Digital Influence & Viral Marketing – influencing people in a digital age

There are a lot of discussions today regarding social medias, digital marketing, online marketing, mobile marketing etc etc. How to use communities and large user bases for marketing purposes. Applications such as Facebook occupies a lot of space in discussion and is gaining a lot in popularity among users. With the data it has about its users it should be perfect for targeted marketing. Blogs also figures in discussions about their role in marketing, some don’t believe in them at all and some to 110%.

Looking into the latest usage of Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku and many other hot applications that is gaining in popularity, a fact has struck me regarding how they are used.

LinkedIn is a good example to start with, stated as the main competitor to FaceBook and an application most know about. It allows you to add friends, put up a professional profile, search for people and get in contact with them through your friends. You can see updates when you friends change job or update their profile. It is mainly for professional usage and users are recommended to only add people they know well and are willing to recommend to others. But how is it really used? I see four kind of users: We have the passive user who created his account once, put up some information, added friends and then pretty much forget about it. The average user updates his profile sometimes, accept new friends but doesn’t use it for much else. Just as with other communities it is too time consuming to be active. He prefer to use it as a way to just gather his friends and know what they are doing and maybe use it more in the future. The active user use LinkedIn for professional purpose, often a sales person. Through LinkedIn he finds whom to contact in a company and which one of his friends that might know that person. Also used in the same way for finding jobs. The fourth one is the extreme user (due to lack of a better word) who goes outside the applications original usage by adding as many contacts as possible, even people the person doesn’t know or have met.

Facebook has just the same kind of users and usage. Microblogs, such as Twitter and Pownce, that enables you to send messages and share what you are doing also has two usages. One where you only add friends you know, and another where you add and share to everyone. Twitter as an example have users that follows several thousand people and has as many followers. This is extreme and I wonder how they manage to follow several thousand updates and of what interest it can be to know what they all are doing since a lot of posts are of little interest for people not knowing you. So it is interesting that people use it in this way.

The usage of blogs are clear and easy to understand. Someone post something on it and hopefully people read it and subscribe to its feed. Common purpose is to share news, thoughts, comments etc to everyone who reads it. I often find new applications and sites from blogs. Blogs has shown great PR value and being mentioned in a popular blog is like being mentioned in a popular magazine. There are many famous bloggers who have managed to get a large number of readers/subscribers and the importance of that persons blog is clear. And today this is what we expect of blogs. But in the beginning it was, and still are by many, used as a diary. Its usage changed and so did its professional acceptance. Maybe this is the same with microblogs, they start with more of a personal purpose and then becomes used for a professional and more accepted one.

Using Facebook I have realised the power of its news feed where you can see what your friends have done. For example what group they have joined, what new friends they have added, what they are doing right now, what event they will join, what new applications they have added and so on. This news feed has often influenced me to join the same group and add the same application since it is a lot easer to follow your friends than search for groups and applications yourself. Sharing events has also become popular and several friends share events such as parties. And here is where the power of Facebook and microblogs comes in. The ability to influence people. Extreme users is playing with this and the larger number of friends and followers they have on Twitter and Facebook, the better opportunity they have to influence people. So these applications are maybe not as important for digital marketing and advertisement as they are for digital influencing. The applications and communities are maybe alone not that important, instead it is their users with the large groups of friends and followers that possess the real power to influence others.

The reason could be about trust and perception. Applications such as Facebook and Microblogs are for most people about adding and sharing with the friends you know and that is why the ability to “influence” is even bigger because there is a higher level of trust to the content and less filtering. The message from your friend is arriving right on your desktop in a client such as Twitterific or Pownce, or on your Facebook page, easy accessible and noticed. Today most people are more likely to trust the review and recommendations from a blog compared to a commercial news site, and when you can easily see what your friends are doing and join the same events and applications as them, you are more likely to do it since you trust them more than a blogger you don’t know. So with these discussed applications and usages I believe we will see a new phase of opportunities for viral marketing and digital influence. Maybe it is the next phase after Digg and Delicious when sharing is more personal and recommended by friends and chosen sources, delivered in a direct way and receiving more attention. Just imagine the power in that a message sent on Twitter or Facebook can go out on IM, SMS, RSS, e-mail and right into all your friends newsfeed on Facebook.

~ by Andreas Sigurdsson on August 5, 2007.

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