A Look at Viral Marketing

Viral marketing has always fascinated me. When executed effectively, viral marketing generates positive word-of-mouth about an upcoming product and can make ultimately purchasing the product, whether it be a film or a pair of sneakers, that much more exciting.

Curtis Silver’s article Organized Chaos: Viral Marketing, Meet Social Media begins by citing the success of cult show Mystery Science Theater 3000 and BMW’s The Hire – a collection of short films featuring Clive Owen driving awesomely in a BMW – as an example of pre-YouTube viral marketing, but there are plenty of other great examples of viral marketing campaigns. Take for instance Microsoft’s search engine Bing’s campaign to promote rapper Jay Z’s upcoming autobiography, Decoded. Check out this cool video detailing their approach to the project.

Clearly, this was an ambitious project, but telling by the end of the video, both Jay Z and Bing benefited greatly from this endeavor. This viral marketing campaign got fans and others excited about a product that normally a movie trailer or a billboard ad just couldn’t do. Allowing the audience to become involved with your product creates the feeling that they are a part of something in history, that they are connected to this one moment in time with others all around the world. That’s an incredible emotion to invoke in a person, and for Jay Z and Bing, it paid off. Oh, and just keep in mind what this huge project spanning multiple continents and potentially costing a hefty wad of dough to pull off was all for: A BOOK! Wow, I didn’t even know people read anymore…

So we’ve established that viral marketing can be a grossly beneficial tool to create buzz about a product, but just like other forms of advertising, like the online crowd-funding site Kickstarter, it is not for everyone. Just because it worked for one person does not mean it will work for you. Take, for example, the recently released video game Hitman: Absolution. Absolution is the latest installment in the long-running Hitman franchise in which you play an assassin-for-hire, and publisher Square Enix wanted to capitalize on its release by, wait for it, creating an app that lets you place death threats on your Facebook friends! Yes, that’s exactly what I just wrote. Let it sink in. Video game website Rock, Paper, Shotgun was able to document the horribly insulting site before it was quickly taken down by the publishers. In the app, you can create a contract in which the game’s protagonist will seek out your friend, based on bullying remarks like “her small tits”, and kill them. Then, the app creates a video and sends it to your friend!

This is not what I wanted to wake up to!

This is not what I wanted to wake up to!

A great viral marketing campaign can create an event that gets people out of their chairs and creates positive promotion for a product, but a horrible campaign can put a black eye on its reputation just as quickly, even if the product is of high quality. This becomes even more evident with the advent of social media such as YouTube and Twitter. With the touch of a button, one little message, one little app about killing your friends, can be sent across the globe, through a number of channels, instantly.

Viral marketing is a scary and risky proposition: letting your baby that you’ve worked so hard on into the wild and watch how the masses react. It’s risky because at some point, it’s in the peoples’ hands, and all you can do is sit back and watch. But it can also be incredibly effective in the end, creating anticipation for something hopefully worthy of the hype.

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Are We the Best Advertisers?

I remember when I was in high school, I would base my wardrobe on my friends and other students around me and I would get the video games that my friends said were “The best game ever!” When Kanye West wore those window blinds glasses, everyone had to get them (well at least I did..). And how did Member’s Only jackets become popular in the 80s? Or Jennifer Aniston’s hairstyle on Friends? For the most part they were self promoted by your peers. Ellen P. Goodman’s reading “Peer Promotions and False Advertising Law” uses the term “peer promotion”. Peer promotion is basically the advertising of commercial products by the consumer. How often does a friend upload a photo of the new Halo or Call of Duty on Twitter or Facebook the first day of their release? How often do you see a status update on Facebook about the thoughts of one of the new movies that came out? If you think about it, it is amazing what “tremendous communicative power that individuals can wield through digital networks and the impact of this power on industrial economies.”, as Goodman says in the reading.

All the “peer generated” material posted on blog sites like Blogger or WordPress, and video sites like YouTube or Vimeo, are some of the strongest forms of advertising. These sites were made for the people, so the people can create the content. We read and watch what our own peers create. People have more trust in their peers’ “non-commercial” speech than the actual producer of the product. This proposes the question, is the consumer the best advertiser? Do your peers advertise the product better than the company?

I believe the consumer is the best advertisers. As stated before, social media has become the main proponent for consumer advertising and non-commercial speech.  The article “Social Media and the Power of Peer Influence” says that 70% of consumer’s buying decisions are influenced by suggestions from a friend or family member online. For the most part, on Facebook. One of the earliest examples of great consumer advertising through social media is one we looked at in class, the Diet Coke and Mentos video. Due to that video, the sales of Mentos increased tremendously. Mentos did not have to spend a dime. A more recent example is the Doritos commercial campaign. People could submit their own created Doritos commercials and the winner would have their commercial played during the Super Bowl. This is peer promotion because Doritos did not spend any money on the commercials. The consumers created the commercial, which made you go buy Doritos, and you may even watch the other submitted commercials on YouTube. More free advertising for Doritos.

The Goodman article says that Advertising Agency magazine, in 2006, named the consumer “agency of the year”. This is even truer today as social media continues to grow. More and more people are posting their opinions on blogs, creating wikis, and making YouTube videos and even more are listening. We trust each other more than we trust the company pushing the product. Some companies do not even have to engage in social media very much because of peer promotion. So, how are you going to base your next purchase? On what the advertiser says or on what the consumer says?

Social Media: Everybody’s Doing It

Here in the United States we tend to think of ourselves as the leaders in social-networking.  After all, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn all started here in the good old U. S. of A. But as it turns out, we are only a fraction of the users of social media sites. According to the article on USA Today Social-Networking Sites Going Global by Jon Swartz http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/technology/2008-02-10-social-networking-global_N.htm about 80% of social media users are outside of the United States. This means that less than a fourth of social media users are located in the United States. These are intriguing statistics considering how the biggest social media sites were developed in the United States. Upon finding out that the United States was not the largest portion of users engaged in social-networking I started to wonder how and why other users in other countries were utilizing social-networking. Is the rest of world on par with the U.S. when it comes to which sites are the biggest or most used? I have decided to compare and contrast U.S. use of social-networking with that of the rest of the world.

Picture from http://www.peoplesearchesblog.com/tag/social-networking/

In an article posted July 2012 on the site http://itechwik.com/ entitled Top 10 Most Popular Social Networking Sites In The World 2012 the top five were reported to be:

1. Facebook

2. Twitter

3. Pinterest

4. Linkedin

5. Google+

According to U.S. Social Networking Rankings http://www.socialnetworkingwatch.com/usa-social-networking-ran.html the top five social-networking sites in the U.S. are as follows:

1. Facebook

2. YouTube

3. Twitter

4. Yahoo Answers

5. Pinterest

It seems that the U.S. is following the world-wide trend with more people using Facebook than any other site. Part of the reason for this could be that Facebook has been expanding the number of languages it can be translated to. The USA Today article stated that “Facebook has developed an application to translate words on the site from English into other languages. On Thursday, Facebook said a Spanish translation is available. Anyone who wants to view Facebook in Spanish can change their language preference from their account settings. German and French versions are expected in coming weeks.” The article was from 2008. Today Facebook can be translated into “97 options. Which includes dialects like English (Pirate).” http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_languages_is_Facebook_translated_into

The reason for Facebook’s popularity around the world seems to be the fact that it is accessible to many people who speak different languages.

Globally Twitter is number two, but in the United States that spot belongs to YouTube. There are some slight variations, but mostly the same sites are popular with globe as they are with America. It is interesting that Yahoo Answers is number four in the US. I would have thought that it would be Pinterest or Google+ (sites that are talked about more and are higher  up on the global top five list).

The world seems to basically be in sync with the United States when it comes to what sites are popular with Facebook coming in the lead with the top spot. This analyis leads me to raise the question: Are social-networking sites that are popular in the United States bond to become top sites for the rest of the world? What do you think?

Self-Regulation vs. the Internet

The Internet is a bustling community constantly adding new content with the click of the mouse. The idea of regulation within cyberspace seems almost unreachable and downright impossible. Waldman’s article, Harmful content on the Internet: Self-Regulation is the best way forward, aids my theory that self-regulation is the key to censoring the Internet. By censoring, however, I do not mean having a Big Brother figure monitoring every page accessed by user. My idea of self-regulation and censoring depicts the notion of individuals flagging something as inappropriate or offensive, thereby driving such an article/post/video to the attention of sites hosting user-generated content. Doing such actions will bring forth the consequences to the author of the offensive material. Facebook and Twitter, among other social networking sites, follow this same procedure in weeding out offensive material, like the notoriously controversial Facebook page, Aboriginal Memes, which spawned lots of negative feedback.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/08/09/facebook-removes-racist-aboriginal-memes-page_n_1759891.html

People have argued that pages, like Aboriginal Memes, will only keep spawning unless regulation from some overseer is unleashed onto the Internet. Myspace claims that they monitor the videos, for example, that are published onto their site. It becomes irritable when looking at bigger video hosting sites, like YouTube, however, that have an undeniably growing community that spits out hundreds of videos daily. Monitoring such a site would require many people and lots of patience, as the videos will only keep growing and growing. With sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, I strongly believe that self-regulation would be the obvious answer to people’s complaints. Otherwise, how would the guys in uniform choose to censor? Who would be the priority ones to protect from offensive material? Self-regulation works for all classes, races, and sexualities. youtube_logo

Within the dark alleyways of sites, like YouTube, there are videos that go beyond offensive and reveal themselves to be disturbing to innocent eyes. Videos like rape, pornography, and gang-related displays (among others) have made their way onto YouTube and other websites. A simple Google search could grant one access to a daily dose of violence, if one desired. Many people strive for a monitored, regulated Internet for the sake of the younger generation of children. I would like to counter this argument by stating that parents can download control software to block sites from children. In class, we even discussed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (CIPA)/Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, which blocked certain sites (pornography, violence, language, etc.) within the public school systems of the US.

net_nanny_boxshot

Having the government regulate the Internet to a full extent for users seems unjust, as it tampers with many ethical issues of privacy and freedom of speech, among others. Censoring the Internet will stifle both creative and commercial innovation and make way for product placement and favoritism with providers, in my opinion. Censorship has been witnessed in other forms of media, like newspaper, radio, film, and television. Before they were censored, these mediums were self-regulated. Today, they consist of the same traits that I have specified above. Having a censored and controlled Internet could most surely lead the Internet down a similar path. I can almost guarantee it.

In conclusion, I believe that keeping the Internet self-regulated would be a fantastic road to travel. It keeps creative minds flowing, as it allows users to share music, chat openly on public forums, and watch videos without much censorship or intervention. One has always had the opportunity to intervene when offensive material is posted by flagging as inappropriate. Gang videos, pornography, and other offensive material will be hovering around the Web, but one can always use software to block these sites to protect younger individuals. The Internet is not a utopian society where our troubles from the outside world have been forgotten. Whether government censorship occurs or not, these troubles will still surface online, meaning this hope for a paradise will never be achieved. Just self-regulate!

Fandom & Media: A Co-dependent Love Story

When speaking about fandom within the context of the ever-growing realm of social media, it is inherent that we clarify that it is not technology that dictates fan behavior nor is it fan behavior that delegates the structure of technology. Rather, the relationship between fandom and new media is mutually developmental, meaning that they both adapt according to each other. This idea is known as “convergence culture”, a term coined by Henry Jenkins, the founder and director of the comparative media studies program at prestigious MIT. Think of fandom and Web 2.0 as figures in a co-dependent relationship where both parties look to each other for potential ways to better their roles.

This idea of convergence culture suggests that these platforms that facilitate fan communities are nothing new, but that they are in fact merely adaptations of platforms from old media. For example, websites (such as http://www.lindsaylohansource.com) dedicated to reporting upon the happenings of a specific celebrity, politician, band, or what have you are not a new thing. Checking this kind of website on a regular basis or even following a public figure(s) on Twitter is just an adaptation of the Fan Club, an engraved figure from the time of Old Media. These fan clubs provided a service that was foundationally equitable to platforms existing in New Media with the intent of providing a place for fan communities to engage.

For example, if you belonged to a Bugs Bunny fan club than you could receive letters in the mail that suggested that they were from Bugs Bunny himself. Nowadays, fans turn to public figures’ blogs, twitters, websites, etc. to find messages that are also supposedly directly coming from the figures themselves. As you can see, both the old and new fan platforms were providing fans with the same (albeit false) sense of a relationship between themselves and their icon.

Furthermore, fans on a mailing list could also receive invitations to events where they could meet their icon and/or interact with fellow fans. New Media has merely adapted the same general idea by making this coming together of a fan community easier. Now, fans can find each other online through a variety of web resources and then communicate with each other any time they want even if they’re countries apart.

To further exemplify how fan communities facilitated through new media are merely grown-up versions of their old media counterparts, we can examine fans’ desire to create for each other. Fans were creating things for each other (fanzines, slash fiction, drawings, songs, etc.) even before new media reared it’s pretty head. Fans could distribute to display these creations by entering a picture in an art contest, singing a song about their icon at open mic night, etc.). New media came along and recognized this desire fans had to create for each other and simply found ways to make the dissemination of these materials between each other and the public faster, easier and wider spread. For example, there are now blogs dedicated entirely to Star Trek slash fictions and fan-made music videos on Youtube.

The important thing to remember is that fans do not do these things because new media allows them to; they’ve been behaving this way even before Web 2.0. However, on the other end of the spectrum, new media didn’t facilitate places for fandom to exist just because fans wanted it to. Instead, new media wanted these fans to participate so they provided places fan communities could exist, but then new media affected fandom by facilitating activities that had not been imagined and/or possible before.

An Aliasless Internet

Since chat rooms and forums were created on the Internet, aliases and fake names have existed. Most social networking sites allow you to use an alias other than your real name. I would like to believe that during the beginning stages of the public use of the Internet, “ASL?” was the most common acronym used in conversations. But how many times has someone told the truth about their age, sex, and location? Who are you really talking to on these forums, chat rooms, or any other website that requires an alias? How does one really know if someone with the name xXxCoolGuy35 is really a trustworthy person? Or if the person you are chatting with on JDate is really a highly paid lawyer in Boston? Would that one guy make such a horrible and racially charged comment on your YouTube video if he was not hiding behind his alias? The answer is “You do not know.” There are a lot of ways to find people on the Internet. You can look up an individual’s IP address and locate where that person is using their Internet. If you use the same alias for multiple websites and attach your real name to it, the alias could be very well be searched for on Google and cross-referenced with your name. I bring this all up because I propose the question of what if we had to use our real name for every website? Facebook prohibits fake names, so what if every website you sign up for had the same rules as Facebook for creating a new account? How much different would the Internet be? Would the etiquette of the Internet change at all or would it still pretty much be the same?

In some ways, the ball has been starting to role where only your real name is out there. You can be found in the WhitePages. There are websites that tell you what phone numbers belong to who. YouTube has even allowed you to start using your own name when ever you comment, like a video, or upload a video. They connect it to your Gmail or Google+ account as well. YouTube believes that this will help stop those horrible comments people leave on videos.

http://mashable.com/2012/07/24/youtube-comments-full-names/   

The Watkins reading called “Digital Gates” talks about how most people are not comfortable with randoms seeing our information and we are far more comfortable picking who we share our information with. The example Watkins gives is that Facebook is like our own gated communities where we have people similar to ourselves that we know to some degree and trust. Do you think that if the whole Internet had all our information out in the open, like Facebook, that it would bring everyone closer together or have even worse effects? It sounds dangerous because one person can say something off putting to someone else and if that person is unstable, he might be able to find that person’s information and cause harm. But why would that happen? Both individual’s information is out in the open to everyone. It could cause anarchy, but maybe instead it could cause a respect and understanding to each other.

Lastly, I’d like you to look at the information provided by InternetSafety101.org. How different do you think these statistics would be if less information was hidden throughout the Internet?

Twitter: Helpful or Harmful?

Being a fanatic about something is no new phenomenon. From the very first Olympic games, people have gathered to watch and cheer for their favorite contestant competing in an event. With the inventions of radio, television, and now the internet, fans have found new ways of following and supporting their favorite players, teams, television shows, etc. However, social media have not only provided an opportunity to connect with fellow fans, it has also provided a way to personally connect to the object of fan-obsession. So this begs the question: has this new form of interaction pushed fan boundaries too far?

With the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and other such social networking sites, it has become easier to stay up-to-date with star athletes, celebrities, and the like. Almost instantly, you can watch a replay of a football play or be informed of the stats of every major baseball game happening at the same time. People now have the ability to live-tweet about reality shows, singing competitions, and other such events. And now the investment is reciprocated. Athletes can now get feedback from their fans about their opinions and thoughts on games and overall efficiency of the team. They can personally answer a fan about a question or thank someone for their support. In addition to that, Twitter is also a promotional tool for games or tournaments. This new way of interacting is a much better and easier outlet to show devotion to a certain fandom. In general, this seems like a great way for fans to be supportive of their favorite teams and athletes and to connect to them on a more personal level. Examples of certain athletes and coaches using Twitter can be found here:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/the_bonus/06/05/twitter.sports/index.html

BUT. The same can be said of displaying hatred for a rival team. Cyber-bullying is no new thing, and now with Twitter and Facebook fan pages, people can directly attack someone whom they dislike. And man, can some individuals be vicious! I personally don’t understand the need to rip someone apart via the internet (or in person, for that matter), so I have a hard time comprehending how people can be so completely rude and spiteful to someone they don’t even know. There is honestly no need to wish someone dead just because they play for a rival team or made a mistake in their PRIVATE life, which is part of being human. Because people can now personally connect to the object of their rage, barriers are being broken between public figures and private citizens.

One example of hate tweeting is a follower of the 49ers football player Brandon Jacobs. After being injured during a game, the Twitter follower said, “I hope you die a horrible death.” Jacobs handled the situation in a graceful manner, which can be read here:

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000055813/article/brandon-jacobs-responds-to-twitter-hate-messages

 

This and other such instances bring up the issue of whether or not Twitter and Facebook have allowed fans and other users to have too much access to celebrities and athletes. Should these social networking sites be monitored for hate messages? If there were a way to monitor and limit these kinds of online attacks, who should have that kind of control?