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Gaining the attention of the consumer requires three important
RELEVANCY ‐ Your information is relevant to your target
CHANNEL DISTRIBUTION ‐ Channel the information through the
appropriate social media channels where your target audience
ENDORSEMENTS ‐ Engage your consumers to be your trusted
references through sneak preview webinars, product reviews,
endorsements, and recommendations.
Once you gained the attention you need to manage, measure, and
respond. Today there are many solutions to manage and measure your
interactive marketing. These solutions will manage the entire lifecycle of
a customer engagement to determine both your campaign’s Return of
Investment, and the life time value of your customer. You’re also
looking to manage the Consideration Factor. Before a consumer makes
a purchase they’ll seek peer reviews and product recommendations.
After the consumer makes a purchase they will experience the product
and form their own opinions upon which they will cycle back comments
for new consumers to review. Some of these companies include
Aprimo, Eloqua, HubSpot, Omniture, Based on the 80‐20 rule your goal
is to seek your most profitable customers and understand the process
to achieve these results.
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Inbound Marketing Forms & Surveys Lead Management Forms & Surveys Merge with CRM
SEO / SEM Triggered Dialog Web Alerts Triggered Dialog Consolidate all data
Articles, Webinars, Microsites Web Analytics Microsites into one view to
Blogs, White Papers, Landing Pages Social Media analyze Return On
eBooks, Videos, Social Media Commercial Email Investment
PPC, Banner Ads, Blogs Blogs
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MEASURING CUSTOMER LIFECYCLE
The life cycle of acquiring and retaining customer has a predictable flow.
According to the 2009 Cone Phase 1 starts with generating Awareness of the product/service
Consumer New Media Study, through the use of various marketing channels and campaigns. Phase‐2
is consideration of the product based on peer evaluations,
consumers are most recommendations, and other social media tools. After the purchase of
interested in information that the product the real heavy lifting begins to ensure the customer’s
expectations are met and they have a satisfactory experience. Phase‐3
will inform their purchasing is the formation and sharing the consumer’s experience with the
decisions. Respondents said product. Typically there will be three types of customers. (1)
Immensely satisfied and willing to share their experience, (2) Satisfied
they want companies to tell and complacent customers with no passion to share, and (3) the
Dissatisfied customer who will tell the world of their terrible experience
them what is in products and
as they seek to restore their balance in life through retaliation.
how they are made (85%)
and provide additional
As we can see from the illustration, word‐of‐mouth recommendations
details about information, are cycled back to the consideration phase for the next customer. It
therefore becomes important to manage these word‐of‐mouth
labels and claims shared recommendations by ensuring a good experience, observing the results,
offline (e.g., in the store, on and responding immediately to damage control.
the package, in an If we can measure it, then we can manage it. As your campaign reaches
advertisement) (83%). your audience you’re looking to measure some key variables to ensure
your message is reaching the right target audience, you captured, their
MediaPost January 22, 2010 attention, engaged them in an interactive process for purchase
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consideration, convert them into a sale, and finally offer the experience
to steer and share their positive opinion. As such you are looking to
measure variables such as; Traffic Visits, Click through behavior
patterns, Conversion rates, and Source of visitors.
As a general rule, we are fearful of things we do not understand. As
marketing and advertising professionals, once we embrace the idea of
democracy and participation in sharing content to our target audience,
we can enjoy the immense surge of collective wisdom and the loyalty of
our fans. In building a business it’s expensive to
acquire new customers and pointless to have a hole in
your bucket when they constantly drain out. Embracing
the power of Web 2.0, deploying viral marketing, and
using traditional media platforms can give you a full
complement of tools to reach a vast audience who are
most interested in having a relationship with your
organization. By increasing the ease of customer
access and participation you’ll be able to build a loyal
fan base that can deliver a steady stream of profitable
revenue. As many business leaders have discovered,
by taking care of your customers first, your profits can
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After graduating from Bates College (Maine) I became a U.S. Navy pilot
flying the P3‐C Orion. Our mission was to hunt and track down Soviet
submarines. While doing recruiting work I earned my MBA from
Southern New Hampshire University
I entered the advertising industry launching and managing multiple
city magazines. I was highly successful and awarded five consecutive
years for building a magazine division and acknowledged for strategic
marketing, increasing revenues, leading and motivating employees,
retaining customers, and managing cash flow. My strong skills in
strategic planning, creative marketing, promotion, value added selling,
SEM / SEO, product marketing, brand management, customer
relationship management, and communications became invaluable.
Later I leveraged my business building experiences and entered the
software industry where my talents excelled at selling and marketing
intangible solutions. I worked and consulted for a variety of
companies, such as CBCInnovis, Wolters Kluwer Financial, Quest
Thomas Denegre Software, Cincom Systems, Emerson Network Power, Greif Packaging,
Ohio Indemnity Corp, Haas Publishing Company, Homes & Land
Publishing, Harmon Homes Publishing, Ohio Savings Bank, Preferred
Mortgage Company, and PEO Associates.