What Drives Video Viral ?

December 12, 2011

This post first appeared in MENG Blend:

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Wouldn’t we all love to have “the viral video” on our brand? Case in point:  Evian’s “skating babies,” a classic of viral earned media, has been viewed over 16 million times on YouTube.

Evian Babies -- What Drove it Viral ?

It’s every CMO’s dream:  low to no cost video that extends reach beyond paid advertising, stirs emotions, and in some cases, even drives sales. It’s a tool that should be in every CMO’s toolkit.

Viral Video Success Formula:  There’s No There There

Alas, the viral video success toolkit looks empty. Why? Unfortunately, there seems to be no success formula for creating successful viral video content. What we do know from the dynamics of viral marketing is that most viral efforts of any kind tend to quickly lose steam and gradually peter out before having any kind of brand impact.

What makes videos go viral beyond the obvious fact that people share them? Who knows. We know plenty about what makes successful advertising—breakthrough, branding, persuasion, etc. But viral video? To paraphrase a famous feminist: there’s just no there there.

Evidence Based Marketing:  Measuring Viral Video

Stage right:  enter evidence based Marketing. A recent study by Ehrenberg-Bass examines the why behind successful (or not) viral video and draws some highly practical and relevant conclusions.

Ehrenberg-Bass studied 400 user-generated videos shared on Facebook. They asked consumers to score each video on different positive (e.g. astonishment, surprise, etc.) and negative (e.g. shock, discomfort, etc.) emotional states. Positive and negative emotional states were scaled as either high arousal (e.g. astonishment, shock, etc.) or low arousal (e.g. surprise, discomfort, etc.). In total, they tested 16 different positive/negative high/low emotional reactions.

The emotional reaction scores for each of the 400 videos were then matched up against the viral success of each of the videos to understand what emotions cause people to share videos.

Viral Video – Key Learnings

  1. “Amusing” and “boring” are the most commonly elicited consumer emotions.  Note that these were just the most commonly elicited emotions when consumers were exposed to the videos, and had nothing to do with the propensity for consumers to share the videos.
  2. More videos elicited low arousal states than high arousal states.  This makes logical sense; you would not expect most videos to elicit extreme emotional responses, and the data supports this.  “Amusement,” “happiness,” and “boredom” are all examples of non-extreme low arousal states.
  3. High arousal state videos are more likely to be shared than low ones. Said differently, the videos that had the most sharing were ones that elicited a more extreme emotional reaction, like “hilarity,” “exhilaration” and “anger.” Low arousal states such as “boredom” and “calmness” spelled bad news for viral video.
  4. Positive emotions are better than negative ones.  On average, consumers are more likely to share videos that make them feel positively (e.g. hilarity, exhilaration). However, there are exceptions. While not the norm, negative emotions such as “anger” and “sadness” drive sharing about as well as positive emotions.

Ehrenberg-Bass sums up their findings with the pithy “make em laugh, make em cry.” But most of all, don’t just amuse or bore them !

What To Do ?

Traditional copy testing metrics are insufficient to this new age Marketing tool. And, there are no standard testing services which purport to predict the likelihood of a video going viral to my knowledge. That said, CMO’s can continue to live in the dark or begin thinking about metrics that are predictive of success for video viral sharing.

We need a data based approach to measuring the likely virality of video, along with defined success criteria. Looking for videos that elicit high levels of very strong positive or negative emotions is a good starting point.

Evian Babies -- Making People Happy Drives Videos Viral

Now, back to those skating Evian babies. I don’t know about you, but I find them hilarious and amusing, and most of all, they just make me happy. And that’s why I shared them with you :>).

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Facebook Insights Every Marketer Should Know

August 30, 2011

Social media defies all manner of definition and understanding for many Marketers. For many, it’s like the proverbial blind men touching the elephant of social media:

  • It’s for listening
  • It’s about “likes”
  • It’s the fans that count
  • It’s an engagement platform
  • It’s Facebook
  • It’s YouTube
  • It’s an advertising platform…

The list goes on and on…

Facebook Insights Every Marketer Should Know

What Do I Need to Know?

Sometimes, we just need some basic truths or insights about a topic that simplify it into manageable and understandable chunks that are easily digestible. And actionable.

At a recent Marketing conference, Facebook executives talked about what Facebook is and what it isn’t. Some of their points were simple, yet compelling. Facebook doesn’t equal social media, but it surely is the most important social media platform in the marketing world of today.

So what did they say and what should you know?

Five Facebook Insights

  • Value isn’t just about the like button.  Consumers who “like” a brand or become fans on Facebook almost certainly are already fans of the brand in their non-digital life. Diet Coke has 1.1 million fans. And they’re just expressing their loyalty and connection to a brand that already earned their trust in the marketplace. The brand already did the hard work. Facebook simply enabled liking with a button.
  • Fans are only valuable because they have friends. Having a large number of likes is not an end in and of itself. The reason brands need fans: to influence their friends about your brand. For example, a brand with 500k Facebook fans could actually have a potential audience of 60M friends, should all of the fans choose to share something with their friends. So, it’s really the friends of fans that are of most value.
  • Social graph influence comes from many fans doing a little, not a few doing a lot.  Said differently, the idea that only a few people have mass influence and can drive large word of mouth is generally not true. Oprah is Oprah but most of us don’t have that kind of influence. What really happens is that many fans influence a few friends each, versus a few influencers influencing many. Facebook has analyzed how brand content or messaging spreads across the Facebook social graph. And what they’ve discovered is that there is no Oprah effect—e.g. one person influencing many. The lesson: don’t just focus on the “influencers.”
  • Fans and likes drive better ad performance. People clearly trust friends, so when ads are served with a layer of social content – e.g. Jim, Mary and 12 other of your friends are fans of Virgin America, the ads work better. And they work better the further down the funnel you go, with the largest impact on purchase intent. To read more about this phenomenon, read my earlier post How Social Context Drives Ad Effectiveness.
  • Ads work best against light Facebook users. This was a new insight for me and one that invites the big “why?” question. Facebook says their data clearly shows that the same ad drives greater impact among light Facebook users versus heavy users. These light Facebook users also tend to be light TV viewers. So, Facebook is a good platform for extending reach against light viewers.

Word of Mouth at Scale

What Facebook has really done, to use the words of one Facebook executive, is create the potential for “word of mouth at scale.” Word of mouth at scale exists because consumers can “broadcast” their point of view—about brands, customer service issues, likes, etc. to all of their friends. And if hundreds of thousands or millions of fans do the same, you have word of mouth at scale. So, instead of your brand’s viral efforts petering out as most efforts do (see The Dynamics of Viral Marketing post), you can really scale word of mouth.

The Real Challenge: Igniting Fan Conversations and Sharing

Which begs the question:  how does your brand ignite fans to talk about your brand with their friends to create word of mouth at scale? Facebook doesn’t claim to have the answer to this question, but this is the real hard work of building brands. But, that’s for another post.

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Driving Desirable Digital Behaviors with TV Advertising

December 6, 2010

Things are not always what they seem. Two TV ads score the same—in copy testing or in market—so they’re equally effective, right? Not always.

TV: Driver of Consumer Digital Experiences

TV ads don’t just deliver awareness, message recall, etc. They drive behaviors—some of which are digital–and good for your brand.

Cross Platform Ad Effectiveness

Marketers increasingly want to understand how advertising works across mediums—particularly TV and Digital. Some of the more frequent questions I hear from CMO’s are the following:

  • What’s the value of a Facebook fan?
  • What’s the role of search in the customer journey?
  • How I use the web to drive greater engagement with consumers?
  • How can I drive more word of mouth and buzz for my brand?

These are all great digital questions. And lots of people have tried to answer them with digitally focused analysis—some effectively, some not.

Building Brands & Online Buzz

Another Way to Think About TV Ad Effectiveness

Here’s a different tack:  what if we analyzed these questions, not from a digital only perspective, but from a TV advertising perspective? Or, to say it differently, what if we were to ask the question as follows:

“What role does TV advertising play in driving desirable digital behaviors?”

TV & Digital Viewing Behavior

This has been a tough question to answer. Who’s going to keep a diary of what they watch on TV and then the myriad of things they do on-line? The fact is that our understanding of TV and Digital viewing behavior has been mostly limited to knowing how many people did what.

Just as important is understanding not only what people are doing, but in what sequence. And after viewing what ads? New single source viewing data opens up new possibilities for understanding media behavior:  it’s now possible to observe (with viewers permission) both what they watch on TV and what they then do on-line.

Next Generation TV Ad Effectiveness

So, back to the opening question. Two TV ads score the same—in copy testing or in market—so they’re equally effective, right? The answer: not always. Why?

Here are 4 new ways that TV advertising can drive positive digital behaviors.

1.  Drive Consumers to Your Facebook Fan Page – Many brands have embraced Facebook and are building Fan pages as opposed to their own branded websites. They see the advantage of “social” currency and a key objective is building the number of Facebook fans.

TV advertising has a role to play here:  more effective ads can drive more consumers to your brands fan page than less effective (or no) ads. Seen in this light, TV can play an essential role in your digital plans–even when the messaging doesn’t explicitly have a call to web action.

Facebook Fan Pages & Brands

2.  Drive Consumers to Search for Your Brand – Companies across all industries have embraced search, even in CPG, and for good reason. It works. Of course, paid search costs real money. So, how to drive more organic search for your brand? Well, one way is with your TV advertising. What portion of consumers seeing your TV ad go on-line and search for your brand?

3.  Drive Consumers to Your Brand Web Site – Like Facebook Fan Pages, many brands have their own website to engage and deepen the relationship with consumers. Question: is your TV advertising driving consumers to your website? Which ads are more versus less effective in doing so?

4.  Drive Consumers to Talk About Your Brand – Research from Keller-Fay has shown that approximately 1/3 of word of mouth is about TV advertising. How effective is your TV ad at driving word of mouth? Are two TV ads which score equally well on traditional ad effectiveness metrics driving different conversation levels about your brand? If so, one is clearly more valuable than the other (assuming the conversations are positive).

Capital One Mascot Challenge: Driving Consumers to Website

Driving Desirable Digital Behaviors

All of the above represent new ways of thinking about TV ad effectiveness. Traditional measures of TV advertising performance around breakthrough and branding will continue to be important.

But increasingly, Marketers need to think about how TV advertising drives other behaviors—particularly digital ones—that benefit their brands.

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Guest Post: Rude Awakening— Only 15% of Word of Mouth Marketing Campaigns Show Positive Results

October 18, 2010

This post is part of a continuing series of guest posts and was originally posted on MENG BLEND. Christopher S. Rollyson is founder of CSRA, Inc., Architect of The Social Network Roadmap(sm) & Managing Editor at the Global Human Capital Journal.

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Word of mouth marketing is seen by many marketers as the economic engine of social business (or media) because people recommend products and services to each other: all marketers have to do is give them the right information to share and make it easy for them to recommend things, right? Wrong.

Rude Awakening— Only 15% of Word of Mouth Marketing Campaigns Show Positive Results

Or, in popular parlance, “It’s complicated.”

Here, I’ll identify some of the flawed concepts that underlie word of mouth marketing (WOMM), so you can avoid being part of its 85% casualty rate. I’ll show in general how you can tweak the idea and succeed with social business initiatives more often.

Word of Mouth Marketing Is Flawed

At Alterian’s user conference, Don Peppers shared this arresting statistic in his keynote:  only 15% of WOMM initiatives show positive ROI. Shocking—at least until you start thinking about it. Loosely speaking, WOM (sans “marketing”) happens when a trusted and relatively unbiased “friend” shares her experience with a product/service with someone close to her. “Someone like me” who isn’t tainted by sales commissions or quarterly revenue targets.

Marketing, on the other hand, is generally about creating need or driving sales. Do you see the problem?

In this context, WOM and marketing are mutually exclusive: the latter’s purpose is to serve the company by moving product; the former serves the person first. It’s a conflict of interest, and it will rarely work. Ever.

93% of Word of Mouth Is Offline

In a second data point, Keller Fay Group’s latest TalkTrack study revealed that the overwhelming majority of WOM (as defined by them) takes place offline and face to face (via e-consultancy and @stefanw), not online through social business. This is not surprising when you stop to think about what traditional WOM is, largely a conversation between family or close friends. Tight ties. However, neither of these references dives into WOM or WOMM deeply enough to understand why and how they can work or not.

WOM among Loose Ties

Digital communications significantly reduce the cost of many kinds of interaction, so WOM among loose ties will continue to grow. However, marketers should recognize that loose ties and tight ties have important differences because the motivations and level of trust are different.

Loose ties are not just inferior tight ties; people form loose ties for many reasons, but the online many-to-many environment enables people to manage their reputations and influence by leveraging the network effect. Tight tie relationships are limited in number, multidimensional and high investment.

How Marketers Can Succeed with Word of Mouth

Having led marketing for several firms, I can appreciate why marketers would love the concept of word of mouth marketing. Given that they are in conflict, it’s important to focus on WOM while avoiding WOMM. I’ll wager that the majority of the 85% of failures result from not understanding and honoring their differences. The good news is, WOM drives sales—when companies honor and nurture it. Here’s how:

  • First—and this is a leap of faith—accept that WOM serves the customer, not you. Trust that, if you don’t interfere, positive results will often result. There is no halfway here, intent and honesty are WOM’s key differentiators. Don Peppers shared Staples’ “Speak Easy” fiasco as a warning (“sponsored” tweets and bloggers are other traps). All companies say that they put the customer first, but many aren’t being honest with themselves or their customers.
  • Second, the company must put itself first to be congruent with itself as a business. It shouldn’t try to do WOM. But the company, acting in its self-interest, can support WOM. Marketers must safeguard these boundaries if they want to succeed because they form the foundation of trust among the three principal actors: company, friend and customer.
  • Third, accept that your products and services are not a great fit for most people. In a pervasive transparent network, the market will figure out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t try to “make markets” by convincing people to buy unless you have a valid value proposition for them. Focus on serving people for whom you have a superior value proposition. This is the key to thriving in a transparent environment.
  • Fourth, trust customers’ friends to engage with WOM—for their own motivations. Remember, they are there to serve their friend, not to move your product. WOM is their role, not yours. Campaigns like Staples’ fail because marketers don’t understand their role and unknowingly turn WOM into shilling. Sorry.

Remember Miracle on 34th Street? It was breakthrough to send customers to other stores when they had a better value proposition for the customer. It increased WOM because it surprised people and exceeded expectations. But it was Kris Kringle (a “friend”) who started it based on his personal integrity. Later Macy’s turned it into a tactic, but Kris never did.

Accepting WOM transparency is difficult because it requires significant culture change. Firms that don’t accept this new reality will fight and lose. The market will expose them in the end.

On the other hand, those that take this road will be more successful because they will be aligned with customers and their friends. Moreover, focusing on valid value propositions and customers will tend to lead the company to innovate more successfully.

Do you agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments…

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Christopher S. Rollyson has been a marketing and technology pioneer for over twenty years. As a consultant and marketing executive, he has had a leading role in launching such game-changers as: Java with Sun Microsystems, e-business strategy with PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consulting Services, and SOA, Web services and architecture solutions with nVISIA and IBM. He can be found on Twitter as @CSRollyson.

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What Consumers Don’t Like About Your Advertising – And 5 Ways to Fix It

March 22, 2010

What do consumers think about advertising? Is it broken? As I noted in a recent post, “The 5 Truths of TV Advertising Effectiveness,” single source and syndicated ad effectiveness studies generally line up on the side of advertising continuing to be effective. But, as they say in NASA speak: “Houston, we have a problem.” And the problem is that consumers are increasingly telling us they are fatigued by and distrustful of advertising. How should brands respond? 

Advertising Viewed Thru Anthropology

The Associated Press and Context Based Research Group recently published an intriguing report: “A New Model for Communication:  Studying the Deep Structure of Advertising and News Consumption.” The researchers used cultural anthropology methods to follow consumers from around the world throughout the day, observe their real world media behaviors, and question them about their attitudes toward news and advertising. This was an opportunity to go beyond hard numbers, to get insight into how consumers are thinking and feeling about advertising as a medium. 

TV Advertising: Omnipresent to Consumers

First, the news. Consumers feel bombarded by it, particularly the daily snippets and sound-bytes that provide basic facts and updates. Consumers felt these are necessary, but not sufficient. They also want the back-story behind the facts and to understand relevant “spin-off” stories. In short, they wanted news that provides depth and context. 

What Consumers Say is Wrong with Advertising

Moving from news to ads, consumers expressed feelings of fatigue and distrust. There is just too much of it. It seems that if an ad can be served somewhere, it will be, whether consumers want it or not. And how does this leave consumers feeling? Taken advantage of. 

Further, because of both its ubiquity and uni-directional nature, consumers are left feeling they are not in control. While advertising has never been seen as a high trust medium, the above factors work together to exacerbate the feeling that advertisers just can’t be trusted. 

But, Advertising as a Necessary and Even Useful Medium

The learnings from the news world are also learnings that apply to advertising: consumers want more than to just be bombarded by advertising everywhere they go. Consumers recognize the importance of advertising and, in fact, even value the information and entertainment value that (some of) it provides. 

And, they like sharing valuable information, some of which comes from advertising, with their personal networks. The research showed that consumers want to clear the clutter, regain control of the advertising information they receive, and reestablish trust with brands. This is reflected in how they actually consume media: they encounter ads, get over-saturated, investigate brands and information, and ultimately, share perspectives with peers when relevant. 

Consumers Trust Online Social Networks

5 Ways Marketers Can “Fix” Their Advertising

So, how can Marketers respond to consumers needs for an overhaul in the advertising environment, all the while respecting the fact that good advertising continues to work in building brands and business results? 

  1. Deliver More Engaging Ads – Research shows that ads which are relevant, persuasive, entertaining and emotionally engaging work to build brands and sales results. Research has consistently shown that creative quality continues to be the dominant driver in marketing communications success. And the AP research reinforces that consumers actually like and value top flight advertising creative.
  2. Deliver Ads in Relevant Content – Consumers really do pay more attention to ads when they are more relevant. And relevance is higher when you place your brands ad in a program which has relevant context.
  3. Create a Conversation – Consumers are looking for more two-way communication. While Forrester research shows that less than 1/4 of consumers will actually participate in conversations with your brand, there is a substantial group who will. They want to share their opinions and feel like they matter.
  4. Make Sharing Easy – Many consumers want to share relevant information and opinions with their personal networks. Brands need to make it easy to do so. Facebook Connect and other tools will increasingly enable consumers to share their views on brands with friends and others as they traverse the web.
  5. Be Honest, Open and Transparent – The AP research shows that consumers want to re-establish trust with advertising and the brands behind it. To do so, your brand must be honest, open and transparent. Brands that tell it like it is, listen to consumers, and deliver on promises are more likely to rebuild trust in their advertising.

So, it seems advertising still works despite the shortcomings of the current advertising environment. This is an opportunity for brands. Brands which directly address consumers concerns about advertising have the potential to provide useful information, regain consumer trust, and build long term relationships. 

Perhaps brands should even go so far as to tell consumers how they’re going to behave with respect to advertising. This would be a good first step in letting consumers know they’ve been heard and that brands are responding to the message. 

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The 2010 Marketing Landscape – Social Media & Business Predictions for Marketers

March 1, 2010

Marketing is in a state of change perhaps unmatched since the invention of TV advertising and brand management. As marketers consider how to better utilize the social web to build their brand in this rapidly changing environment, one good read is “17 Visionaries Predict Social Business Impact on the Enterprise.” At the start of 2010, Christopher Rollyson asked his colleagues, including me, from the LinkedIn Group CSRA Innovation Group to contribute their thoughts to this “crystal ball” gazing initiative.   

2010 Web 2.0 Predictions

What were some of the predictions from the group on the impact of web 2.0 on the future of Marketing?   

Marketing — More Real Time and More ROI

  • Marketing Will Become More “Real Time” —  My prediction  focused on a seismic shift in Marketing, with  marketers beginning to view  social networks as a significant marketing contact point with broad implications for how marketing is managed and measured. Dri­ven by dig­i­tal and Web 2.0, Mar­ket­ing will increasingly move from an annual marketing planning exercise focused on one-way communication, to a real-time, dynamically planned function focused on interacting with and responding to consumers in real-time. Mar­ket­ing effec­tive­ness will increas­ingly be mea­sured in real-time, and adjust­ments will be made “on the fly,” based on brand equity and ROI met­rics.
  • “Earned Media” Will Become More Measurable — And More Relatable to Paid Media —  The “greater focus for most com­pa­nies will be on demand creation through use of social media & Web 2.0 tech­nolo­gies,” according to Rob Peters.  Marketers will increasingly focus on the creation of “Earned Media,” and will build their measurement capabilities to better understand factors of success. As well, Marketers will increasingly think of media in a more holistic “Blended Media” framework, e.g. the mix of traditional paid TV, Web, etc. and earned media such as Twitter, blogs, organic search and such. This is important since TV viewership continues to increase, and TV advertising seems to work about as well as ever. Understanding the relationship and interaction of paid and earned media will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated in 2010.

Social Networks Will Become Increasingly…

  • More Able to Drive Relationship Marketing — Christopher Rollyson affirmed the increasingly important role of global social networks in “discovering, building and maintaining relationships.” Network theory shows that the more people who are in a network, the more powerful it becomes for all members. As social networks continue to grow and combine in new forms, this network effect will only increase the potential impact of social networks. And continued social media technical innovation will accelerate brands ability to build new and more interactive relationships with their customers.
  • More Cost Effective — On the topic of the growth of social networks, Suzy Tonini points out that Web 2.0’s “reach and cost-effectiveness have been a huge plus” in the midst of the recession. While not free, social media will continue to offer the potential to drive improved results at lower cost. The key will be for brands to understand what aspects of earned and paid media drive word-of-mouth, viral marketing and create a long tail of positive brand impressions on the web that continue to build the brand long after the initial effort is finished.
  • More Mobile with Greater Ability to Share Trust Based Information — Recommendations from people you know is consistently rated by consumers as a top marketing contact point. The continued adoption of Facebook Connect will drive this to a new level as consumers can increasingly log in to their favorite sites with their Facebook ID, and then access their social networks opinions and recommendations as they traverse the web. 
  • More Location Aware — Alvin Chin poses that “location-aware” geo-social networks will allow the recording of “social interactions in real life.” This will allow Marketers to increasingly “map” consumer engagement by geographic location, serve up relevant content, and interact in novel and interesting ways.

Geo-Social Networks Take Twitter and Facebook to the Next Level

Will the Predictions Become Realities in 2010?

Not every prediction comes true. Social media pundits predicted the death of TV and there’s just no evidence yet that it’s dying. That said, there’s no question that web 2.0 and social media will only expand in 2010.

Any marketer who questions the likelihood that these predictions about information sharing, the expansion of social networks, and brand building should consider the advent of Google Buzz. With the ability to share status updates to selected groups, interact with others via location-based software, and find answers via mobile search engines, Google Buzz takes the offerings of social media players like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare to the next level. And that’s one digital phenomena that started out as a prediction.   

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Learning From the Dynamics of Viral Marketing

January 25, 2010

In what context do viral marketing strategies work? How do on-line product recommendations develop, multiply, spread and ultimately, dwindle and die? And, can Marketers influence any of this?  

These were important questions posed by Leskovec, Adamic, and Huberman in their 2008 study “The Dynamics of Viral Marketing.” This is one of the few studies I’ve seen to actually study how on-line recommendations grow virally and how this growth impacts purchase behavior throughout the viral network.  

Viral Marketing -- When and Where Does it Work?

 

Admittedly, the study had limitations, notably that it was only four categories, just measured on-line viral activity, and included a discount incentive to help motivate purchase. But, even with these limitations, it uncovered deeper insights into the systematic patterns in knowledge sharing and persuasion online—all of which are of high interest to Marketers.  

What Did the Study Entail?

Lescovec et al. examined an online recommendation network composed of 4 million people who made 16 million recommendations for 0.5 million products. Each time a consumer purchased a book, music, or movie, he or she could  send e-mails recommending the item to friends. The first person to purchase the same item through a referral link received a 10% discount.  

What was Measured

  • When and at what price a product was purchased
  • If the product was recommended to others
  • Whether the recommendation resulted in a subsequent purchase and discount

They then modeled the effectiveness of recommendations as a function of the total number of previously exchanged recommendations.  

Recommendation Networks Grow Slowly Over Time.

 

Important Viral Network Learnings & Insights

Finding #1:  Consumers recommended a large number of products to the same group of people. As a result, recommendation networks became heavily locally-based. For example, in the DVD recommendation network there are 182,000 pairs that exchanged more than 10 recommendations.  

Consumers Tend to Recommend Products to the Same People

 

Finding #2: Recommendation networks centered on a specific product category. That is, the people tended to focus on recommending a particular product category and thus created a “community of interest.” Having said this, most all networks shared recommendations for all types of products.  

Finding #3: Trust, influence, and perception of “spam” affected purchase. As people exchanged more recommendations, the likelihood they would purchase the product increased due to a growing foundation of trust. However, purchase likelihood increased, peaked, and then fell as consumers received additional recommendations for a specific product. A few recommendations built credibility; too many appeared as “spam.”  

Finding #4:  Most recommendation chains didn’t grow very large. In fact, most terminated with the initial product purchase, and even the largest connected networks were very small as a percentage of the total population.  

Recommendation Chains Don’t Typically Grow Very Large

 

Finding #5: 20% of recommendations accounted for 50% of sales. This is not far from the usual 80-20 rule, where the top 20% of products account for 80% of sales.  

What are the ‘Viral’ Implications for Marketers?

1. Identify the “Amplifiers.” Given that 20% of recommendations generate 50% of sales, it’s key to figure out whom the amplifiers are and focus your efforts on them.  

2. Determine Where the “Amplifiers” Congregate. Where do they exchange product information? On what platforms do they consume media? Web behavior can be linked to off-line purchase panels to quantify the effectiveness of recommendations (see “What Really Drives Web Advertising ROI”).  

3. Take Online Recommendation Networks to the next level Through Social Media Marketing. Marketers should explore development of models to measure recommendation systems on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and the larger online arena. Through broader web 2.0 outreach, marketers can quantify consumer engagement on recommendation networks by volume, reach, tone, and source.  

Marketers can optimize paid media and earned media with viral marketing.

 

4. Be Wary of Creating “Recommendation-Fatigue.” A fine line exists between trust and influence in recommending a product and what is widely considered “spam.” Consumer engagement via any online channel must be done with careful consideration of earned media and buzz promotion.  

Viral Marketing: Limitations…

What’s not yet so clear from the research is how to minimize transmission “breakdown” – e.g. how do you minimize the likelihood that a product recommendation is the last one. As the research showed, most viral networks don’t grow very large. Marketers will only invest significant money if they can truly scale viral marketing programs.  

…And Future Opportunities

With the right tools and metrics, marketers can diversify their marketing plans to incorporate viral marketing strategies. The research clearly shows that viral marketing can build unique and niche recommendation networks, bolster consumer engagement, and lift sales.  

And as consumers continue to favor a digitally-based, social network-centric world, it’s critical that Marketers become more expert at viral marketing. Key to this will be identifying amplifiers, focusing on congregation points, leveraging social media opportunities—all without overdoing it. As importantly, Marketers must discover new approaches to spread and scale viral marketing just as effectively as the flu seems to proliferate every flu season.  

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