Social Media Marketers Targeting People Who Don’t Exist?

Posted on February 13, 2008
Filed Under Marketing 2.0 |

Continuing my debunking of many of the absurdities promoted by social media marketers, discusses dealing with the subject of “Influentials,” those desirable individuals whose influential ways supposedly have the power to spark viral word-of-mouth buzz.

Word-of-mouth is one of the cornerstones of the social media marketer’s proposition to brands. Using social media, they’ll get your product and message into the hands of Influentials and the rest is apparently magic. Sounds good, right?

But for those of us who still make their primary residence outside of Second Life, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. And if the work of Duncan Watts, a Columbia University network theory scientist who is currently working at Yahoo, is to be believed, marketers implementing $1 billion worth of word-of-mouth campaigns every year are essentially throwing their money away.

It’s a debate that pits Watts against people like Malcolm Gladwell, author of Web 2.0 Book Club favorite .

Before you and make your decision, let me add one final consideration to the debate in case you are having trouble making up your mind. Ask yourself: who are you going to believe?

This guy:

Or this guy:

I rest my case.

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11 Responses to “Social Media Marketers Targeting People Who Don’t Exist?”

  1. antje wilsch on February 13th, 2008 12:40 pm

    are you saying that seth godin and andy ernovitz are wrong? By the way your top “this guy” is fug

  2. Drama 2.0 on February 13th, 2008 1:15 pm

    Antje: “Wrong” is such a strong word. I’m not saying Seth Godin and Andy Sernovitz are entirely wrong, per se, but I am saying that the world is a lot more complex than they’d like you to believe.

    If there were these tangibly identifiable Influentials who had the magic power to consistently spark trends on a brand’s behalf, why is it that so few of the companies engaging in artificial word-of-mouth marketing achieve success with these campaigns on a large scale?

    On a personal level, I look at it this way: I’m not going to be pimped by a marketer. If I really like a product, I’ll sing its praises naturally. I’m not going to propagate a marketing message for something I don’t think is compelling.

    Let’s take a movie example:

    1. If I see a coming attraction for a movie that looks good, I’ll probably go and see it. If it’s good, I might recommend it to a friend who I think would enjoy it. If it’s bad, I’m not going to recommend it.

    2. If a friend who I think has a similar taste in movies to my own recommends a movie, I’ll probably go and see it. If it’s good, I might recommend it other friends. If it’s not, I’m not recommending it and the friend who recommended it to me might lose some credibility, especially if he or she starts bombarding me with recommendations.

    The bottom line is that I don’t see much, if any, need for marketers to artifically create word-of-mouth buzz. If you have a good product, a compelling value proposition and get those things out to a large swath of your target market, there’s a fairly decent chance some consumers will spread the word. Whether that results in some massive viral effect depends on a lot of things that marketers just can’t control.

    As I’ve pointed out before, word-of-mouth is powerful because you’re not bombarded by it all the time. If marketers become successful in turning average consumers into zombie-like recommendation engines, the power of word-of-mouth will be diminished.

    Let’s face it: there are a lot of products that just aren’t appropriate for recommendations 99% of the time (i.e. detergent) and there are a lot of products that just aren’t deserving of a recommendation (i.e. Windows Vista). Nothing is going to change that. If marketers somehow persuaded your friends to start bombarding you with useless and poor product recommendations, how long would any influence they have over you last?

    By the way, the photos are not posted for the “fug” factor. I was simply providing a visual demonstration that Malcolm Gladwell looks like the type of mad scientist who does horrible things to mammals and therefore The Shallow Drama 2.0 has a hard time taking him seriously.

  3. Cyndy Aleo-Carreira on February 13th, 2008 2:48 pm
  4. antje wilsch on February 13th, 2008 2:49 pm

    I agree, but there is only one issue I have with the premise in #1. If you don’t HEAR about the movie in the first place, then you can’t virally recommend it to anyone. This it the spot where most marketers get stuck….

    If you can post half naked hot chicks then give us some pretty eye male candy too :)

  5. Drama 2.0 on February 13th, 2008 3:09 pm

    Cyndy: anybody issuing a press release throwing around the word “Web 3.0″ is an idiot in my opinion.

    This is where business can take advantage of web 3.0. By offering their own Google Gadget or Facebook Application, businesses can target potential consumers long before any purchase decision has been made. This is what Bain refers to as MyPage Marketing.

    “MyPage Marketing occurs when users decide to place a widget on their personalised web page which benefits them — but also exposes them to subtle advertising from the widget developer.

    “The key to successful MyPage Marketing is to ensure that the user benefits from your widget, has a reason to tell their friends about it, and doesn’t feel that they’re being exposed to a marketing message.

    “The best time for a business to get started with a MyPage Marketing campaign is as soon as possible. Once you accumulate enough widget users, a snowball effect occurs; because your existing users will tell their friends and you’ll also start to appear higher in the Google Gadget and Facebook Application directory results.”

    If David hasn’t looked, most of the popular widgets on Facebook are completely useless (i.e. Super Poke). And, of course, most widgets never get the desired “snowball effect.” But as usual, it’s so convenient to ignore the fact that most things don’t go viral and focus on the small number that do.

    If there’s anything I hate more than marketers shouting at me, it’s marketers thinking that they’re smarter than me. Do these idiots really believe that the average consumer isn’t going to detect their subtle marketing messages?

    I will go back to my favorite nightclub analogy: when you meet somebody that you’re attracted to, you don’t immediately have to say “Nice shoes. Wanna fuck?” That’s the marketing equivalent of shouting. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making your intentions clear. In fact, it’s most often desirable. These social media marketers seem to confuse good marketing (i.e. effectively making it known to the consumer that you have a product you think can benefit them) with shouting. They are trying to sell the marketing equivalent of roofies.

    Antje: Mass marketing is not difficult. Movie studios have the budgets to make consumers aware of their upcoming movies.

    Where marketers most frequently get stuck (in my opinion) is that they’re increasingly marketing stupid products that have no real mainstream appeal. Hence their eagerness to believe that there’s some magic solution to getting consumers to buy them.

  6. antje wilsch on February 13th, 2008 3:39 pm

    but no one will equate start-ups and marketing with huge budgets available by (large) movie producers. The analogy is going all over the map here…

  7. alisa on February 13th, 2008 4:25 pm

    @antje wilsch his analogies are always all over the map…

  8. Drama 2.0 on February 13th, 2008 5:11 pm

    Antje: I think there’s some confusion here. When I speak about the world of marketing, I’m almost always discussing brand marketing. The amount of money movie studios have to spend on marketing is equivalent to that of major consumer brands.

    I care far less about marketing tactics employed by small businesses and startups because these are different beasts and statistically, most of them will fail anyways.

    Brand marketing is the context of most of the discussion around social media marketing and it’s the major brands (i.e. the P&Gs) that most of the social media marketing agencies want to snag.

    In other words, I don’t care about the guy who only has $1,500 to spend marking his new Web 2.0 startup that he thinks could be the next Digg. I care about the Fortune 100 consumer brand that has $150,000 to spend on a relatively small campaign.

    Alisa: great to see you, darling. I know that my nightclub analogies might be difficult for you to understand given that you’re probably more likely to spend your free nights at the NY Tech Meetup as opposed to Cipriani Upstairs. Maybe I’ll invite you sometime and you can observe.

  9. antje wilsch on February 13th, 2008 5:54 pm

    there is no confusion. Your favorite pasttimes are bashing dumb idea start-ups AND those drinking the koolaid (both go hand in hand).

    Andy is a handful. Did you see his book he sent out with popcorn (forward by Seth and Guy K)? I am not sure if that itself was supposed to generate WOM buzz but it tasted good.

  10. Drama 2.0 on February 13th, 2008 6:06 pm

    Andy would have to send along a lot more than popcorn to get me to recommend a bullshit book to my friends. A bottle of 1941 Château de Laubade armagnac might *start* to “influence” me.

  11. RIP: Brands? Hardly : The Drama 2.0 Show on March 5th, 2008 12:43 pm

    […] right allegories at the right time” resonates with one of the most important observations of Duncan Watts, who has noted, “If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start […]

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