Create Predictably Viral Word of Mouth Campaigns.


This posting explores how an advertiser can virally spread a message by leveraging laws of social epidemics extolled in the highly acclaimed book-  “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell . The book was written before social networks like Facebook and Twitter came into existence. Now it has become much easier to spread social epidemics or build up popularity of a concept by spreading “word of mouth” using social media. Towards the end, this posting explores how we can test a message on a small slice of the target population or cohort and create a predictably viral word of mouth campaign.

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Malcolm Gladwell listed the three laws governing social epidemics – “The Stickiness Factor” , “Law of the Few” and “The Power of Context” .

1)   The stickiness factor– The message should appeal and be memorable. While writing the message we should have a definite problem that our product attempts to solve. The message should highlight the problem and then the solution to complete the story. Yet the message should be short and easy to remember and re-transmit.

2)   Law of the few– Gladwell advises us to focus our energies on only a few people whom he calls Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. Or  well connected, influential thought leaders and energetic evangelists. While selecting the audience or recipients we should ensure that they are well connected  and active on the social networks. This qualification ensures their ability to re-transmit the message if they desire to do so.

3)   The power of context– (Circumstances and peer pressure). The message will resonate with the audience if they really have the problem that you are proposing to solve. A message which proposes to solve an existing problem resonates better than one that is offering to prevent a problem.  Painkillers are better than vitamins. A message will resonate better if existing circumstances result in occurrence of the addressed problem or certain environmental conditions make the problem more painful. Also if your solution is popular and is being used by many – it encourages others to do the same – this herd-like behavior is typical in the world of fashion.

Let us apply the three laws above to build our word of mouth campaign to spread a message which advertises our product offering that solves a problem. Let us first make sure that the message is “Sticky” by sending it selectively to those who are likely to be hurting due to the problem.  A well worded message offering a compelling solution will resonate well with such a target audience. An appealing message is not only received but it inspires the recipient to re-transmit- thus starting a chain reaction. You can  carefully select a few recipients by deciding certain fixed selection criteria. You can do some background research by talking to these individuals to ensure that they really have the problem you are trying to solve. Once this validation step is done you can test a couple of candidate messages by sending them to a sample of the target population and then compare if one of the messages better inspires the recipient to share it with her connections.

Once you have a message that works ; you can scan the next few days to see if there is a likely event that is going to make the message resonate better. A rainy day could be good time to publish an advertisement for an umbrella. Time your pre-tested message to make it more effective.

You can identify connectors, mavens and salesmen by studying profiles of people connected with you. All three of types must be having a few hundred connections to qualify. Mavens tend to have followers who like their postings and are likely to post more frequently. They are thought leaders who are likely to have hundreds of followers on twitter. They are also the types who would post thought provoking articles/ blogs.  Salesmen identify with the problem and the proposed solution to an extent that they start talking about it with their connections.

You should launch your word of mouth campaign by sharing your pre-tested message only with those who are well connected and active among the identified target.

Very quickly you will get updates on how many people liked your message and how many of them retweeted or shared them with their connections. Coefficient of Virality (CoV)is defined as the ratio of number of re-transmissions to the number of original recipients. All these efforts will go a long way in making the CoV exceed 1.

Its time to review the results and learn. Here are a few questions to guide your learning.

1)   How many recipients on the Cohort really had the problem you were thinking they would have.  Learning- Either solve a different problem or use better qualifying criteria to identify members of the cohort.

2)   How many of them retransmitted? What was the longest and average time between receiving and retransmitting the message? This will determine life of the message. Also quality of the solution. Learning: write a stickier message and a better solution.

3)   To how many friends on an average was the message retransmitted? Is this mass critical enough to result in re-re-transmission. Evaluate  coefficient of virality. Improve by removing impediments to action. Learning: The message would not go viral for one of the 3 reasons.

  • It does not resonate with the selected cohort- change the selection criteria or change the message
  • Members of the cohort are not active on social media so they didn’t re-post the message.- May be you need to select members who post at higher frequency
  • Members of the cohort are not well connected – so there weren’t enough connections to whom the message could be re-posted. May be they need to be having more than 200 connections and not 100.

Other Ways of Improving Virality.

  • Improving searchability by SEO Optimization.
  • Postings in interest groups.
  • Cross posting with other Blog sites.
  • Registering with aggregation sites like Technorati.

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