Everyone tries to solve the riddle of successfully using viral marketing. That’s a no-brainer.
During client meetings we often begin by explaining the difference between active and passive virality.
Our clients are interested in their marketing messages “going viral”. The first element required for what we call “active viral marketing” is outstanding content or another trigger that gets the audience to spread the word within their network. Forwarding links to a YouTube video or a micro site are just two examples of potentially desired behaviors.
There is of course a rather big barrier in the way: You ask someone to take action and share link to a video or a micro site, or some other hook with someone else in their network. You also need to stand out from thousands of marketing messages each of us receives each day.
Considerable efforts and resources are often pumped into these viral marketing campaigns. But something can easily get overlooked here: Social media platforms offer a much more elegant way to reach a larger audience without asking anyone to put their reputation on the line. If your audience simply starts to interact with you, others will be able to see this. It is the nature of social media that you get to see what your friends are doing.
Facebook Fan Pages are the perfect example. If a visitor on your fan page leaves a comment on a posting on your page, his friends will be able to see it. Your visitor doesn’t need to take the step of reaching out to anyone. He/she simply gives feedback or posts something on a fan page. Interacting on a social media platform often results from the urge to instantly comment and share an opinion. Often it is an emotional reaction. It is important that this emotion can be easily captured – before the visitor starts paying attention to something else. From your perspective the visitor just took the step to promote your site. Compare that to actually getting someone to send an email to a friend or even calling someone.
We call this the “passive viral effect” or “passive virality”.
This approach is much less intrusive.
The “entry barrier” is much lower. A user doesn’t need to be triggered to take another step and send out emails or reach out to his network some other way.
The interaction of the user with the marketer can happen in many different ways: comments, voting, quizzes, sharing content, etc. It can also happen at various locations: Facebook, Microsite, etc.
Everyone in a user’s network can learn about this interaction, not just a small inner circle that someone might contact via email.
The reputation of a user is not on the line. No one will question the motives of the user or will feel that his/her time has been wasted.
Quantity meets quality
These thoughts don’t just apply to viral marketing, but to social media marketing in general. We think the connectors between the two are growing and the line is already getting very blurry. One-way communication is turning into an outdated concept and is being replaced by dialog. This shift creates and requires interaction.
The number of interactions in a given conversation could eventually become the new “lead currency” for viral and social media marketing. Instead of just using pure quantitative reach methods (i.e. ad impressions or page views) we should look at interactions as a way to measure success and plan future activities. These high quality interactions simply let us gain much more insight. We can look at these interactions in a conversation, and then add how many others get to see them (i.e. friends of a user interacting on a Fan Page).
The second element in this formula is replacing the ad impressions. The recipients don’t just get to see an ad; they get to see an interaction of one of their friends, which is usually much more interesting than a commercial message. The difference is that at the end we might have a much more meaningful way to measure the reach of our efforts. It combines quality and quantity in a rather elegant way. Of course, no one is able to follow each step of all their friends in their online network any longer. This needs to be factored in.
Down the road: Advertising we might actually like
This new benchmarking system creates transparence, and improves measuring the success of a social media campaign. It will also improve marketer/audience communication overall. Consumers won’t be bothered with unwanted messages any longer. Companies would focus their efforts on areas where they are actually wanted – not just tolerated. As of today this is only a vision we have, but you never know…