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.


How Great Content Can Solve Problems

August 18, 2011

This is the third post in a series of “Principles of Great Content Marketing”. The first post talked about creating simple content, and the second post discussed timely content.

The Principles of Great Content Marketing series is based on three core ideas:

  1. Create simple content
  2. Create content that is timely
  3. Create content that solves a problem

The Problem with Content

Content abounds, and no matter what we call it (Whitepapers, eBooks, Videos, Infographics, etc.) we have been getting more and more of it every single day. Via email, via Twitter, Facebook, and word-of-mouth. The problem? Most of the content is not looked at. Or, if it is, is not shared.

Content that isn’t shared usually die without having made an impact.

Useful content will be shared. Even if only internally in your company. Even if only when you call a friend and say “hey, check this out!” and even if only mentioned during lunch with friends when you say “oh, and I just read this interesting article that talks about…”.

Getting Read and Getting Shared

Besides being simple and timely, great content has a third element. It is focused on solving a problem. But not just any problem, YOUR problem.

You see, even if you come across something amusing and decide to pass that on it doesn’t mean you will actually take any action because of it. Entertaining videos are just that, entertaining. Funny quotes are also just that and nothing else. But content that speaks to a problem you are having right now is golden.

If you are struggling with creating your own WordPress website, for example, and there comes a content piece that addresses your current issue (“How to get your WordPress site up and running in 5 easy steps” kind of content, for example) you will drop what you are doing and check it out. If it’s good you will even forward it to a couple people that you know are also dealing with the same issue or maybe send a Tweet about it.

If you had gotten content related to your issue but that doesn’t solve it (“Why use WordPress for your website” for example), it won’t get shared, commented, and more importantly, acted on.

The Content Solution

How do create content with the “problem – solution” in mind? You’ve got to know your audience. Draw buyer personas. Talk to sales and ask them about the prospects they engage. Discuss the typical questions tech support gets during lunch with the tech support manager. Ask around your company, but more importantly, ask outside what are the challenges facing the industry you serve.

Make a list of 5 to 10 items. Then, break those down into small problem statements. You don’t want to have to address something like “world-wide retail operations are low margin, companies are struggling to make a profit” because is too generic and too daunting. Go down a few levels until you have something more tangible, like “apparel retailers are pressured by increasing labor costs in China”. Then, look for what could be a solution to this problem (I’m assuming you sell products or services to retailers) and create content addressing the issue (maybe “5 ways to squeeze more cash out of your sales” or “The new retail mindset and five steps to improve your margins today” for example).

Regardless of the topic, you have to ensure you are addressing a need that your target market has. And, the need could range from basic (“Trends and opportunities in apparel retail”), to more advanced (“How new inventory solutions are transforming the apparel retail industry”), all depending upon your target’s knowledge of the issue and their stage in the buying cycle.

As mentioned in the previous post about timely content, Marketing Automation is a great way to get the right content out to the right person, but you still have to think through all the stages and understand the different needs. It goes back to understanding your market.

Principles of Great Content

In conclusion, you can spend a lot of time creating content in different formats and for different buying stages. What will set your content apart (because you can bet your competitors are also creating as much content as you are) are the three key components:

  • Simple content
  • Timely content
  • Problem-solving content

Keep these three elements in mind when crafting your messages and you will be on the right path to creating great content.


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