MBA Notes: Jonah Peretti & Viral Marketing

We recently had Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of The Huffington Post and creator of BuzzFeed, guest lecture in my Digital Media Marketing class at NYU Stern.

The main focus of his presentation was on viral marketing.  Viral marketing describes a technique where people share stuff to create an awareness, be it on a news topic, a brand, an Internet meme, or whatever else.  With BuzzFeed, Jonah’s enabled advertisers to tap into the power of viral marketing.  Jonah said the key to making something go viral is taking advantage of the “Bored at Work” network – all of those bored folks sitting in their corporate offices waiting for something interesting or exciting to happen.  Actually, it doesn’t even have to be a corporate office – as noted in my Big Deal Germany post, even the Amsterdam prostitutes get bored at work, possibly reading BuzzFeed themselves in between customers.  Anyway, there’s this decentralized mass of people just waiting to forward something stupid, funny, shocking, or newsworthy to their cadre of bored coworkers and friends.

Jonah went on to contrast the “Google Worldview” with the “Facebook Worldview” and the applicability of each with regards to achieving virality.

  1. In the Google Worldview, users can anonymously search The Google for fact-based data or answers to questions; in the Facebook Worldview, users express feelings and share stuff with friends.
  2. In the Google model, no one sees what you’re searching for, so there’s no reason to care about your search history or reputation; in the Facebook model, your entire social network is watching you, so you’re more careful with what you post.
  3. As a consequence of 1 & 2, the types of stuff you do between both sites is distinctly different: you search for porn on Google; you post about your charity work on Facebook.
  4. People want to share things that make them look good, whether that’s charity work, or a picture of basset hounds running, as in Jonah’s example.
  5. Thusly, the key to achieving virality is understanding that people want to share relatable experiences: you click on porn, you share a laugh.  (Though, I suppose you could share porn.)

An additional key to achieving virality is the importance of experimenting with technology: try different things and measure their impacts.  Different campaigns and approaches will have different outcomes.  Jonah walked us through the concept of “ViralRank” – an analytic that measures reach.  Reach is calculated from two inputs: the starting seed of a campaign (number of users to see the media first) and an estimated “social reproduction rate” (number of users on average to whom each user will pass the media).  Thus, a viral media campaign is spread like an actual virus, and appears to follow mathematical models of growth and decay.

Really interesting stuff.  Looks like there are more notes here on a similar presentation given last year.

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