Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Spitting out the V word

A really important distinction passed on from Henry Jenkins:(via Joe Marchese in Mediapost's Online Spin)

People spread viruses by accident. It is not intentional to give someone a cold

When we ask people to spread things on behalf of brands, we aren't trying to trick them. But we need to make sure that they are getting something from it (other then the flu). If you think about telling a joke to your friends, the joke itself isn't important, it is the fact that you are making them laugh. People like to laugh, they look well on people who initiate it. And they re-tell the joke to generate the same social capital

So do we really want campaigns to get 'viral'? Or do we want to not leave it to chance, and create stuff that people want to share?


Ted Shelton said...

Leaving aside the debate about who really invented the meme "viral marketing" people generally agree that it was first widely demostrated by Hotmail in 1996 -- a simple text message was appended to every email message that suggested to the recipient that they too should get a hotmail account.

In viral speak the email message was the carrier, the text suggesting that the recipient get an account was the payload and infection spread when recipients acted on that payload and got an account, becoming carriers themselves.

So the language "get viral" by which people usually mean "get virtually free broad distribution of my marketing message" is meaningless. A campaign is either designed with a viral element or it is not. One can then ask whether the viral element was effective.

Thus the opposition that you set up in this last sentence is incomplete. Instead you might say, should we create stuff that has, as some part of its function, a built in way to spread throughout a social graph? Or should we provide some value for people to proactively (and consciously) share?

Put more simply, do we want to build in viral design elements or instead do we want to limit ourselves to "incentive based pass along" or "network effects" for generating distribution of our messages?

There are lots of good examples of viral design elements - the problem with many of them is that they ARE about tricking people -- about taking advantage of a person's connections in order to be spread as a payload for some other activity that the person is engaged in. But as with the Hotmail example, not all viral design elements are inherently evil.

Graeme Wood said...

Thanks Ted - I forgot the Hotmail example: that was genuinely viral in the true sense of the word.

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