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Viral marketing of digital products using social media - MBA Dissertation

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Kapil Gupta

     Viral marketing of
     digital products using
     social media




Dissertation presented for the Degr...
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank my supervisor, Tony Kinder, for all of the help and guidance he has
given me over t...
Abstract
Improvements in hardware and software technologies like high speed internet, cloud
computing, smaller and faster ...
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Viral marketing of digital products using social media - MBA Dissertation

  1. 1. Kapil Gupta Viral marketing of digital products using social media Dissertation presented for the Degree of Masters of Business Administration at the University of Edinburgh Business School, May 2011
  2. 2. Acknowledgements I would like to thank my supervisor, Tony Kinder, for all of the help and guidance he has given me over the course of the project, from the initial idea through the research and writing stages through to the conclusion. It would have been impossible to complete this project without his assistance. I would also like to thank all of the interviewees, whose experiences and insights were invaluable in writing this report: Rachel Armitage Jenny Herbison Andrew Burnett Colin Gilchrist Tera Dargavel I would also like to thank all my friends and colleagues who tolerated me while I incessantly talked about viral marketing and who sometimes even helped me brainstorm some ideas. Warm thanks to all of you, Kapil Gupta Edinburgh, May 2011 MBA Dissertation Page 1
  3. 3. Abstract Improvements in hardware and software technologies like high speed internet, cloud computing, smaller and faster chips, have made social networking and mobile devices ubiquitous, which has in turn created a huge opportunity in digital products and services market. Marketers, in trying to use traditional word-of-mouth marketing concepts online for - aka viral marketing – for their digital products are realising that there is the potential of exponential growth that can be achieved very quickly and very cheaply when compared to using more traditional marketing channels. This report attempts to explore how marketers could use viral marketing to market their digital products and realise this potentially exponential growth. In answering this question, this report draws on the results of primary and secondary research, including four interviews conducted in March and April 2011 with professionals from organisations dealing in digital products and social media marketing. Among the topics covered in these interviews were identifying who can use viral marketing, strategic issues surrounding viral marketing, specific characteristics that a products needs to have to be considered for viral marketing, creating and executing a viral marketing campaign, and how to make a viral marketing campaign sustainable. The research showed that all aspects of an organisation need to come together and work in tandem to potentially achieve an exponential growth using a viral marketing campaign - from defining an overall business and marketing strategy, looking at company’s capabilities, putting crisis management in place, developing the right product which is social spread friendly, finding the right influencers in the relevant market channels, seeding these influencers, monitoring the campaign, engaging with customers as they provide positive and negative feedback, and all this while building momentum to a point where campaign potentially goes viral. Research also shows the marketers need to be aware of the negative aspects of viral marketing, as it could be catastrophic to a brand. MBA Dissertation Page 2
  4. 4. Drawing on these findings, the report then presents the five areas that marketers should consider while using viral marketing to market digital products:  Overall business and marketing strategy  Human and system capabilities  Finding the right Influencers  Designing and developing a brilliant product  Creating and managing a campaign  Sustainability of viral marketing campaign MBA Dissertation Page 3
  5. 5. Table of Contents Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................................................... 1 Abstract .............................................................................................................................................................. 2 1. Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 6 1.1 Digital products ............................................................................................................................. 7 1.2 Social media and viral marketing ........................................................................................... 8 1.3 Viral marketing of digital products using social media ................................................. 9 2. Literature Review................................................................................................................................ 10 2.1 What is Social Media?................................................................................................................ 10 2.2 Social media classification ...................................................................................................... 11 2.3 What does Social Media means for marketers? .............................................................. 12 2.4 What is Viral Marketing? ......................................................................................................... 13 2.5 Advantages / Disadvantages of VM. .................................................................................... 14 2.6 Identifying the target audience for a viral marketing campaign. ............................ 15 2.7 Creating and executing a VM campaign - main characteristics. ............................... 17 2.8 Measuring effectiveness of a VM Campaign ..................................................................... 19 2.9 How to make a Viral Marketing campaign sustainable? ............................................. 20 2.10 Summary.................................................................................................................................... 20 3. Methodology.......................................................................................................................................... 22 3.1 Research approach..................................................................................................................... 22 3.2 Data collection methods .......................................................................................................... 23 3.3 Interview subjects ...................................................................................................................... 24 3.4 Secondary sources ..................................................................................................................... 25 3.5 Data analysis................................................................................................................................. 26 3.6 Research limitations .................................................................................................................. 26 3.7 Ethical considerations .............................................................................................................. 27 4. Empirical Material .............................................................................................................................. 28 4.1 Importance of strategy ............................................................................................................. 28 4.2 Important factors for viral messages .................................................................................. 30 4.3 Importance of influencers ....................................................................................................... 32 4.4 Executing a campaign ............................................................................................................... 35 4.5 Sustainability of a VM campaign ........................................................................................... 37 5. Analysis ................................................................................................................................................... 40 5.1 Viral Marketing ............................................................................................................................ 41 5.2 Strategy........................................................................................................................................... 42 5.3 Capabilities.................................................................................................................................... 43 5.4 Product ........................................................................................................................................... 44 5.5 Influencers .................................................................................................................................... 44 5.6 Creating a campaign .................................................................................................................. 45 5.7 Campaign management............................................................................................................ 46 5.8 Sustainability................................................................................................................................ 48 5.9 Summary ........................................................................................................................................ 48 6. Conclusion .............................................................................................................................................. 54 6.1 Summary of results .................................................................................................................... 54 6.2 Personal reflections ................................................................................................................... 56 6.3 Contribution to existing knowledge .................................................................................... 57 MBA Dissertation Page 4
  6. 6. 6.4 Business lessons.......................................................................................................................... 57 6.5 Further research ......................................................................................................................... 58 Bibliography................................................................................................................................................... 59 Appendix A ..................................................................................................................................................... 66 Appendix B ..................................................................................................................................................... 72 Appendix C ...................................................................................................................................................... 81 Appendix D ..................................................................................................................................................... 89 Appendix E...................................................................................................................................................... 93 Appendix F ...................................................................................................................................................... 94 MBA Dissertation Page 5
  7. 7. 1. Introduction There is an explosion happening in the digital world, and Social Media is responsible for it. Not a day goes by without hearing something new about how hundreds of millions of people are engaging in social media. Here are some examples:  Facebook (Mashable 2010) (Mashable 2011) o has almost 600m users. o 750 million photos were uploaded on Facebook on the new years (2010- 11) weekend. o is valued at $75 billion.  YouTube (OnlineSchools 2010) o streamed more than 700 billion videos in 2010 o 25 hours of content of was uploaded every minute in 2010  Twitter o has 175 million registered users o 100 million tweets daily. Venture Capitalists and other investors are flogging to invest in new and innovative social media companies and device manufacturers are continuously coming up with new and sophisticated devices to provide a platform for people to engage in social media while on the move. MBA Dissertation Page 6
  8. 8. The recent technological advancements - in mobile devices, multi-touch screens, cloud computing, and the advancements in the way we interact with the devices – has allowed the companies to deliver content and services in very easy, fast and interactive ways. With more and more people using social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, YouTube etc., the way these products are being marketed is changing as well. For example, using viral marketing, KIK - a cross platform mobile phone application was downloaded 1 million times in just 15 days after its launch (KIK 2010). In another example, Viber was able to achieve 1 million downloads in just 5 days (Appchronicles 2010). It has since amassed 10 million (Techcrunch 2011) downloads. This paper will look at how companies developing digital products could use social media to develop and execute a viral marketing campaign. 1.1 Digital products In 2002, Hui et al (Hui & Chau 2002) classified Digital products into three categories:  Tools and Utilities that assist user to accomplish specific goals or tasks  Content based products whose value lies in the information content  Online services that provide access to useful resources like server connections as well as online utilities that assist users in accomplishing specific tasks Since then, with the rise and adaptation of Web 2.0 technologies, digital products and services have seen an explosion - both in terms of the numbers of products and services, and the number of consumers using them i.e. mobile platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn etc.), mobile applications (>300,000 apps on Apple AppStore with 10 billion downloads), Cloud computing etc. This market is set to grow exponentially over the coming 5-10 years (Venturebeat 2010). Below are some data that support this trend: MBA Dissertation Page 7
  9. 9.  More and more mobile devices are being developed. For example -Motorola Xoom tablet, HP TouchPad etc.  The vast majority of developing world yet to adopt smart phones (India hasn’t even start deploying 3G infrastructure yet)  New business and revenue models are continuously emerging (Mobile Ad market was worth $877 million in the US alone and is predicted to rise to $3bn by 2013 (Kim 2010) )  The smart phone penetration is growing rapidly (Alarcon 2009) (Blandford 2010) This change is happening at a fast pace (Perez 2010) and there is little written about the particular challenges in marketing the digital products, hence the reason to look at Digital products specifically in this paper. 1.2 Social media and viral marketing Internet has now become a virtual social world where we meet our friends and family, make new friends, engage in conversation about work-life experience – including buying products and services and the resulting experiences – engage in marketplace and listen to people we trust when making buying decisions. When it comes to making decisions, people have always been influenced by their peers, group leaders and other influential people in society whose opinion they value. Marketers have long used Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing to influence the buying decisions in the physical world. With the advent of Social Media, this conversation has gone online, and has become global as there are no geographical barriers when it comes to the internet. There are now hundreds of millions (Bloch 2010) of people using Social Media making conversations, posting their feelings and opinions, and influencing others with their ideas and experiences. WOM marketing in this virtual world has a new name, called Viral Marketing. However, virtual nature of this social conversation presents unique challenges to viral marketing. MBA Dissertation Page 8
  10. 10. From an organisation’s point of view, the key challenge is to assess whether it has the bandwidth to deal with a sudden rush of people wanting to buy its products i.e. can it fulfil every request? Can it provide a positive customer experience to all its customers? It also needs to ensure that all its ducks are in a row within the organisation to deal with the sudden influx. For example, there is no point marketing department using viral marketing if the IT department cannot deal with a sudden rise in number of downloads. From the marketers point of view, the key challenges are - How do you find who to target among the vast number of people interacting online, especially the ones who would both like your product and influence significant number of others to buy them? What do you do to grab their attention and engage with them? How do you correctly assess people’s emotions about the products and services from the text they use online? How do you measure whether marketing campaign is working and adding to the bottom line? And finally, how do you make it sustainable? 1.3 Viral marketing of digital products using social media In order to help improve the overall understanding of viral marketing of digital products using social media, this paper will attempt to answer the following research question:  How is viral marketing of digital products different from that of viral messages (e.g. YouTube videos)?  What are the steps an organisation needs to take while considering, designing and executing a viral marketing campaign using social media  Once a viral marketing campaign is successful, what should an organisation do to sustain the customer’s interest? MBA Dissertation Page 9
  11. 11. 2. Literature Review 2.1 What is Social Media? Social Media is the commonly known term for the Web2.0 technologies that enable the Internet users to generate and exchange content (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010) through desktop and mobile devices. With the increase in consumption of the mass media and internet, the decline of community activity has been one of the dominant social trends of recent decades across the world’s advanced economies (Putnam 2000). American social scientist Robert Putnam wrote about this trend, but also saw the potential of revival of these communities through internet (Putnam 2000). The Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine 2009), the 1999 internet marketing book also made a similar point in that it claimed people were drawn to the internet because of “the promise of voice and thus of authentic self (Levine 2009).” Social media’s popularity (Mashable 2011) over the last few years seems to provide confirmation to this as people continue to reach out to connect to other human beings and in the process accept the technological advancements that are thrown at them. The term Social Media was coined around 2004 with the launch of social networking websites like MySpace (2003) and Facebook (2004); however the concept of social networking can be traced back to almost 30 years ago when the first email was sent between two computers. Advancements in technologies like Internet, network infrastructure, Web 2.0, mobile devices etc. have since empowered every internet user to create their own content - be it video, blog, opinions etc. - and share between their online social networks. Social Media allows people to stay connected with many more people – friends, families, business associates etc. - even across multiple continents, than was possible in the past. From a business point of view, social media is becoming an important platform to understand the market needs, study competition, and leverage the platforms to launch and market products and services and to maintain customer relationships. Marketers are MBA Dissertation Page 10
  12. 12. actively listening into the conversation on the social networks and analysing the impact of their brands. In December 2010, the editorial in the Harvard Business Review suggested: “Companies have traditionally spent up to 90% of their marketing budget on advertising and retail promotions. Yet the biggest influence in purchasing decision is often other people’s recommendations” According to Brian Dunn, CEO of Best Buy, “Social Media are where the national conversation is taking place today and either you are part of that conversation or you are not” (Dunn 2010). Social Media Marketing is set to become an integral part of every company’s integrated marketing mix in the coming months and years. 2.2 Social media classification In order to find the right customers for targeting a marketing campaign - for a company, product, or brand - or to look for customers, especially the opinion leaders in social networks talking about specific brand, marketers need to understand which social media platforms to focus on. According to Kaplan et al (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010), there are six different types of Social Media: collaborative projects, blogs and microblogs, content communities, social networking sites, virtual game worlds, and virtual communities. Further to this, Bernoff (Bernoff 2010) classify the types of social media users as – creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators and inactives. It is important for marketers to understand that social network users quite often use multiple platforms while communicating. For example, a user might post a video on YouTube and share its links and opinions through Twitter, Facebook etc. These classifications are important for marketers in that they not only need to target the social networks or the social media users that are relevant to their business, but also choose the right management and monitoring tools that link to specific social network datasets. However, marketers need to be wary of the fact that social media is evolving rapidly and MBA Dissertation Page 11
  13. 13. new types of networks are quite likely to emerge in the future and they need to keep themselves abreast on this area. Failure to recognise the relevant networks or the type of users on social networks could end up in marketers spending a lot or time of effort with very little in the way of the results. This is quite a common practice as marketers that do not know understand social media tend to shoot in the dark and very often fail to get the desired result for themselves and their organisations. 2.3 What does Social Media means for marketers? Gerzema and Lebar (Gerzema & Edward 2008) argue in their book The Brand Bubble that since consumers trust each other more than they trust marketing information, social media has altered the trust equation for brands by allowing the customers to create and exchange their own contents. This means the customers can freely exchange positive and negative perceptions about a brand in a connected world where these perceptions can spread like a wild fire. For example, Groupon’s 2011 Superbowl advertisement was met by huge backlash on Twitter, so much so that the CEO of Groupon had to explain their reasoning behind choosing those specific advertisements on the company blog (Andrew 2011). The technological advancements and increased connectivity online and offline have also allowed an unprecedented number of new brands to be introduced in recent years globally (Gerzema & Lebar 2009). Gerzema et al (Gerzema & Lebar 2009) discovered that consumer attitudes towards all sizes and segments of brands were in serious decline. They observed significant drops in key measures of brand value - ‘top of mind’ awareness, trust, regard and admiration – aka the Brand Equity. The three major problems with the brands, they argue, are: 1. Excess capacity 2. Lack of creativity 3. Loss of trust MBA Dissertation Page 12
  14. 14. The advent of Social Media has made a marketers life a lot more challenging. It can be argued that it has become much harder to capture and sustain consumers’ attention and interest in specific brands. In an attempt to address this issue, Gerzema et al (Gerzema & Lebar 2009) propose a new quality to the brand, called ‘energised differentiation’ I.e. Brands that reflect brand’s energy - communicate excitement, dynamism and creativity. Social media does provide an opportunity to connect with the consumers and understand their specific needs. Social media marketing provides unique opportunity to the marketers to create ‘energised differentiation’ that Gerzema et al (Gerzema & Lebar 2009) talk about. In order to do this, marketers needs to incorporate social media in the overall marketing strategy of the company. 2.4 What is Viral Marketing? Viral Marketing is the intentional influencing of consumer-to-consumer communication by professional marketing techniques (Kozinets et al. 2010). It is also otherwise known as word- of-mouth marketing (WOMM), buzz marketing and guerrilla marketing. Wilson (Wilson 2005) describes viral marketing as: “Any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence”. People like to share their experiences with one another – the restaurants where they had lunch, the movie they saw – and when the experiences are favourable, the recommendations can snowball, resulting in runaway success (Dye 2000). In her paper, Larsen (Larson 2009) argues that viral marketing through social media is the new format of the traditional word-of-mouth marketing, only exponentially faster. It enables the word-of- mouth to spread at the speed of thought (Ferguson 2008). In that sense, it can also be translated as ‘networked enhanced WOM’ (Datta, Chowdhury & Chakraborty 2005). MBA Dissertation Page 13
  15. 15. One of the earliest examples of online viral marketing campaigns was created by Microsoft Hotmail (squidoo n.d.) - by including a simple hyperlink “Get your free Hotmail account” at the bottom of every email sent out by existing users. It allowed a simple way for the users to action and create their own Hotmail account. Hotmail increased its customer base to over 12 million in just 18 months a result. Radder (Radder 2002) argues that the new and improved technology has provided the customer an opportunity to demand and experience for a personal, interactive and relational experience. VM in social networks started with videos being posted on YouTube. For example, the chicken viral video by Burger King in 2004 received over 20m hits (Clifford-Marsh 2009) . However, these days VM campaigns are more integrated campaigns that are tied to other more traditional forms of media. For example, the campaign for the movie The Dark Knight incorporated billboards, commercials, social networks, fake websites, email blasts, online puzzles etc. The movie grossed over $1bn worldwide (Readon 2009) . It seems to be the case that the presence of millions of consumers on social networks, who also share their experiences and views on brands they like or dislike, presents a unique opportunity to the marketers – to not only understand the customers perspective of their brands, but also to influence their perceptions quite rapidly using viral marketing concepts. 2.5 Advantages / Disadvantages of VM. When looking to buy products/services almost 76% people rely on other people’s opinions for product recommendations, versus 15% on advertising (Qualman 2009). Yang et al (Yang & Allenby 2003) showed that the geographically defined network of consumers is more useful than the demographic network for explaining consumer behaviour in purchasing Japanese cars. Hill et al (Hill, Provost & Volinsky 2006) found that adding network information, specifically whether a potential customer was already talking to an existing customer, was predictive of the chances of adoption of a new phone service option. For the customers linked to a prior customer, the adoption rate was 3–5 times greater than the baseline. These recommendations come from people who are opinions leaders or someone MBA Dissertation Page 14
  16. 16. who has influence within a community. In order to capture the attention of these influencers, marketers have to use targeted marketing campaigns. VM campaign is a lower-cost option when compared to mass media marketing. It also allows the marketers to target specific customers and has a high and rapid response rate. It appears to be quite a straight forward option for the organisations and marketers to adopt viral marketing strategies; however, the outcome of VM is hard to predict (Watts, Peretti & Frumin 2007). Mass marketing, on the other hand, has a far wider reach and marketers can get predictable returns from such campaigns. Watts et al (Watts, Peretti & Frumin 2007) argue that combining viral marketing with mass marketing, in what they call Big Seed Marketing, would allow marketers to get a more predictable return. Marketers should also carefully consider the fact that viral marketing campaigns become unmanageable once they gain a certain momentum. This can be a major problem for marketers, especially if the campaign doesn’t have the desired outcome. In a study in 2001, Bowman et al (Bowman & Narayandas 2001) found that self-reported loyal customers were more likely to talk to others about the products when they were dissatisfied, but, interestingly, they were not more likely to talk to others when they were satisfied. To avoid this, marketers need to carefully monitor the early stages of a VM campaign when they may have some control and there is an opportunity to take corrective measures. The low cost of social media marketing and the potential to reach and influence millions of people through personal recommendation seems to be a very lucrative option for marketers. However, if not managed properly, such campaigns also have the potential to get out of hand very quickly and become unmanageable. Marketers need to keep this mind and take a balanced approach. 2.6 Identifying the target audience for a viral marketing campaign. MBA Dissertation Page 15
  17. 17. As described previously, internet users engage in social media on a variety of platforms. Marketing messages and meaning on these platforms are not unidirectional, but rather are exchanged among members of these social media networks. In a study, Kozinets (Kozinets et al. 2010) found that motivations to participate are complex and culturally embedded, shaped by communal interests and communicative orientations and charged with moral hazard. The first challenge for the marketers is to identify the networks that are relevant to their brand or campaign. The social network models have traditionally suffered from the lack of data to analyse the predictive nature of the network. However, Domingos (Domingos 2005) argues that massive amount of data is now available on very large social networks, allowing the marketers to build models of the individuals involved in the social media. Data on all the nodes in the social networks now allows for an unprecedented level of analysis, understanding, predictions and their productive use in decision-making. The analysis allows for new models to be created that could be used to create VM plans that maximise positive WoM among customers. Similar to any social network in the physical world, influential users play a crucial role in customers’ buying decisions in online social networks. Armano (Armano 2010), in his blog wrote that sharing useful information that might help someone within your network scores you points and builds equity. Domingos (Domingos 2005) defines network value of the customer as, “the expected increase in sales to others that result from marketing to that customer”. The second challenge for the marketers is to identify the customers with high network value. While identifying the target audience, the key question they should ask themselves is, “If we market to this particular set of customers, what is the expected profit from the whole network, after the influence of those customers has propagated throughout” (Domingos 2005). Marketers should be aware that it is not just about numbers. The context in which these numbers are used is a lot more crucial. Online users listen to other users for variety of reasons and do not necessarily get influenced by everything they say. For example, MBA Dissertation Page 16
  18. 18. celebrities usually have most number of followers on social networks, but they do not necessarily influence their followers’ buying decisions. The amount of data now available on the internet where users freely share ideas about brands and the reasons behind their choices they make as consumers allows the researchers to perform insightful analysis. Kozinets (Kozinets 1998) coined the term Netnography - a branch of Ethnography that analyses the free behaviour of individuals on internet using marketing research techniques to provide useful insights. In order to identify which specific influencers to use as seeds, marketers need to use these research techniques across the targeted social networks, in addition to the short listed high network value customers. The literature seems to fall short in that there doesn’t seem to be the recognition that consumers use a variety of languages, slangs, abbreviations etc. when expressing their opinions about brands on their social networks. The idea of using these as insights is all well and good, but there aren’t systems out there yet that are capable of accurately judging the mood of the consumer, especially when they deviate from the standard language rules. Marketers need to be very careful when using such automated tools as the results can be quite deceptive. 2.7 Creating and executing a VM campaign - main characteristics. The researchers view on whether a viral marketing campaign can be orchestrated seems to be divided. Watts (Watts, Peretti & Frumin 2007) argue that it is very hard – if not impossible to predict the success of a viral marketing campaign. Many other researchers have also written about various aspects of creating a VM campaign. Barnes et al (Barnes & Mattson 2008) in a longitudinal study of Inc. 500, found a significant growth in the use of social media and viral marketing technologies. Setty (Setty 2009), a well-known entrepreneur and blogger in the Silicon Valley, analysed nine viral videos in his blog to define seven key characteristics that he believes should be included in a viral MBA Dissertation Page 17
  19. 19. message. Wilson (Wilson 2005) further defines six elements of an effective viral marketing strategy. Dye (Dye 2000) defined the assessment criteria for the buzz-worthiness of products. The book, The Dragonfly Effect (Aaker & Smith 2010) propose a four winged framework (see Appendix F, point 1) for social media marketers to get amplification or infectious action from the customers engaged in social networks. Dye (Dye 2000) proposed a list of powerful tactics (see Appendix F, point 2) for creating a viral marketing campaign. Balter (Balter 2005) describes creating a Seeding campaign as one in which the product is placed among influential consumers so that they can communicate favourably about it to other consumers. However, managing favourable outcomes in social media can be tricky as influencers can write positive or negative comments about the product, so identifying influencers and influencing them should be done very carefully, ideally based on relevance of the content, influence (traffic) and screened - possible on a one-to-one basis - before they are chosen to be seeded. Kozinets et al (Kozinets et al. 2010) defines four important factors (see Appendix F, point 3) that influence WOM communication. Highlighting the importance of type of narrative (Evaluation, Explanation, Embracing and Endorsement) in the WOM communication, Kozinets et al (Kozinets et al. 2010) argue that the type of WOMM promotion, including the product type, must be considered (see Appendix F, point 4). They further argues that marketers need to carefully understand the on-going character narrative, communication forum and the communal norms in the social network(s) where they plan to execute a VM campaign. They can achieve this by:  Identifying and elaborating on the context, including the product being marketed and the target market.  Measuring and classifying different types of character narratives and communication forums.  Understanding and respecting communal norms (explore and classify the norms and relate to particular outcomes such as reciprocity, trust and role of authority).  Considering the implications associated with commercial-communal tensions. MBA Dissertation Page 18
  20. 20. Larson (Larson 2009) make an interesting point in that it is essential to ensure that there are other components that support viral marketing campaign and that there is an appeal to the customer’s emotions. Larson (Larson 2009) also emphasises that the message should be in a format that is easy to share and that the message arouse a response in the consumer strong enough to result in the forwarding, or sharing, of that message with their social network (How to launch a low-cost viral marketing effort 2008). Linking viral marketing campaigns to the company strategy and capabilities, Larson (Larson 2009) also points out that the companies need to be prepared both internally and externally in order to positively benefit from consumer interaction. Larson (Larson 2009) also outlines one of the main challenge is for the marketers to monitor, manage and influence the two- way communication that results from the application of social media as once the message reaches the point where it becomes viral, not only the spread cannot be controlled, but the entire brand message and its interpretation is no longer in the hands of the company. 2.8 Measuring effectiveness of a VM Campaign Emerging social network analysis and visualisation techniques offer the marketers to delve deeper into consumer minds (Whitney 2010) – to identify connectors, influencers, implementers and other types of members in the group. Whitney (Whitney 2010) describes that social network visualisations can help identify important connecting points such as pre- established relationships, shared expertise, and who may have information that isn’t obvious from their current roles. EventGraphs (Hansen, Smith & Shneiderman 2010) can be used to illustrate the structure of connections and communications among people discussing an event. These EventGraphs can help identify sub-groups within larger conversations, as well as individuals with unique social signatures. Jesse Thomas and Brian Solis (Solis & Thomas 2011), the social media gurus, recently developed an inforgraphic of the Twitterverse (See Appendix E) depicting important tools to help marketers more effectively navigate, engage, analyse and measure participation on Twitter. MBA Dissertation Page 19
  21. 21. Many other tools are now emerging that allow marketers to analyse multiple social media networks (Some examples are PeerIndex.net and PeopleBrowsr.com), but these tools are still very basic in terms of providing consolidated analytics to the marketers. The other challenge for marketers is the Sentiment Analysis. Current systems are not good enough to accurately measures emotions. Companies that currently claim to do this are only touching the surface as they match words but not relate whether they are meaningful or not. The variations in the language used i.e. abbreviations, slang, interpretations of words, local dialects etc. makes it even more difficult to develop systems that can accurately measure sentiments with respect to brands in online conversations. Marketers still have to depend on specialised tools to analyse individual social networks and then perform a manually qualitative analysis to make sense of the cross network data and the use of sentiments in the online conversation. 2.9 How to make a Viral Marketing campaign sustainable? There is very little written on whether a VM campaign can be made sustainable. Generally speaking, viral messages are associated with large spikes where the message takes a certain amount of time to reach the Tipping Point (Gladwell 2000) and then spreads uncontrollably and then dies down once the message loses its uniqueness. However, marketers should take a different approach when it comes to sustainability in product/services related VM campaigns – one of sustaining the interest of the customers once they have experienced the product or service on offer. Targeted VM campaigns differ from general viral messages in that they are designed for the customer to give a taste of the product or service on offer. Once the marketers have the customers’ attention, they should use the standard product management and marketing principles to help sustain customer interest – be it engaging with customers, listening to their feedback and using it to drive improvements, managing their expectations, developing brand loyalty and delighting them when it comes to providing customer service. 2.10 Summary MBA Dissertation Page 20
  22. 22. There seems to be a perception that Social Media is a quick and low cost solution to market products to a targeted audience. Marketers talk about developing viral marketing campaigns using social media as the key to reach out to a large consumer base in a very short time span. Researchers have talked about the characteristics of a viral message, its advantages and disadvantages, however, there seems to a gap between the actual study of viral messages and how they are, or can be, utilised by the organisations to market their products. This paper will aim to fill this gap by answering these key research questions:  Is viral marketing of digital products different from viral messages (e.g. YouTube videos)?  What are the steps an organisation needs to take while considering, designing and executing a viral marketing campaign using social media?  Once a viral marketing campaign is successful, what should an organisation do to sustain the customer’s interest? MBA Dissertation Page 21
  23. 23. 3. Methodology This chapter provides an outline of the research methodology used to answer the research questions - the research approach, a description of primary data collection process for the interviews, secondary research, data analysis techniques used and limitations of the adopted research method. 3.1 Research approach The research approach influences design and provides an opportunity to consider benefits and limitations of various approaches available to the researcher (Crewell 2003). Two types of approaches are available – deductive and inductive. Deductive approach tests theories, while an inductive approach forms theories (Marcoulides 1998). This report uses inductive research approach as it aims to formulate hypothesis and develop general theory around how organisations could go about marketing digital products, especially viral marketing, using social media. There are two methods available for data analysis – Qualitative and Quantitative. Qualitative research is “a research strategy that usually emphasises words rather than quantification in the collection and analysis of data” (Bryman & Bell 2007), while quantitative research is based on data analysis to generate reliability. Qualitative research better reflects “the quality of the lived experience of individuals, which cannot be reduced to numerical values using statistical analysis” (Hewitt-Taylor 2001). Social media is a dynamic field which is continuously changing. This means that although quantitative analysis would provide data, designing an appropriate survey to get qualified opinions and understand the deeper issues in this area was quite challenging (Amaratunga et al. 2002). This report uses the qualitative method to explore the research questions as it allows researchers to conduct in-depth explorations of a particular phenomenon (Crewell 2003). MBA Dissertation Page 22
  24. 24. This choice is further justified as the research questions focus on opinions, feelings and experiences, thus providing subjective data. 3.2 Data collection methods In-depth interviews act as the primary source of the research and syndicate services (Twitter, blogs, Facebook groups etc.) as the secondary sources. Qualitative analysis allows for a better understanding and interpretation of the experiences of their subjects (Tvede & Ohnemus 2001). This is important for this research as it looks at a wide variety of experiences, understanding of the subject and interpretation of the data gathered. In order to achieve this, in-depth personal interviews with market participants were conducted at prearranged locations. The discussion in the interviews was structured around the core research questions, but no set questionnaire was developed. The interviews themselves were semi-structured in that even though the questions were based on research questions, they were kept open ended and the direction of the discussions was based on the interviewee's experience and area of expertise. The reasons for selecting semi-structured interviews as the preferred approach are:  They involve a series of open-ended questions allowing the discussion on research topics.  They allow the interviewer to encourage the interviewee to consider a question further.  They provide a high level of response. Necessary precautions were taken to ensure that there were no faults in recording the interviews. Interviews were recorded on an audio recording device and then carefully transcribed to avoid any such issues. The questions in the interviews were sequenced in the following conceptual order: MBA Dissertation Page 23
  25. 25.  Social media strategy and capability assessment  Marketing strategy, especially the importance of an integrated approach  Design attributes for Product / Service for them to be considered for Viral Marketing  Designing a viral marketing message for product/services  Importance of influencers  Executing, managing and monitoring a viral marketing campaign, and the importance of sentiment analysis  Exploring whether a viral marketing campaign can be made sustainable Candidates for the interview were selected on the basis of their experience in social media marketing and their relevance in the managing overall strategy and executing specific parts of the SMM strategy. Due to geographical constraints and professional commitments, one of the interviews - with the Online Community Manager of KIK Interactive Inc. - had to be done as email conversations. It would have been better to conduct this interview as a telephone conversation but it wasn’t feasible because of the time differences and other work commitments on their part. All interviews were conducted in March 2011. 3.3 Interview subjects  Colin Gilchrist – SocialTailor.com: Colin is a social media strategist, who helps organisations assess their overall marketing strategy and help them integrate social media marketing as part of this strategy  Andrew Burnett - UrbanNiche: Andrew helps companies design and execute social media marketing campaigns. Andrew's company specialises in pushing the marketing message with a view to reach a point where the message could go viral. MBA Dissertation Page 24
  26. 26.  Jenny Herbison and Rachel Armitage - Skyscanner: Skyscanner is an online flight search company that has recently launched a very successful mobile phone application. Rachel and Jenny, together, are responsible for the overall marketing strategy for all geographical markets Skyscanner operates in.  Tera Dargavel – KIK Interactive, Inc.: KIK Interactive, Inc. provides a mobile application that allows cross platform real time texts on mobile devices. KIK was downloaded on 1 million devices within first 15 days of its launch. Tera works as the Online Community Manager at KIK. 3.4 Secondary sources The rapid changes in the field of social media mean that there is a scarcity of academic literature in this area. Hence, a lot of research was focused on works by opinion leaders and practitioners in the field of social media marketing. In order to get an appropriate range of secondary resources, wide reading was done including these sources:  Analysts reports  Industry and academic journals  Blogs  Twitter  Facebook groups  White papers Twitter turned out to be one of the most useful resources for secondary research as it seems to have become a platform where all the latest ideas are shared in real time, based on the experiences of the companies and the thought leaders involved in this area. MBA Dissertation Page 25
  27. 27. 3.5 Data analysis The data processing in this report is based on the technique described by Kumar et al (Kumar, Tan & Steinbach 2005). Once the interviews had been conducted and the transcripts had been prepared, the usable material, by themes, was drawn out from the transcripts through a process called Coding. The coded research material was copied and pasted into separate Microsoft Word files, one for each theme. These files provided an easy look through while writing the Empirical Materials chapter. The qualitative data was then analysed using the interpretive approach (Miles & Huberman 1994). The material collected through qualitative methods is invariably unstructured and unwieldy (Bryman & Bell 2007). It is the rough material collected from the field, if the form of videotapes, conversations etc., that form the basis of analysis (Bogdan & Biklen 1992). Due to its complicated nature, there is no standardised approach to the analysis of the qualitative data (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 1998). The raw material resulting from the data gathering process in qualitative research is usually in the form of words, and there are different strategies to deal with words. Miles et al (Miles & Huberman 1994) outlined three approaches for analysing qualitative data – interpretive, collaborative social research, and social anthropology. Creswell (Crewell 2003) further identified five approaches – case study, biography, phenomenology, grounded theory, and ethnography. This report uses the interpretive approach to analyse the data as it is used to present a holistic view of data rather than a condensed view. The results of this analysis are discussed in the Analysis chapter. 3.6 Research limitations The exploratory nature of the research and the majority of experienced practitioners living in distant locations - most successful social media marketing firms are either based in expertise were limited. However, much consideration was given in selecting the suitable MBA Dissertation Page 26
  28. 28. interviewees mainly via professional recommendations in the social media industry and a review of their work. Even though care was taken while identifying the right interviewees, the number of interviews meant that the findings of the research are not tested to be statistically significant. Further to this, mitigating any kind of bias that interviewees might have had, as argued by Robson (Robson 1993), is limited by my understating of the subject area and interpretation. 3.7 Ethical considerations The interviewees have been informed of the academic purpose of this study. They have granted permission for using their details in the report. The research is based on analysing primary and secondary data using frameworks already developed by researchers. A soft copy of the completed report will be made available to the interviewees. This research also has approval from University of Edinburgh and gives rise to no ethical issues. MBA Dissertation Page 27
  29. 29. 4. Empirical Material In literature review section, we presented the theory behind various aspects of viral marketing and how businesses should go about creating a strategy, a plan, executing the plan and monitoring the campaigns. In this section, we will present the research data from the interviews conducted with industry specialists and practitioners. 4.1 Importance of strategy The interviewees were asked about the importance of an overall marketing strategy for companies while considering social media marketing or viral marketing as a tool to market their products and services. Gilchrist (Gilchrist 2011) of SocialTailor.com emphasised on the importance of employee buy in and the need to have a crisis management strategy for the companies - before even considering social media strategies – to make sure they are protected if things go wrong. One of the first things that I look at is when they are developing their strategy, they need to analyse and assess the employees throughout the business. One of the other things for big corporations is that they need to know that there brand is protected, so what we need to put in place is crisis management - the bottom line is that you are listing all the potential things that could go wrong and are likely to go wrong. Viral marketing strategy should be integrated in overall marketing strategy and the content strategy, and that the organisations should clearly define goals, responsibilities and set out a communication strategy (Gilchrist 2011). In terms of the strategy, you need to look at content strategy, in fact there are lots of different elements you need to look at, but you need MBA Dissertation Page 28
  30. 30. to figure out who is doing what? What is that you want to achieve – is it just more sales or is brand awareness, who is going to deliver it, etc.? Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) of Skyscanner also alluded to the fact that the social media marketing needs to be integrated with the overall marketing strategy, and it is important that same people manage all the channels in a particular market. Managing these contacts throughout the organisation is key whether it’s through SEO, through PR or anything else. When do an app, we make sure there is an integrated view of all the contacts. The same people managing it is important as well. We have country specialists that look after PR, SEO and all promotions ensuring that they can see the opportunities across channels. Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) also described how they used an integrated approach while launching their mobile phone application: For each market we have main networks and local networks that are tried and tested, but for the mobile app we used different people as it’s the different audience and you cannot go with the same people. It’s a different product, so we have to treat it differently. Everyone in the company was very proactive in pitching the mobile app. It wasn’t just the specific people, but everyone in the company. Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) described the inclusion of operations department to highlight importance of an overall business strategy, and also to emphasise the importance of capacity/capability management while executing viral marketing campaigns: When we were launching the app, a lot of planning went into that as to what was the right time to launch it and making sure we had additional capacity MBA Dissertation Page 29
  31. 31. That’s managed by our operations department. They have contingency of managing if we suddenly have a surge in traffic. We have it all planned out and we have capacity to manage say 30% more traffic to deal sudden surge If we have knowledge beforehand and expecting a spike we can warn operations to expect a spike. Burnett (Burnett 2011) of Urban Niche emphasised this point and argued that the messages are spread through “every network imaginable”. Dargavel (Dargavel 2011) of KIK Interactive, Inc. indirectly made a similar point: Viral marketing is a large effort too - the medium must be decided on, the marketing story and how it is going to be presented and then the distribution efforts. The story and messaging has to make sense and align with the brand - because people nowadays are much more savvy about marketing and can see right through blatant, selfish efforts to get as many eyes on the company name and message as possible. 4.2 Important factors for viral messages Interviewees were asked to describe factors that would help create a viral message for the product or service. Burnett (Burnett 2011) argued that the emotional trigger is crucial for anything to go viral. He also argues that the product or service being marketed has to be exceptionally good – so good that people would not be afraid to put their name behind it while promoting it. MBA Dissertation Page 30
  32. 32. You need an emotional trigger for anything to go viral. Most people think of viral as being funny, but it doesn’t need to be funny at all. It could be something that’s informative, or something that’s tragic. It’s all endorsement and if I am going to endorse something in my name, it needs to be bloody good – it cannot be OK or mediocre. If you want a spike at the launch, then you really need to find individuals with clout (with a ‘c’), even involve them in the process of creating it. Understand the socials sharing mechanics of what we are creating. Understand the viral mechanisms that we can include within the product/services that we are creating. Dargavel (Dargavel 2011) made a similar point with respect to an emotional trigger. : Often, the medium is a video and the content involves something that makes people feel sympathy (or empathy), or is something humorous, or is something extraordinary to witness. Burnett (Burnett 2011) also emphasised the importance of making the product social friendly by using Viber – a mobile phone application – as an example: The guys at Viber have been really clever in the way they have designed the app. You can automatically access your phone book through Viber and the app looks through that to see who else is using Viber. It just becomes really easy for users to spread the word. It’s cheap, its user friendly and it makes it really easy for me to contact others to ask them to use it as well. Burnett (Burnett 2011) further highlighted that making the products available for free (and generating revenue by displaying advertisements) further makes the customers buying decision really easy: MBA Dissertation Page 31
  33. 33. To an extent it’s the freemium model. Do I want my choice of free music anytime of the day and night? Yes, of course I do. Dargavel (Dargavel 2011) also agreed with the ease of availability and sharing: Making it very easy to share the content with friends (i.e., do not put it behind a pay wall! It will never go viral) Gilchrist (Gilchrist 2011) believed in experimenting with different concepts for a brand and testing them in the market to see what people might like and on which platform: Having chatted to a CEO of a media company, what he does is that he creates lots and lots of small case studies with the clients brand to see what works and on what platform, and if one particular thing works then he would pour lots of money into it to do it properly. Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) also argue about the importance of having a good product that people like and emphasised on really understanding the market, the channels that work best in each market and finding the right influencers in each of those markets and channels within each market. I think as much as anything, your product has to be strong and when you give a good product to these people, they will give you a good review and that’s key. We have done a number of different things in different markets. Within each of our managed markets we have identified places where we need to be to get our app reviewed. 4.3 Importance of influencers MBA Dissertation Page 32
  34. 34. On the question of the importance of influencers in spreading the message about the product, all interviewees were unanimous in the importance of finding the right influencers in making a viral marketing campaign a success. Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) describe how they could see the spikes in downloads when the applications were reviewed and given a good rating. They also compared downloads to the markets where they were delayed in getting reviews and saw a positive correlation: The best example of doing that was that on the review sites, we were very lucky that we had good contacts of journalists and bloggers and we just sent them the information, they reviewed the app for us and then there are people who trust these reviews and see them as authorities for that, and that’s when you can see the downloads spikes when they have reviewed the app and given it five stars. In a couple of our markets, we were a bit delayed compared to others in terms of doing that, but you can quite accurately see the point at which we exerted those efforts versus the downloads. Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) reiterated the importance of an integrated approach in that different approaches worked in different markets, and the channel where the influencers came from differed between markets. It’s different for different markets. We make best use of tools where they make sense and we certainly do manage SEO’s and making sure who is linking to us and how those links are being passed on. There are a couple of tools that we started using that are particularly helpful for tracking relationships. Gilchrist (Gilchrist 2011) also agreed with the idea that influencers can be found on various networks or channels, and highlighted the importance of doing research to find out the right people in the particular sector where product is going to be launched. MBA Dissertation Page 33
  35. 35. There are lots and lots of different ways. For example, AllTop.com which is an aggregate news websites, advanced blog search through blogsearch.google.com. Finding blogs that are opinionated but will also talk about your product is important. They cannot always be bought, it depends on the ethics on them, but if they can be bought it’s probably not good for you the companies. Burnett (Burnett 2011) agreed with the idea of influencers and their importance, but offered his specific insight into who the real influencers are i.e. it’s not just a matter of how many people follow you, but the compound effect of a network of people who will endorse your message because they trust your judgment, and are influential enough to further push the message in their network – to the point that the message reaches a critical mass where it can become truly viral, where no further pushing is required. There are definitely people who influence things, but it still have to have genuine content on it. In the social web, the main currency is endorsement. There are people who you trust, so you endorse their things and then there is a reciprocal nature to it that people who trust you will endorse your things, but it has to be a two way exchange. It then comes back to the fact that if something is genuinely worth talking about, it reaches a certain critical mass and then it takes off by itself – and that’s what an actual viral is. It’s a relatively tight knit community – there are probably a couple of hundred people that are really any good, maybe 500 but no more than that – and this is global. These are your influencers / endorsers who are not celebrities. So, if Stephen Fry retweets you, of course it is going to big because he is got millions of followers on Twitter, but the people who have got 2000 followers can pull a lot of right strings in MBA Dissertation Page 34
  36. 36. the background. Of those people there are around 500 max. Basically, you all work together, not in a financial sense at all, but there are favours you trade. Burnett (Burnett 2011) also explained that submission of product to review websites or blogs works as well: These blogs will create content about your product. These blogs then reach out to power users on various networks because they want readership and they say, “Have you seen this story?” And then the whole thing starts getting attention. All the links from the blogs get shared on these networks and you also get secondary benefits of SEO from it. And people then talking about it gets converted into downloads. When asked about how to know when something has reached this critical mass, Burnett’s (Burnett 2011) view was that it is usually very intuitive. Dargavel (Dargavel 2011) also highlighted the importance of online influential space like blogs and review websites: In the app space you may really hope that your news (press releases, blog posts) gets picked up by Hacker News because it's one of the most widely read news sources for Silicon Valley and the tech industry. You may try to distribute your content to journalists at various publications (Huffington Post, Tech Crunch, etc.) or you may just submit it to Reddit or other link collecting sites like that. Again, there is no tried and true method to viral marketing but there are best practices. 4.4 Executing a campaign MBA Dissertation Page 35
  37. 37. Once a marketing campaign is launched, marketers need to be able to monitor its progress, engage with the customers, manage their feedback and measure the success of the campaign. Interviewees were asked how they managed this. All interviewees depended on a variety of tools to carry out the monitoring tasks. Burnett (Burnett 2011) used Raven (to manage SEO at the domain level), Trak.ly (to track individual URL), PostRank (for new launches) and Google Analytics (for general traffic information) Gilchrist (Gilchrist 2011) preferred using a company called Forth Matrix as they combine all the information together, instead of using separate tools. Dargavel (Dargavel 2011) highlighted that there are free tools on the web that can be used to, “listen to the whole of the web or parts of it”. Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) described that their company uses a variety of tools: For SEO we are currently using a mixture of Raven, Linkdex, SEOMoz. We also use Basecamp for project planning and tracking. In terms of analytics we are big fans of Google Analytics and the various other tools Google provides (Webmaster, Adplanner etc.) and usually find that their free offering fulfills our needs. That said, for the mobile app, we use Flurry which specifically tracks mobile sessions Customer engagement among the interviewees happen through responding to customer queries through emails, responding to comments on blogs, or on Twitter. They agreed that specific processes and communication strategies should be developed in the organisations to manage customer feedback. Only one out of four interviewees talked about proactively monitoring the online space for sentiment analysis or netnography concepts in order to figure what people are talking about their brands in the social web. Herbison et al (Herbison & Armitage 2011) describe the situation at Skyscanner as: MBA Dissertation Page 36
  38. 38. We have people who email us and every email gets a response, so we do track our reputation online, but we are taking that one step forward looking at emotions online. We are not there yet. Herbison (Herbison & Armitage 2011) further pointed out the importance of doing the sentiment analysis correctly and allocating enough resource to it: In my previous experience I worked with clients managing their reputation and looking at negative emotions, but it’s all very well knowing them but unless you can action on it, it’s useless. We were giving all this information to our clients, but they couldn’t action any of it because they didn’t have the resource. There are very few organisations that have the time and resource to engage properly. Also, one thing you do not want to do is to engage incorrectly because you will end up doing more harm. If you are dipping in and out, it is unsatisfactory to the user base Dargavel (Dargavel 2011) also highlighted the importance of dedicated resource for customer engagement: A brand, or even a company representative, is much more able to answer questions or concerns in blog comments or by responding to tweets. Negative conversations are usually mediated by explanation. 4.5 Sustainability of a VM campaign Interviewees were asked if they thought a viral marketing campaign be made sustainable over a long period The interviewees thought that it was very hard, if not impossible, to do so. It was felt that a possible outcome was to increase the average traffic over a period of time following the MBA Dissertation Page 37
  39. 39. viral marketing campaign if the product and/or the viral message was very good. Burnett (Burnett 2011) pointed out that: Either you consistently create engaging content that’s going to get spike after spike after spike, or you should look at it in a way that when you create a spike you increase the average traffic towards the product/service or the website. So, the plateau after the spike should be higher than the one before if you have done it cleverly. If you have not done it cleverly the plateau will be the same and if you have done it stupidly the average will actually be lower. Gilchrist (Gilchrist 2011) was of the similar view: Once it has spiked it’s great, but then let’s have a steady growth, and then another peak and then another peak. Trying to sustain the spike is very very difficult. This is because what you are doing is you are shocking people to get them interested. To constantly shock people, the campaign has to be so entertaining that everyone is going to love it, but you will never be able to make everyone happy and sustain it. It’s very very unusual. Burnett (Burnett 2011) further stressed that designing the product with social sharing mechanics in mind and engaging influencers at any early stage of the product design will increase the chances of a product going viral: Understand the socials sharing mechanics of what we are creating. Understand the viral mechanisms that we can include within the product/services that we are creating. You can also build in mechanisms to share things online within the product. It is important to note that the earlier you engage the influencers, the better. Once you have already done it, there isn’t much influencers can do to help design the product/service. MBA Dissertation Page 38
  40. 40. Dargavel (Dargavel 2011) thought it may be possible to sustain a viral campaign, but warned about the fine balance between reiteration of a theme and an overkill: Take a look at Old Spice - I think they're trying to make their viral marketing campaign a little more long lasting. So, when you have a good idea you can stick with it and reiterate - but there is a fine line between a theme and overkill. MBA Dissertation Page 39
  41. 41. 5. Analysis My interest in social media started as a quest for more information. The new applications on the mobile devices (for example, Flipboard on iPad) have made it much easier to identify, target and receive information from the specific sources that are of interest to me. Twitter has increasingly become an important online source for the latest information in almost any area –including but not limited to news, ideas, opinions and reflections. In November 2010, I came across a tweet about a product called KIK - a cross platform instant messaging application. It caught my interest as I had seen Blackberry users raving about the Blackberry Messenger (BBM). A simple search for #KIK on Twitter revealed that thousands of people were talking about this product, downloading it and giving positive or negative feedback about it. Two weeks after launching, KIK was downloaded on more than 1 million mobile devices. Achieving such a huge number of downloads in such a short span of time caught my interest. A few questions sprung to mind straight away. How did they manage to do it? Was it just luck or a carefully carved strategy? Are the marketers aware of the ongoing conversation on the social networks about their brand, and if so, how do they manage it? Then the conversation on Twitter slowed down considerably, and the question I asked myself was what could marketers do to sustain the consumer interest in their brand? In December 2010, I came across another app, Viber, a competitor to Skype, providing free calls between iPhones over a 3G network. It was a similar story with Viber in that it achieved 1 million download in just 5 days. KIK now didn’t seem like a one off app that got lucky. I started looking for already existing research on these topics. It was surprising when I found that most of the academic material was quite dated, more so because social media and its usage is changing so rapidly at the moment that it is difficult for the academic world to catch up. I also realised that Twitter was one of the main sources for finding information. Most opinions leaders, industry specialists and even industry and academic journals tweet about MBA Dissertation Page 40
  42. 42. their papers, blog entries, comments on other members’ articles and ideas. However, Twitter is like a stream of consciousness, with ideas and thoughts flowing vertically on a 19 inch screen - just like credits flowing on the screen at the end of a movie, but only much faster. This stream of data is on a variety of subjects and comes from hundreds of people you follow on Twitter. Once I managed to get a handle on the conversations that were specific to social media marketing, I started reading blogs, industry and academic journals and whitepapers to understand how companies go about using social media as an effective marketing tool. This gave me deep insights into: how organisations go about using social media, latest development and opinions from the thought leaders in social media, reviews and opinions on various strategies and tools used in social media marketing, and importance of sentiment analysis, or Netnography (Kozinets 2010) of the consumer conversation about a certain brand. This secondary research also allowed me to get an understanding of the key areas surrounding viral marketing of the products. It helped me develop a framework for the interviews. Twitter also helped me identify some of the key social media influencers and converse with them. For example, connection with the Online Community Manager of KIK was established using Twitter, and after a few tweets back and forth she agreed to participate in my research. Below is an analysis of the primary and secondary research. 5.1 Viral Marketing Viral marketing literature seems to be divided into two types of viral campaigns: campaigns that go viral just because they appeal to human emotions – the one’s that do not necessary have a viral marketing strategy behind them. For example, YouTube videos that catch people attention and go viral over a certain period. The second one is the strategic viral marketing campaigns around a product or a service, a brand or even just a message. These campaigns are well thought out and planned. More often than not, people seem to use these interchangeably when talking about viral campaigns. In the interviews, the companies MBA Dissertation Page 41
  43. 43. that didn’t have their own products seemed to have a broad focus on viral messages (Gilchrist 2011), while product companies were more focused on the properties that were more suitable to making their own products go viral (Dargavel 2011) (Herbison & Armitage 2011). Since the focus of this paper is on digital products, it mainly covers the marketing campaigns that are carefully planned for digital products to viral. This means that the conclusion may differ from designing viral campaigns if the focus was mainly raising the awareness of the brand. 5.2 Strategy Before we look at the specifics of a viral marketing campaign, it is important to understand the overall context in which a company would want to use viral marketing. The research shows most companies have an overall marketing strategy, and if viral marketing is part of that strategy, then it needs to have defined goals, resource with assigned responsibilities, and a plan of action (Gilchrist 2011) (Dargavel 2011) (Herbison & Armitage 2011). There seem to be enough examples of viral marketing campaigns getting negative publicity for the company – for example, Groupon’s superbowl advertisement or Threshers discount coupons (Andrew 2011). The un-predictive and unmanageable nature of viral messages can be dangerous for the companies. Watts et al (Watts, Peretti & Frumin 2007) talk about combining viral marketing and mass media marketing, in what they call Big Seed Marketing, to achieve maximum reach and to counter the unpredictable nature of the viral marketing campaigns. The research also highlights the importance of having a crisis strategy in case things do go wrong. The companies need to understand the markets they operate in and the marketing channels that are most effective in each of these markets. A marketing strategy should then be defined, as part of an overall business strategy, covering the marketing techniques for each combination of market and market channel (Herbison & Armitage 2011). Whether viral marketing is part of this strategy or not should be decided on the merits of each channel within the market(s) the company operates in. For example, Twitter seems to provide an MBA Dissertation Page 42
  44. 44. easy platform for ideas to go viral, by using the hashtag facility. Every day, there are trending topics that are referenced using these hashtags on Twitter. These trends are in a way similar to viral messages in that they spread when users use those words in their tweets. There has to be a trigger for the users to do that. In a way this is similar to the emotional triggers that were mentioned in the interviews. However, Twitter, as a marketing channel, may only be relevant for certain markets and the marketers should be aware of that. 5.3 Capabilities The research shows that while defining the marketing strategy, the companies’ capabilities needs to be assessed (Gilchrist 2011). One would expect this to be common sense, but it seems that it is often overlooked especially when it comes to social media marketing. There is growing literature that supports the need of an Online Community Manager in the companies to manage all aspects of social media. The interviewees in the primary research were unanimous in their opinion that companies need to assign specific people and have clear responsibilities when it comes to social media marketing (Herbison & Armitage 2011) (Gilchrist 2011) (Dargavel 2011). These responsibilities can range from delivering marketing messages, monitoring and managing the overall community and marketing campaigns, engaging with customers, and listening and responding to customer feedback. Viral marketing, by its very nature, makes this even harder as the sheer number of customers engaging with the company could increase exponentially. Having appropriate system capabilities within the company was also highlighted in the interviews, especially when companies are looking to use viral marketing as the tool to market their digital products (Herbison & Armitage 2011). In the case of KIK, Viber and Skyscanner, hundreds of thousands of download requests could hit the servers in a matter of hours. Companies need to build a strategy around this exponential increase in traffic when considering the viral marketing route. Failure to deal with this could result in potentially irrecoverable damage to the brand. MBA Dissertation Page 43
  45. 45. This exponential increased traffic could also mean a similar increase in customers trying to engage with the company. The companies need to decide how to tackle this increase in customer engagement. 5.4 Product Interviewees felt that emotional connection with the receiver is one most important variable in the spread of a viral message (Gilchrist 2011) (Burnett 2011) (Setty 2009). The other is the ease with which the receiver can pass it on to their network (Burnett 2011). Online viral messages, like videos, that appeal to the viewers can be easily shared over internet through blogs, websites and social networks. The research shows that digital products are slightly different. The product themselves have to be brilliant at what they are meant to do in addition to the promotions around them. They should also possess characteristics that allow the user of the products to spread the message easily (Burnett 2011) (Setty 2009). Viber’s ability to invite other users from within the product and easy connections to the social networks help customers share their experiences very easily. Price is another characteristic. It seems to be the case the offering a free product for the customers to try the basic functionality, and a paid version for the premium functionality could lure a lot more customers to start with (Burnett 2011). On the other hand, a really good product can demand a premium price and people will still buy it. They key difference here is usually in the speed of adoption. Free digital products seem to get a wider spread more quickly while the paid products may reach the similar amount of downloads, but it takes a lot more time to get there. 5.5 Influencers MBA Dissertation Page 44
  46. 46. Knowing the key influencers in each market and each channel within the market is key to any marketing campaign. According to the research, viral marketing of the digital products seems to be no different. Getting the right package to the influencer is important as well i.e. understand what motivates each influencer and provide them with what they are looking for. For example, in some case monetary rewards may be frowned upon. Influencers write about products as they are passionate about them rather than seeking money. In a typical Product Diffusion Curve (Godin 2005) they want to be seen as the Innovators or the very early adopters who influence the majority of people – that’s what gets them going. So, many a times an exclusive preview of the product might do more wonders than a monetary reward. What seems to make viral marketing different, according to the research, is the concerted effort by the key influencers in the online space, to push the product and the marketing message to a critical point where no further market push is required and the customers themselves become the product evangelists who then promote the products within their own networks (Burnett 2011). 5.6 Creating a campaign Traditional viral campaigns contain highly creative and unique content with emotional impact (Setty 2009). The secondary research seems to suggest that all viral marketing campaigns need this kind of content. However, the interviewees had different point of views. The interviewees from companies that had digital products seem to suggest that a good product promoted in traditional ways using highly influential people in the right channels in the right markets are the best way to go about marketing the product and building momentum (Herbison & Armitage 2011). However, the interviewees who came from a consulting or a strategic point of view were divided in their opinion in that one of them stressed on the importance of creativity of the promotional message around the product and the other about the importance of both creativity combined with a brilliant product. MBA Dissertation Page 45
  47. 47. Further to this, everyone seemed to agree on the fact that the consumers today are very clever when it comes to identifying whether a campaign is genuine or just a selfish effort to get the company noticed. So, the marketing efforts have to be very high-quality and ensure that the receiver gets a genuine benefit from the content. In my opinion, the fantastic product is absolutely crucial to any viral marketing campaign for digital products, unless the company is aiming to create a one hit wonder, in which case the product itself is irrelevant. Ideally the product needs to be designed for social spread with ideas from influencers – to get an early buy-in. Designing a creative promotional message that would have a viral appeal in addition to a good product should increase the chances for a product going viral. However, creating a message that is genuine and makes sense - one that aligns with the brand, identifying the right influencers in the right markets, understanding what motivates them and engaging with them accordingly, and a high quality joined up effort from people within companies is far more important. 5.7 Campaign management The three main areas that the research points out as important in terms of campaign execution are Seeding, Monitoring and Managing. Seeding is about influencing the influencer i.e. making sure enough key influencers in the target markets like the product and they are ready to promote it in their channels, hopefully to the extent that the message gathers enough momentum to reach the Tipping Point. The interviewees seemed to agree on the role of the influencers, but backed different approaches when it came to building momentum. One of the approach discussed was to submit the products to influential websites then hope that enough users will read and share the message. Another approach was to build on top of the previous approach and create an integrated marketing campaign, perhaps using mass media campaigns to get maximum exposure (Gilchrist 2011). Finally, one interviewee talked about identifying influencers with worldwide network of other influencers covering all online channels, and leveraging that network to build momentum (Burnett 2011). MBA Dissertation Page 46
  48. 48. I believe that companies need to look at all the options available to them. All approaches identified in the primary and secondary research seemed logical. A particular approach that a company adopts would perhaps depend on the combination of the following factors - product type, the specific markets for the product, the channels where the key influencers are and whether they have personal network of other influencers in the relevant market, and the financial resources available to the marketing team – e.g. mass media marketing is much more costly that social media marketing. Once the campaign is launched, the interviewees believed that channels in each market need to be monitored for the spread of the message (Herbison & Armitage 2011). This is done using a variety of free or paid tools for each channel within each market. For example, Google Analytics could be used to monitor the number of clicks to a website, but a completely different tool was used to measure the number of users a tweet would reach, or how many retweets did the message get on Twitter. The research suggests that conversations on the relevant channels also need to be monitored for positive or negative feedback. Reward positive feedback, if possible, even if it is with a simple acknowledgement - it will buy customer loyalty. Monitoring the network for any negative feedback and managing customers perception when it happens was also highlighted as crucial, especially the rogue elements, for instance competitors, trying to spread negative feedback (Gilchrist 2011). One of the interviewee suggested that companies should have crisis management strategy in place to be able to deal with such things effectively (Gilchrist 2011). However, all interviewees felt that this can be very resource hungry task and most companies only really engage in a selection of channels with the customers (Dargavel 2011) (Herbison & Armitage 2011). The research also shows that the measurements of sentiments – Netnography (Kozinets 2010) - in the online networks is quite a complex and tricky subject, and the tools available to do this kind of analysis are far from perfect (Herbison & Armitage 2011). These tools involve scraping relevant data from the conversations customers have on online channels. The analysis of this data is still quite primitive in that it cannot deal with the variation in dialects, cultural variations in meaning of words, language variations, and slang to name a few. This means a lot of this analysis requires manual manipulation of data which is very MBA Dissertation Page 47
  49. 49. time consuming and expensive. Hence, the companies use netnographic analysis for very simple things like brand mentions. In terms of measuring the Return on Investment the interviewees felt that it is quite a simple process for digital products as you can measure the number of downloads and compare it with message spread, and the cost of running the campaign (Dargavel 2011). Having a Plan B, in case the seeding fails, was seen as quite important campaign management tool. This could be another set of seeds or a different spin on the product or perhaps a mass media marketing campaign. 5.8 Sustainability Every company’s dream is a sustained high growth of their products. Since viral marketing could potentially provide a means of sustaining exponential growth over a long period of time, it is quite a lucrative concept. Even though the interviewees thought sustaining the level of growth that come from a successful viral marketing campaign is theoretically possible, say by repeating brilliance time and time again (Gilchrist 2011), being able to this practically was very hard (Burnett 2011) (Gilchrist 2011). The research seems to tilt in favour of creating campaigns to increase the average growth over a longer period instead. 5.9 Summary As social media and social networking is such a new concept, companies are finding it quite hard to come to terms with the fact that it is more than just something social, that social networks are valuable places where customers interact with each other and communicate their opinions about brands. These online social networks are extensions of real world social networks (Dye 2000). In the real world influencers used to, and still, play an important role in spreading word about a product (Kozinets et al. 2010). They put their reputation on the line when they do so and hence they have to make sure that products are of top quality. MBA Dissertation Page 48
  50. 50. Such is the case with online product marketing, the only difference being the influencers can now be found writing blogs, freelance articles, reviewing products, tweeting their opinions etc. Just like strategy is important in creating word-of-mouth campaigns in the real world, it is also important in social media space. As companies become aware of the importance of the social media, the impact it can have on company’s brand, and the opportunity it provides, they are slowly beginning to include social media as part of their overall business and marketing strategy. Marketers need to consider viral marketing on social media like any another marketing channel. They also need to develop integrated marketing strategy in order to decide how best to make use of mass media marketing and social media marketing to have the maximum predictable reach (Watts, Peretti & Frumin 2007). Due to the nature of viral marketing on social media i.e. the potential of rapidly attracting millions of customers without limited geographical boundaries, companies need to closely consider their capabilities. Viral messages by their nature are very hard to control when they go truly viral. Marketers need to be prepared for both positive and negative feedback on the product – making sure there are enough people in the company, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, who are ready to deal with both positive and negative feedback from a viral marketing campaign. As much as the positive feedback could potentially put the company on the path of exponential growth, the negative feedback on a viral campaign has the potential to damage a company’s reputation irrevocably. Companies need to have a crisis management strategy in place in case something does go wrong. Companies also need to make sure their systems are capable of dealing with the sudden increase in traffic to their servers if a viral marketing campaign does become successful. The quality of product itself has to be exceptional when planning to include viral marketing campaign as part of the overall marketing campaign. Viral messages are usually spread by influencers, and influencers usually would not put their reputation on line within their MBA Dissertation Page 49

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