Why Seeding Your Content is Key to Making it Viral

April 26, 2012

First Seeds Planted by Pictoscribe - Home again @FlickrIs great to see scientific research being done on social media, viral videos, and marketing in general (see previous post on the New Science of Viral Ads). Problem is, many research papers contradict each other. A recent study published on Marketing Journal titled “Seeding Strategies for Viral Marketing: An Empirical Comparison” (requires registration), by Oliver Hinz, Bernd Skiera, Christian Barrot, & Jan U. Becker, tries to get some of the contradictions resolved when it comes to what makes something “go viral“.

4 Critical Factors for Viral Success

According to the authors, there are four critical factors for viral marketing success:

1: Content, or the attractiveness of a message makes it memorable

2: The structure of the social network 

3: The behavioral characteristics of the recipients and their incentives for sharing the message

4: The seeding strategy, which determines the initial set of targeted consumers chosen by the initiator of the viral marketing campaign

The authors attribute the fourth component, Seeding Strategy, the higher weight. It’s all about who you are sending your video to, they say.

“Seeding the “right” consumers yields up to eight times more referrals than seeding the “wrong” ones” – Hinz, Skiera, Barrot, Becker

So how do you go about “seeding” it right? Here’s where many researchers disagree. There are typically three types of people you can target:

  • Hubs:  well-connected people with a high number of connections to others
  • Fringes: poorly connected people
  • Bridges: those who can connect two otherwise unconnected parts of the network

Network

Hubs tend to be better informed because of their social links and they can also influence their networks (hey, if I got this from Bob it must be good!). However, Hubs may not be optimal channels because if the person that acts as a hub doesn’t like or doesn’t agree with the content, they will not pass it on to their network. As big targets for new content, hubs are constantly bombarded with information and therefore may ignore or not see your new content which will prevent it from being spread.

Adoption of a new idea can then start at the “fringes” and make its way through the network. It has also been argued that fringes are more easily influenced than hubs and therefore may be good targets for spreading content. Bridges, for their ability to connect different areas of a network have also been targets because they can influence a portion of the network otherwise immune to the ‘viral’ content you have created.

The Optimal Seeding Strategy

In their research, the authors encountered four studies that recommend seeding hubs, three recommend fringes, and one recommends bridges. No wonder there is so much confusion when it comes to social media and viral videos! They then conducted experiments to prove those theories to the test to see which one would emerge as the winning seeding strategy.

The result was that “Marketers can achieve the highest number of referrals, across various settings, if they seed the message to hubs or bridges“. They also go on to say that “companies should use social network information about mutual relationships to determine their viral marketing strategy”.

Check out a summary of the study and results published by the authors on SlideShare (link below):

The Social Network

Understanding the social structure of potential networks is an important part when planning your social strategy. It pays off then for companies to mine the data they already have about their customers in order to determine the best people to seed your campaign. If high-connected people are picked to seed the campaign, the probability that it will spread is greatly increased.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether Facebook and other social networks will start playing a very active role in providing companies with detailed network information in order to help with their seeding efforts. Companies already have access to demographics, is just a matter of expanding the data set and, of course, avoiding potential privacy concerns.

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Measuring Marketing Effectiveness

April 19, 2012

Mathematical calculator buttons with ruler by  Horia Varlan @ FlickrIf before marketers had the challenging job of gathering data to analyze campaign effectiveness, now the opposite might be true. Email marketing, marketing automation, web analytics, CRM, and the myriad of software now permeating marketing organizations gives us more data than we can process in a timely fashion.

A recent survey by CMO.com shows that fewer than 20% of marketing respondents have full confidence in what should be fundamental abilities, including measuring overall campaign effectiveness, how to allocate budget with ROI in mind, and communicating performance up to c-level executives.

“The lack of confidence results from a perception that there is simply too much data and too many channels out there, making it difficult to capture and measure all relevant data.” – CMO.com

Understanding Marketing Analytics

A recent post on the Marketing Automation Software Guide Blog titled “Marketing Analytics vs. Website Analytics”  does a good job at separating two commonly mistaken data sets. On one hand you have page views, click paths, bounce rates, and all the nice stats Google Analytics gives you for free. But, as the article argues, “in marketing analytics systems, data is integrated in a way that enables you to see a direct relationship between channels“. And this is key to understanding how to measure marketing effectiveness.

Unless you can step back from the data deluge, it will be difficult to assess exactly what to do.

“There are literally hundreds of marketing metrics to choose from, and almost all of them measure something of value. The problem is that most of them relate very little to the metrics that concern a CFO, CEO and board member.”

Another consideration involves who you are reporting to. When analyzing results from your marketing efforts you have different stakeholders asking different kinds of questions. The quote above is from a Marketo whitepaper, The Definitive Guide to Marketing Metrics and Analytics, which I have reviewed before. And it is spot on. Different questions require different data sets.

So your first question shouldn’t be “what do I measure?” but, instead, “what question am I answering?“. Do you agree?


What Makes Ads Go Viral?

April 16, 2012

Face Masks, Japan By shibuya246 via FlickrLooking for a recipe to get your new video to go viral? In a recent Harvard Business Review article “The New Science of Viral Ads”, assistant professor Thales Teixeira from HBS outlines the ingredients you will need:

1. Utilize “Brand Pulsing”: weave your brand throughout the ad instead of placing it front and center. Example is the “Happiness Factory” video for Coca-Cola.

2. Create joy, or surprise right away: keeping viewers involved is key to get your video watched, so you have to use both joy (hey, this is funny) and surprise (wow!). Example is Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”.

3. Build an emotional roller coaster: people are most likely to keep watching if they experience emotional ups and downs.

4. Surprise but don’t shock: this is where you’ve got to be careful not to push the video too far… some surprise is good, but shocking may diminish the virality effect (nude people in the video makes it unlikely to be shared with office co-workers).

5. Target viewers who will share the ad: sounds obvious but is more difficult than you imagine. Is hard to target viewers based on their personality, but different types of personalities (extroverted vs. introverted) are a key ingredient in ensuring the video will get shared. Some people share it for ‘status’, or to rank up higher in social media circles, or to be seen as savvy in a subject.

The Science Behind Viral Videos

Interesting that the experiments Prof. Teixeira conducted made use of some high tech equipment. They setup infrared eye-tracking scanners so that they could determine where people were looking when the ads played and they used a system that analyzes facial expressions and were able to determine, based on slight changes on their facial muscles (this reminded me of micro-expressions and the Lie To Me series) what emotion they were experiencing.

HBR Viral Video Experiment

High tech gear monitored users as they watched videos

It’s All About The Content.. or Is It?

Interesting that four out of five key ingredients in the study deal directly with the content of your ad or video. You shouldn’t, however, discount the last factor of who you are sending that video to because as the article explains, if people don’t share your video… it won’t go viral (duh!). What good is creating great content if the reader is not willing to share? 

Makes you think not only about how to structure your content creation strategy but also how to plan for your content distribution.

The Videos

Here are the videos mentioned in the article:

“Brand Pulsing” example: Coca-Cola Happiness Factory

“Open with Joy” example: Mr. Bean

“Roller Coaster” example: Bud Light Swear Jar

“Surprise but don’t shock” example: Bud Light Clothing Drive

Using all ingredients example: Evian Roller Babies


Deconstructing an Email Marketing Campaign

April 10, 2012

What does it take to put together a successful email campaign? It all sounds pretty simple when you think of it. Segment your list, create the email, send it out, evaluate results, repeat. Right? Well, not so fast.

I’ve now spoken to small business owners and startup founders and they have the same initial feeling that it should just work. But, when it comes time to actually execute, something is missing. Although “email marketing” is the name of the game, there are actually many pieces you have to put into play and organize in order to make the most of it. There are landing pages, thank you pages, linking all to a CRM system and ensuring you are capturing leads and nurturing them.

So in order to help those thinking about how to start their own email marketing programs, and also for those interested in looking at the whole process in more detail to see what else can be done to improve results, let’s take a moment to deconstruct a typical email marketing campaign. The following is like the anatomy of an email marketing process with the pieces each dissected and analyzed.

Anatomy of an Email Marketing Campaign

In general, most email marketing campaigns will look something like the image shown below. You have an Email that is created, which will have a link to a specific Landing page, which in turn will link (not always, but usually if you have a form) to a Thank You page, which typically triggers a final Thank You email.

Anatomy of Email Marketing Campaign

Click to Enlarge

The Email

The email is the message you are sending out to a segment of your list. It contains the following key elements:

  • Subject line
  • Headline
  • Content / Offer
  • Call to Action
  • Unsubscribe link

Things to consider when crafting your email are:

  • Time of day
  • Day of week
  • HTML vs. Text
  • Send yourself vs via third party
  • Design the email with the message in mind
  • Dynamic content based on job title, role, industry, etc.
  • Personalization (i.e. “Dear John…”)

All of these combined will influence well your email will perform.

The Landing Page

The landing page is the web page that holds the offer you talked about in your email. It doesn’t need to be an “offer” like in sales promotion, it could simply be a piece of content that you download or watch online.

The landing page contains usually the following elements:

  • Headline
  • Offer / Content
  • Registration Form
  • Call to Action

Things to consider when crafting the landing page:

  • Taking out website navigation
  • Don’t just restate the email text, add more compelling reasons for the person to proceed with what you want them to do (i.e. what is the call to action)
  • Short registration form instead of lengthy form
  • Having no registration form at all (give away the content/offer)

Having people click on an enticing offer in an email is only half the battle. Will they actually go through with their intent and do what you want them to do, whether it is downloading the whitepaper, watching the video, or filling out a form? The design and content of your landing page is critical.

The Thank You Page

If your landing page has a registration form, you will need one of these. What happens after the person fills out your form? They should get access to the content they registered for. Your thank you page typically has:

  • Thank you text, acknowledging the user’s time and interest
  • The offer itself or a link to download it

Things to consider in your thank you page:

  • Make it simple, people want to see their content right away
  • Show them another offer after the links to their content (people who downloaded this are usually also interested in this other thing…)
  • Tell them what to do if they have a problem downloading or accessing the material. Usually just an email address should do.

The Thank You Email

Not doing this one is a missed opportunity. After someone registers for your content, make sure they are able to download the offer by emailing them a quick “thank you” email containing a link to the material they were promised.

Your thank you email will typically consist of:

  • Subject line
  • Header
  • Content / Offer
  • Link to download

Other things to consider when crafting the thank you email are:

  • Be brief. You are not trying to sell them on something they have already expressed an interest in
  • Make the links to download/access the material very obvious
  • At the end, you could tell them about another piece of content they might be interested in, with the appropriate link
  • HTML vs. Text

Leveraging Email Analytics

You can also leverage your email marketing analytics to further enhance your campaign. After that first email goes out, you may want to craft a follow up email to people who didn’t take any action. For example:

  • People who didn’t open the email
  • People who didn’t click in any links in the email
  • People who clicked but didn’t complete the registration form

The follow up email is a good opportunity to re-think the message and craft a different email that might entice those who didn’t take any action after the first one went out.

The image below shows the process taking into account the new email you may want to add to your email marketing process flow.

Email Marketing With Follow Up Email

Click to Enlarge

What Happens Behind the Scenes

As people click through your email, register on your landing page, and download your offer, you will want to make sure it is all being captured in a database somewhere. There isn’t a single email marketing software vendor out there that won’t have at least the simplest of analytics. From the moment you schedule your campaign to go out the email software is tracking everything. It will tell you who it was delivered to, who opened and didn’t open, which ones bounced, etc.

The next step, the landing/registration page should also have a way to communicate back to you the registrations. The least you want done is to have a way to get that information back to your CRM system so that you can track which prospects or customers interacted with the campaign and registered or downloaded your offer.

As you get to a point where Email Marketing becomes  a key ingredient in your marketing toolbox you will want to start investing in a Marketing Automation solutions, because most of the MA solutions out there will give you some way to make this whole process a bit easier. The Marketing Automation software can not only track the email responses, but also the registrations from your landing page (if you used a form) and the downloads. In addition, the Marketing Automation software will help get people who responded to your email campaign into a lead nurturing process. In fact, many of your email marketing campaigns, once you have a Marketing Automation solution in place, will start looking very much like part of a bigger nurturing process themselves!

The image below shows the process flow with the Marketing Automation solution component.

Email Marketing with Marketing Automation

Click to Enlarge

And how about scoring? As you start playing with Marketing Automation, that’s the next step in thinking through your email campaign process. How will you score different interactions between all components? What score will people receive for opening but not downloading your offer? What score will you attribute to different offers on your landing page? And what score will you attribute to different fields in your registration form (if you have one)?

Where To Go From Here

Don’t worry if this sounds like too much to digest. Start small and go slowly. Don’t have a Marketing Automation solution yet? No worries.. use your Email Marketing system and just make sure that you have a way to get the results back to your CRM or whatever contact database you are using. Then, as you get more comfortable and grow your list and the frequency of campaigns, you can start looking at Marketing Automation.

The important thing is to use this anatomy of email marketing to think through all the steps and components and make sure that you are crafting compelling, consistent messages and that each step of the process is being optimized. I hope this brief exercise helped you get a better understanding of what goes on in creating an email marketing campaign.

Email Marketing Process Flow

Click to Enlarge



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