Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why 'viral marketing' is wrong

For one thing, because the term 'viral' isn't usually associated with anything positive--especially online. But lest I appear to be quibbling over terminology, I offer reason number 2:

Because 'viral' appears to be a wholly inaccurate description of how word of mouth actually works online...don't beleive me, though, beleive Science!

A study funded by the National Science Foundation tracked how a few of those notorius 'chain emails' made their way from inbox to inbox...you know the type...someone fowards you something funny, inspiring or blood boiling...along with the 12 or 13 other 'forwards' that got it to the person before you.

Turns out that messages travel in a much more complex, less direct ways than the disease transmission model would suggest.

From the summary:

"Rather than spreading like a virus, with each message producing many direct "descendents" in the tree diagram, the data suggest that people are selective in forwarding messages to others in their social networks. For example, the researchers discovered that 90 percent of the time, the messages produced only a single descendent."

We've developed a modeller to show the effect of assumptions about pass-along rates in word of mouth campaigns for our clients...I think we will continue to use the most conservative assumptions moving forward.

In addition to specific implications in crafting word of mouth campaigns, this study reiterates how real life communications are usually far more complicated than neat and tidy marketing explanations suggest. Who'd have thought?

For an eye opening commentary on the struggle between art and science, YouTube brings you: Thomas Dolby

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