Thursday, September 18, 2008

Web 2.0 Expo: Viral Marketing 2.0 with Jonah Peretti

The second talk I attended on Wednesday, September 17 was “Viral Marketing 2.0” by Jonah Peretti. Little did I realize he is already a well-known "star" in market research and his talk was well attended. He went extremely fast and I couldn't capture any pics of him (his hair is brown or black, not red as in the Wikipedia photograph) or of his presentation slides which whizzed by.

The core concept of his talk: the Bored At Work Network (BWN). Some facts (as seen by Peretti):
  • Millions are bored office workers, ready to share media, blog post and instant messaging all day
  • The BWN is bigger than CBS, NBC, or any traditional media network
  • The BWN is a decentralized network that enables media to go viral if ordinary people enjoy sharing it.

The old broadcast model is simple and reassuring – broadcaster is at the center and decides what's important and what's popular. (Examples: television, newspapers, and similar one-way media.)

The new networked world is confusing, counterintuitive: BWN decides what is popular, so it’s a more complex thing to understand. (Perhaps even irrational.)

What can make something popular on the web? The key research is: Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation by Duncan J. Watts, Peter Sheridan Dodds (Journal of Consumer Research, December 2007). There are no movers and shakers, or “special influence people” who can make something popular. Rather, the network decides what is popular.

A network structure is more important than influence. Whether or not something spreads depends mostly on network structure. If a network permits diffusion, anyone can start something and if not, no one can. Some examples of diffusion: forest fires, early Facebook apps (the platform was perfect for spreading applications), blogs, embarrassing homemade videos, etc. Compare these phenomena to viral marketing. Why videos? Because of YouTube’s existence – it’s a platform that allows the spread.

Hindsight bias. Beware of people’s recollections of what happened:

  • after the fact, influential people seem like the key factor (aggrandizement)
  • East Village hipsters wore lots of ridiculous clothes besides hush puppies
  • Jeff Jarvis complained about many things on his blog besides Dell
The problem with hindsight bias is that it is not repeatable in the future. If not repeatable, then it’s less interesting because it means it's something one can do with consistency.

Key research: the music lab experiment:

  • subjects are shown a grid with mp3s from unknown bands
  • they choose, listen, rate, and download favorites
  • behavior is tracked in several different worlds to measure social influence.

The results of this experiment shows that people don't know what they like

  • different songs were popular in different worlds – no consistent hits
  • social influence increased inequality and unpredictability
  • best songs never do badly and the worst never excel but all other results happened

So the big problem is radical unpredictability (sounds like Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational)

  • the latest research shows that we can't predict who can make something popular or what will become popular
  • the web is confusing, counter-intuitive and unpredictable
  • So: how do we succeed on the web despite this?

Solution no. 1: Contagious Media

  • Make something that ordinary people want to share with each other
  • Make it easy to understand, easy to share, and include a social imperative
  • Make media perfect for the BWN

Examples: The New York Times’s list of articles most shared and most blogged – shows behavioral patterns of ordinary people.
Another example: Nike sweatshop email story

  • Nike offers to custom-print a word on sneakers, so Peretti ordered a pair of Nikes customized with the word “sweatshop” (i.e. so that the sneaks would read “Nike Sweatshop” – unflattering to company)
  • After some back-and-forth, Nike rejected Peretti’s request
  • Peretti then forwarded the exchange to a few friends – who continued to forward it until the email led to a viral cascade – and became legendary on the Internet.

Compare these: People dedicate their life to fighting for human rights whereas Peretti did not even know much about the sweatshop issue. In the first case people deliberately try, whereas Peretti didn’t even have to try and yet got more coverage.

Another example: Bogus website that nevertheless developed following of those who thought it was racist and those who didn’t.

The lessons he draws from this are:

  • The BWN trumps influentials
  • The BWN network creats its own influentials

The limits of contagious media: most things are not viral. Contagious media is usually silly, free, shocking, simple – for BWN. (For example: the Montauk Monster, or other things on

(See article: Viral Marketing For The Real World – by Duncan Watts And Jonah Peretti)

Solution 2: Big Seed Marketing

l small seeds lead to failure

l but subviral growth is still growth

l big seeds lead to successs

l examples; Proctor & Gamble, Oxygen,

(see article: )

Tide Cold Water campaign. by making it sharable and social, it increased penetration.

World of mouth without tipping points.

Solution 3: Multi-Seed Marketing

l try lots o creative ideas- no one can predict what will be popular

l test to see what's working using real data

l big seede the stuff that is worki9ng

l more data enables more creativity tracks these viral feeds

Solution no. 4: Mullet Strategy – (a mullet is a haircut cropped in front but long in back)

Businesss upfront, and party in the back - use this as a webstrategy

Example: Huffington Post: real news upfront, and crazy stuff in the back.

An editor's view of huffington post: you can analyze it immediately, know how many clicks and how often people visit.

The power of mullets

l the front always looks sharp

l no need to find influentials and predic thte future, just let good stuff bubble up

l other examples: YouTube, MySpace, Digg

Solution no. 5: personality disorders

The web is ruled by fanatics like Perez Hilton, Ron Paul, Apple fans, , blog commenters, animal lovers, and other crazy people.

Examples (a catalog of personality disorders in real life that inhabit the Internet):

histrionic/narcissistic personality disorder – great for bloggers!

obsessive-compulsive persoality disorder (wikipedia, online games,, etc.)

and so on.

If we had more time, we could discuss other disorders such as paranoid, schizoid, antisocial, etc.

Learn advertising from this humorous example: Jews vs. Mormons

While Judaism may be a quality religion, quality has nothing to do with it. Quality is extra constraint and liability. Instead, learn from the Mormons:

l quality is not a growth strategy

l make evangelism core of your strategy

l focus on the mechanics of how an idea spreads, not the idea itself

Conclusion: This is what is Viral Marketing 2.0

Contagious Media – make media that works for the BWN

Big-Seed Marketing – do viral marketing without needing elusive tipping points

Multi-Seed Marketing – try many ideas and optimzie on the fly (think of

Here’s another summary of the session:

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