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Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

Redefining Viral Marketing

Friday, May 28th, 2010

In September 2008 at Web 2.0 Expo in New York, I shared something that many, to this day, believe to the contrary, “There is no such thing as viral marketing.”

The declaration was empathetic in its direction to those marketers who have been on the receiving end of directives instructing them to create and unleash viral content. In parallel, the statement was aimed at those decision makers who assign such projects.

Content, no matter how brilliant, creative, abstract, or controversial, is not inherently viral. Yet, we’re asked repeatedly to create viral videos, posts, and other social objects that will trigger an endless array of retweets, pages and profiles that immediately attract fans and followers accompanied by a deafening wall of sound propelled by word of mouth.

Content doesn’t make something viral; people are the primary source of powering social objects across the attention nodes that connect the human network.

Despite what appears commonsensical, we’re surprised when our brainchild doesn’t attract the views, attention, and circulation we believe it deserves.

The reality of social media is this, in the attention economy, information isn’t randomly discovered and broadly disseminated. It is strategically positioned to either appear when someone searches for a related keyword or it’s presented to someone manually and deliberately.

As individuals, we no longer find information, it finds us.

The same is true about social objects. We must create packaged content with social hooks that comprise the story we wish to tell and the action we hope to spark – whether it’s through video, text, images, badges, widgets, or apps. While there is no such thing as viral marketing in and of itself, marketing inspired to catalyze word of mouth (WOMM) is a bit more thoughtful and calculated in its approach and it usually seeks options in and around Social Media.

Good Ideas are Worth Sharing

Ideas represent change whose time has come…

At the heart of any campaign is an idea. And even though good ideas are worth sharing, in order to have any hope of going “viral,” social objects require sustenance and herding. Essentially, our job is to not only create the content, but also connect the dots for those individuals who can help us spread our story across first degree relationships defining social graphs (friends) and second-degree graphs linked by friends of friends and so on.

Social scientist Dan Zarrella has analyzed over the years, why ideas spread. In his research, he discovered common characteristics of contagious content, those elements prevalent in many popular memes, whether organic or proactively marketed.


The first group of individuals who are exposed to the idea/social object determine the extent and reach of the meme. These “seeds” are often mistaken for built-in audiences, for example, Twitter followers, Facebook Fans, blog subscribers, email lists, etc. The true opportunity for extending the lifespan and audiences for ideas is to carefully pick influential individuals who can spark activity and response. Early involvement, prior to anything being released, is key as is the definition of the role they will play in the roll out of the content.


Distinctiveness is required for all transmittable ideas. Personal connections are also paramount. The personal motivation for sharing content is driven by how well something connects or resonates with the person exposed to it. Ideas connect initially because they’re relevant or personal. Other communicable emotions that factor into the motivation for sharing in a one-to-one model include:

1. Personal/Relevant/Timely

2. Humor

3. Utility

4. Relationship Building

5. Common Interests

6. Missing out

7. Conversations

8. Reciprocity

Association and Correlation

As Zarrella observes, intuitiveness is a key attribute for determining the likelihood for pass alongs. If someone can’t understand an idea, they simply will disregard it and move on. And in the era of the real-time Web, we move too quickly to further analyze or interpret ideas. Its intention and purpose must be clear from the onset. And to be quite honest, it’s our job to create compelling objects worthy of connection. Data shows that you have three-to-five seconds to engage your viewer and in that time they’ve already decided to either continue and possibly share the idea or simply abandon it.


In the attention economy, our focus is concentrated on what flows through our attention dashboards and we’re distracted at will as relevant content appears. As intelligent filtering tools are slowly emerging, human filtering still prevails. Through selective attention, we each possess the ability to tune out the volume of information that relentlessly attempts to lure our focus. Relevance is key to encouraging someone to take the time to purposely share content with those they know.

It is the art and science of creating content that appeals to people individually and also as groups of shared interests. This is why social media is social in the first place.

People connect with individuals who share their passions, interests, and ambitions. Designing social objects based on the psychographics rather than demographics of those you wish to reach and inspire, proves critical in the viability of engendering personal connections – connections worthy of sharing.


Give someone a fish; you have fed them for today. Teach them how to fish; and you have fed them for a lifetime…

While much of the content examples we hear and see so often are aimed at short bursts of entertainment, creating and distributing helpful content is contagious in its own right. Help me answer or ask a question. Help me find a reason to participate. Give me a voice. Help me do something I couldn’t do before I came into contact with your social object.

The idea of integrating utility or resolution into social objects increases the sharability of content while also increasing its lifespan.  Continually introducing useful content sets the foundation for invaluable relationships based on the theory of social exchange – those connected will grow with one another based on the ongoing exchange of ideas sparked by objects and conversations that flourish over time.

Social Influence – A Cascading Effect

Tying back to the importance of initial and repeated seeding, peer-to-peer influence sets the stage for perception, urgency, and also weaves the fabric that wraps us with a sense of exclusivity and inclusion. By aligning with those individuals who are recognized as leaders, trendsetters and authorities, an ambiance is established that carries with it the lure for affinity, belonging, and association, inviting individuals to “join the club” simply by viewing and sharing.

The reward for these influencers is that they’re perceived to stay ahead of trends. It’s rare when you see someone of this stature join later in the game. They’re usually on the prowl for the next undiscovered object that when disseminated, reinforces their reputation as an early adopter.

An element of wisdom of the crowds is also at play in the realm of social influence. There is an allure, an unspoken emanation of prestige when a group of people surround and react to content and objects. After all, if a person possesses crowds of qualified followers, readers or if a particular bit of content earns significant views, reactions, retweets, shares, and likes, then it has earned a state of prominence that begets validation. Communities literally form around objects and in doing so, they influence the actions of participants and spectators, now and over time.

Social objects should thus be supported before and during their release to garner attention, support, followers, and influential activity.

Information Voids

In the absence of truth or information, speculation fuels hearsay, which in turn sparks movement and ultimately gains momentum as new voices attempt to answer questions through conjecture. I refer to the introduction of an event or object as the information divide, the difference between the moment information is introduced into the social web and the time it takes to verify its accuracy. Therefore I ask, is content or context king in the real-time web? The same can be said for word of mouth marketing.

When information is intentionally missing or it’s positioned cleverly to incite speculation, social objects can spread across incredibly vast networks at blinding speeds. When BMW, for example, introduced its 1-Series, it did so through a video documentary (mockumentary) entitled “The Ramp” or “Rampenfest,” which chronicled a filmmaker’s visit to a small village where the town rallied around a record breaking attempt to launch a 1-Series BMW over the Atlantic. In doing so, BMW intentionally steered viewers towards wonderment. Was it really an attempt to cross the Atlantic? Was BMW behind this video? With every new question, more viewers and shares ensued.

Today, visiting takes you directly to the BMW 1-Series home page.

Experiences Cause Action

Social objects engender experiences. The difference between the failure and success of a meme is directly rooted in the resulting activity that they’re intended to cause. Perhaps the most powerful characteristic of social objects is their ability to masquerade as catalysts that carry cause and effect.

Strategic marketers will calculate what happens after the initial view and resulting share.

They’ll define the complete series of meaningful steps and then reverse engineer the process to design content that delivers a complete and directed experience.

Content can carry with it the ability to raise awareness and also incite change. It is done by appealing to the very people who align around the subject and in order to convince them, these social objects must carry personal and emotional messages that connect with the hearts and minds of participants. Affinity is driven by emotions, exacting the essence that inspires someone to support something they believe in and fusing it with the passions of others who also share in the mission. If the intention is supported through the content and as such, designed to further action, meaningful connections are then forged and replicated. We are after all, attempting to make human connections and they are, to say the least, priceless.

This is social media and word of mouth marketing with a purpose. And, it’s the most powerful form of engagement I’ve practiced. When content connects with someone at a truly personal level, and explicitly asks them to participate and share, wonderful things come to life. I would say that the Pepsi Refresh Project is among those campaigns that connect people, ideas, emotions all while furthering the sentiment and support towards the Pepsi brand and the ideas and people orbiting it.

Sharing the Spotlight

Among the most powerful forms of galvanization is that of recognition and reciprocity.

Movements can and should feature the very voices of those who can power the spreading of ideas. Providing them with a platform where they can voice their thoughts and views among vested audiences who can celebrate contribution is empowering and rewarding to brands and equally to participants. Social Media is powered by people and its future is dependent on how we not only consume content, but also invest in its significance and relevance.

In Nokia’s recent experiment in the UK, the company erected the world’s biggest signpost to visually demonstrate and promote GPS functionality. The sign featured the locations of those individuals who sent information directly to the sign, and in turn, the information was shared via the sign’s Twitter account. It’s personal and gratifying as Nokia places you and me at the center of the experience.

Sharing isn’t Caring, It’s Furthering an Idea

Ideas are worthy of sharing, when there is incentive to do so. The incentive isn’t always rooted in rewards however, motivation can simply stem from a reaction – a smile, an email, an emoticon, credit, etc. This sharing transpires in the social communities where relationships are entwined and as such, social objects are most effective when they integrate sharing mechanisms designed to simplify the process of dissemination. AddtoAny recently studied the networks where sharing ideas and content and corresponding dialogue tended to concentrate.

At 400 million strong, Facebook is by far the most active of all social networks, eclipsing email by more than 2x. And, even though email is second to Facebook at the moment, Twitter is in a draft position.

The point is that without the inclusion of one-click sharing capabilities, combined with planned syndication strategies, the reach of our content is restricted even before it’s introduced.

To that end, Zarrella also studied the effect of the word “video” on sharing within Facebook and Twitter. His observations were interesting indeed and actually make the case to consider focusing efforts on Facebook.

Stories that contained videos were shared more on Facebook than that of the average story. On Twitter, Tweets that included the word video were shared less than the average story. Zarrella believed that the Facebook platform is conducive for sharing as it enables the embedding of multimedia content where as Twitter requires an outbound link.

The Epitome

In a recent post in SearchEngineLand, Jordan Kasteler shared the seven types of sharing motives:

1. Self Expression

2. Affinity

3. Validation

4. Prurience

5. Status Achievement

6. Altruism

7. Self-serving interests

While there are many published formulas designed to help you make your social objects “go viral,” nothing is more important than…

1. Creating content that’s relevant

2. Identifying the tastemakers and influencers who will help us reach the right audiences

3. Involving them in the process before the campaign is officially introduced – seeding

4. Striking a chord with the person they’re trying to compel – making an emotional connection

5. Encouraging them to share it with their contacts

6. Rewarding them for doing so

7. Defining the action we wish viewers to take after the engagement

8. Providing them with a forum for self-expression

9. Recognizing all of those who helped us

10. Connecting everyone together for future engagement

The strategies, examples and supporting data are only minimized when we view them as ingredients to a recipe of viral marketing. Doing so underestimates the value of the roles people play in the spreading of ideas and practically dehumanizes overall experiences.

When we introduce social objects, our ability to create, connect, and define experiences around these information and idea catalysts defines whether we earn the attention we feel we deserve or we savor the collaboration we engendered through design.

Reflecting on the words of good friend Hugh MacLeod, the three keys to social media marketing, or marketing in general, are as simple as they are profound…

1. Figure out what your gift is, and give it to them on a regular basis.

2. Make sure it’s received as a real gift, not as an advertising message

3. Then figure out exactly what it is that your trail of breadcrumbs leads back to.

I don’t believe in viral marketing, but I do believe in the socialization of relevant ideas and information when connected to the right people, in the right places, with genuine and pre-defined intent.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

The Roles of Facebook and Twitter in Social Media Marketing

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Social Media marketing is rapidly earning a role in the integrated marketing mix of small and enterprise businesses and as such, it’s transforming every division from the inside out. What starts with one champion in any given division, be it customer service, marketing, public relations, advertising, interactive, et al, eventually inspires an entire organization to socialize. What starts with one, a domino effect usually ensues toppling each department, gaining momentum, and triggering a sense of urgency through its path. And, it also marks the beginning of our journey through the ten stages of social media integration.

But where do we start?

This is a recurring theme here as businesses typically jump into Social Media without crafting a strategic plan rooted in goals and objectives. Nor do companies weigh the impact of engagement on the brand itself as social media champions, depending on the department in which they reside, typically monitor and engage in conversations that typically would lie outside of its domain.

MarketingProfs conducted a survey of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers and the results are worth revisiting as they typify a basic view of the opportunities rife within the social Web. Examining these numbers and more importantly, the social media programs currently employed, will help us innovate and evolve.

Successful Facebook Marketing Tactics

Created a survey of fans

B2B – 37.1%
B2C – 37.9%

Surveys are an effective way to garner feedback to continue to earn ongoing relevance. Surveys can range from satisfaction levels, behavior around the prospect or act of referrals, votes towards new policies and services or simply used for entertainment. At the very least, surveys inject variety into the Facebook stream to foster new opportunities for engagement and communication.

“Friending” recent customers with corporate Facebook profile

B2B – 34.4%
B2C – 26.3%

It should not go unsaid that this activity goes against Facebook’s Terms of Service. But with limited and hierarchical functionality of Fan Pages, creating a branded profile is one worthy of consideration. The interaction that fosters in profiles is radically different that those within Fan Pages. It’s the difference between peer-to-peer conversations and top-down broadcasting. Until Facebook realizes the value of commercial accounts, you must tread carefully. Facebook arbitrarily flags and deletes the branded profile accounts as they’re discovered.

Used Facebook user data to profile customers demographics or interests

B2B – 33.5%
B2C – 30.5%

In social media marketers experiment with programs that balance demographics, the categorization of people by age group, gender, education, income, etc, and psychographics, the grouping of people by interests, passions, and connections. Believe it or not, there are services that exist today that can mine data on Facebook to help marketers profile prospects. Outside of those services, many marketers also manually examine the individuals within their social graphs to garner insight into new initiatives and potential trends.

Created a Facebook application around the brand

B2B – 33.1%
B2C – 41.9%

Facebook applications are not guaranteed to earn an audience simply because they’re created. Users are overwhelmed with options for applications and their adoption of new apps are related more to the activity of their friends than to their allegiance to any particular brand. However, they are not ineffective either. According to the survey, MarketingProfs learned that applications were among the most “successful” tactic used by B2B and B2C companies.

Driving traffic to corporate materials through status updates

B2B – 29%
B2C – 28.4%

I’m a big believer in defining the experience. Eventually users engaged in social networks will click through to something, whether it’s something you shared or a social object they discovered. Where are we sending them? Chances are that they are landing on a message-rich, usually lifeless and generic web page or even worse, the company home page. Essentially we captivate people in a highly interactive and social environment and direct them to a static dead-end where they are left to define their next clicks without a renewed sense of creativity.

This tactic, I should mention, was reported as the most common tactic.

Buying targeted CPC ads

B2B – 24.5%
B2C – 27.1%

Targeted CPC (cost-per-click) ads on Facebook are only as effective as the intention and experience to which they’re tied. Many businesses use these ads to increase the number of fans on a fan page or also to promote corporate material. In my work, they have offered a minimum impact on increasing fans and delivered notable results in driving traffic to pre-defined experiences.

Marketers claimed that buying ads is among the least effective of the mix.

Successful Twitter Marketing Tactics

When we think of social media marketing, Facebook and Twitter usually go hand-in-hand.

Fan us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

Like Facebook, marketers viewed Twitter as a primary source for generating traffic. As such, most marketers reported using Twitter to send users to marketing Web pages and they seemed to be pleased with the results.

Monitor Twitter for PR problems in real-time

B2B – 40.7%
B2C – 46.9%

1/2 of all B2C marketers polled reported using Twitter to unearth potential PR problems. As we saw with the now epic Motrin Moms example, a PR problem can materialize at any moment, with little warning. B2B marketers also reported monitoring twitter as part of a proactive crises communications program.

Created an in-person event using only Twitter invites

B2B – 37.4%
B2C – 36%

I smirked when I read this. The wording is a very specific and perhaps it doesn’t capture the true story behind the opportunity. Suddenly every brand wants to host a Tweetup. While businesses use Twitter-only invite services such as TWTVITE to promote a brand-related Tweetup, hitting only users on Twitter limits the scope of the potential audience. In my experience, I’ve learned that by extending the visibility of the event beyond Twitter to Facebook Events and also services such as and Eventful, we can appeal to not only a wider audience, but also trigger highly productive and effective social graphs in the process – perhaps more so than possible in Twitter. A question for you though, if a Tweetup is promoted on any other social network, is it still a Tweetup?

Contacting Twitter users tweeting negatively about the brand

B2B – 36.7%
B2C – 44%

While this is a shared tactic between PR and customer service, this is a program that requires some form of workflow and process tied to it. It’s very easy to confuse who should respond to which tweets and who already did versus which tweets require response.

As you venture deeper into the world of monitoring and responding to negative or hostile tweets, you should note that consumers are learning that taking to Twitter begets a response. And, with every response they earn from brands, they along with others, are encouraged, and as such, conditioned to increase their activity of voicing complaints in a public spotlight.

Driving traffic by linking to Web pages

B2B – 35.7%
B2C – 35.2%

Again, similar to Facebook, we need to redefine the experience. Sending prospects, customers, and influencers to Web 1.0 pages is not an extension of the Twitter culture nor the expectations that define it.

Provocative text to drive link clicks

B2B – 34.8%
B2C – 40.6%

I found this to be an interesting survey question. I suppose that if businesses are sharing content in a compelling wrapper that doesn’t employ sensationalism or the equivalent of marketing parlor tricks, then these numbers represent effectiveness. However, if Tweets are rich with gimmicks, then these numbers dictate an alarming trend. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” To earn attention nowadays requires a level of creativity that mirrors the methodologies of creative advertising and marketing fused with the grounding of strategic communications and marketing. Attention only continues to thin and therefore requires planning and editorial programming to ensure relevance and appeal.

Invite Twitter users who tweet positively about a brand to do…

B2B – 34%
B2C – 33.9%

There are many programs that are led by marketing, PR, and customer service that attempt to transform positive tweets into the basis for an advocacy or official ambassador program. As this tactic increases in ubiquity, consumers are getting wise to the power in social media. Like in the aspect of negative tweets, consumers are also learning that while money doesn’t grow on trees, it does grow on tweets. Meaning, consumers expect something for their loyalty. Consider this prior to engaging.

Increased Twitter followers using traditional media mention

B2B – 30.7%
B2C – 30.4%

Timing Tweets to maximize views

B2B – 26.9%
B2C – 30.5%

As attention spans thin, we realize that there’s an art and science to what we tweet and when. As documented by Dan Zarrella, there are various times and days that reveal when the attention aperture is open and people are amenable to hearing messages and clicking through to shared links.

This, my friends, is the true opportunity and challenge within Twitter. We become media programmers, and as such, our content as well as timing and promotion dictate the size of the audience and the resulting activity.

Driving sales by linking to promotional Web pages

B2B – 22.4%
B2C – 24.6%

Dell paved the way for this category and continues to do so. If you were to read the report, you might believe that they are the exception however. Most respondents claimed that this tactic was among the least effective. Perhaps that’s because many of the respondents didn’t anticipate the needs and drivers of their followers. Dell, among other companies, has learned that there are indeed triggers that engender responses in the form of commerce. What’s more important, consumers are reporting that they follow brands to learn of deals and special offers. And, 64% of consumers reported that they make a purchase from a brand because of a digital experience via a Website, microsite, mobile coupon, or e-mail.

In 2010, we are inspiring a new era of socialized marketing and engagement.

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