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Social Media Marketing: Is it possible to plan a successful viral campaign?
Abhik Lal Mukherjee
Abhik Lal Mukherjee
Product Manager
There has been a phenomenal rise of online social media in the last few years. Facebook alone has over 750 million users worldwide and about 40 million users in India and the number of users is growing at an astounding pace. In the last year alone, we have seen this medium being used not only to socialize or communicate but also for triggering revolutions which have toppled governments. Moreover, there have been several instances of "viral" propagation of content using such media, the most notable of which in India has been "Kolaveri Di". Needless to say, this opens up a great opportunity for marketers to reach out to their customers and create campaigns which are well targeted and can leverage the viral marketing potential of social networks. The key business aspect for such campaigns is that they have extremely high ROI since your customers do the marketing for you once a campaign is initiated. This however, brings us to a crucial question that all marketers need to ask and that is, if it is possible to design a viral campaign by creating the right incentives for individuals who could initiate and propagate a huge cascade.

It is accepted that for a viral campaign to be truly successful, it needs to reach a critical mass of cascades such that it reaches a "tipping point" beyond which is blows out of proportion though the power laws of a geometric progression. In the book titled "The Tipping Point", the author, Malcolm Gladwell points out that for a campaign to reach the tipping point, there must be certain players with specific traits in the cascade. He names these players as "mavens", "connectors" & "salesmen". Mavens are defined as knowledgeable people who are experts in their fields and they advise people based on their expertise. Moreover, recommendations from mavens are valued by the people in their networks and usually people act on such recommendations. Thus mavens are able to influence people thorough their expertise and willingness to share knowledge. Connectors are people who have very large number of connections in their social networks. They have a wide reach and can broadcast message to a very large number of people. Salesmen are people who are persuasive with their recommendations. They try hard to influence or recommend their thoughts to others and are successfully not because of their expertise but because of their persuasion skills. Gladwell argues that for a successful campaign, you need to have a mix of such personalities in your cascade to maximize reach.

From the perspective of a marketer, it implies that if it is possible to identify individuals on the social networks as one of the above personalities and if after this profiling exercise a targeted incentive is offered to them for cascading a promotion, the reach of a campaign can be far more than a random campaign. For instance, for a facebook application, we can get the number of friends for a registered user and tag users with the maximum number of friends as connectors. Moreover, we can tag people who get maximum responses/actions from their recommendations as mavens. Similarly, for people who send maximum recommendations (not necessarily with a high response on their recommendations) can be tagged as salesmen. Once this profiling is done, special offers or discounts could be given to a mix of users from these profiles so that the chance of viral promotion a particular campaign is increased.

Further research on the above approach has shown that for all cascades those have been initiated by connectors and have the two other profiles as intermediaries have been most popular. However, cascades initiated by mavens and having the other two profiles as intermediaries have been the best targeted and most effective. The implication for a marketer is that for campaigns that are designed to increase the top of the mind recall of brands or products, it is best to give maximum incentives to connectors to be the initiators and some incentives to the other actors in their networks to propagate the message. However, if the objective of a campaign is to reach out to a niche audience or some specific sub-group, maximum incentives should be given to mavens so that they become initiators of cascades and some incentive should be given to the other actors in their networks.

In conclusion it can be said that if the product or service is good enough and is relevant for the market, it is possible to plan a successful viral campaign if we as marketers are willing to apply our minds in leveraging the power of online social media.
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