Category Archives: marketing

Kids vying to be seen as social influencers

Social butterfly; Flickr photo by massdistracton

Excerpt of WSJ piece on what PeerIndex calls the S&P rating of kids’ online social presence:

When Katie Miller went to Las Vegas this Thanksgiving, she tweeted about the lavish buffets and posted pictures of her seats at the aquatic spectacle “Le Reve” at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel.

A week later, the 25-year-old account executive at a public-relations firm got an email inviting her to a swanky holiday party on Manhattan’s West Side.

“At first I was confused,” Ms. Miller said. She read on to learn that she had been singled out as a “high-level influencer” by the event’s sponsors, including the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas, and a tech company called Klout, which ranks people based on their influence in social-media circles. “I was honored,” she said, sipping a cocktail at the $30,000 fete.

So much for wealth, looks or talent. Today, a new generation of VIPs is cultivating coolness through the world of social media. Here, ordinary folks can become “influential” overnight depending on the number and kinds of people who follow them on Twitter or comment on their Facebook pages.

People have been burnishing their online reputations for years, padding their resumes on professional networking site LinkedIn and trying to affect the search results that appear when someone Googles their names. Now, they’re targeting something once thought to be far more difficult to measure: influence over fellow consumers.

Some of the “influence” is real, but other youth are trying to game the system, befriending lots of others on Twitter in “one night stands” in the hopes of upping their own popularity and then dumping these “friends” a day later, or dramatically increasing their number of retweets in the hopes that they get greater attention or credit for Twitter traffic. Others realized that by raising the ratio of “those Twitter accounts following you” to “those Twitter accounts you follow”, they could increase their score. Companies are trying to use these services like Klout, PeerIndex, TweetLevel or Twitalyzer (which processes Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn data) in an effort to determine which teens are popular and trusted by others.

Read “Wannabe Cool Kids Aim to Game the Web’s New Social Scorekeepers — Sites Use Secret Formulas to Rank Users’ Online ‘Influence’ From 1 to 100; ‘It’s an Ego Thing’ ” (Wall Street Journal, By Jessica E. Vascellaro, Feb. 8, 2011)

While they are in their early days, it’s not clear that any of these companies yet score accurately the true influence of youth or adults, as evidenced by how this can be gamed.

See also, “Web of Popularity Achieved by Bullying” (New York Times, by Tara Parker-Pope, 2/15/11) that notes that “students near the top of the social hierarchy are often both perpetrators and victims of aggressive behavior involving their peers.”


Charlie Rose on the social impact of technology

Two snippets from recent interesting episodes on Charlie Rose:

1) Andrew Mason, cofounder of Groupon, was on Charlie Rose the other week.  He stumbled upon Groupon while trying to launch “The Point” about social change and online collective action on the web, but users found they were being asked to do something too amorphous.

He describes the social component of Groupon (which he insists is trying to change the world by repopulating Main Street):

“Question (Charlie Rose):  What do Facebook and Twitter mean to you?”  Mason: “Groupon is an inherently social service because the content is inherently social — it’s restaurants, it’s theater…” Rose:  “Today’s NY special is yoga lessons.” Mason: “I’m sure you do yoga with your friends.  When people get this yoga deal they send it to someone else and say let’s do it together.  Facebook and Twitter are a way for people to spread the word.”

2) In another Charlie Rose episode, Ken Auletta, Michael Malone and  David Kirkpatrick were talking about how 500 million users on Facebook is causing companies to rethink about how to reformat their products to make the experience more social and make greater use of social marketing.  Michael Malone: What other product reaches 500 million people (Coca Cola, KFC?).  It’s literally changing the way young people think.  Goldman’s recent deal with its implicit valuation may put greater scrutiny on Facebook for being regulated. David Kirkpatrick:  Facebook wants to change the world.  Zuckerberg’s not in it for the money.  He wants to make Facebook available to as many of the 7 billion people on the planet as possible.  He wants to make everything we do more social.  As Facebook is more mobile, we are bringing our friends everywhere we go.  We can ask our friends (via Facebook) at the supermarket whether they like this product or that.  Ken Auletta: why do I need Google if I can ask my friends on Facebook what camera to buy?  Michael Malone:  Linked-in [the leading competitor to Facebook] is of course the network of professional people and is feeling its way around how you go beyond just swapping business cards and actually aggregating people on projects, starting companies….Reed [Hoffman, the CEO] is moving fairly quickly to create the virtual corporation, the protean corporation where people work in the cloud and aggregate on projects.  We’re seeing more local geographic-based social networks that center on restaurants, local events.  There’s a website where you can leave a virtual postcard at a store for others to find out you were there.

See Charlie Rose interview on Future of Social Networking (January 7, 2011)

See Charlie Rose interview with Groupon CEO Andrew Mason (December 9, 2010)

Astroturf “grassroots” campaigns: the art of manufactured networks

Strangers or friends advocating a product or a cause may not always be expressing their true value.  And the meteoric rise of undiscovered products or people may be less organic, and more orchestrated than people think.

More and more examples have occurred recently, including an interesting article in today’s WSJ about rising singer Marie Digby (link at end of post), reveal corporate interests promoting ‘fake’ or astroturf marketing campaigns.  (Other examples are LonelyGirl15 on You Tube which professed to be a home-schooled sheltered teen and proved to be a Creative Artists New Zealand-based professional actress Jessica Rose looking to sign a movie deal; or many of the ‘environmental’ grassroots campaigns that profess to be anti-environmentalist but are in reality corporate fronts.)

Jonathan Ressler, a Marketing Specialist, recently profiled in the documentary, The Corporation, explains how companies pay individuals to play up how great various brands are to their friends, pretending that they are just telling their friends from the heart, not out of self-interest.  [This has been called undercover marketing, stealth marketing, covert marketing, guerilla marketing or self-interest marketing.]

These guerilla marketing campaigns may be good for raising sales of products — for the moment we trust our friends’ recommendations more than corporate pitches — but as more horror stories emerge of shills pretending to be ‘friends’, it runs the risk of having all of us trust our friends and their opinions less.   (‘Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!’)  Or a more just market punishment is if shills who are uncovered are ostracized by their friends for trading their social networks for lucre, but that presumes that people will know who is shilling.

The NYT magazine recently featured an interesting profile of Rick Rubin, the new president cum-yogi of Columbia Records. In it, Rubin mentions his amazement with Paul Potts (the British mechanic who hides an amazing silky baritone voice).  Potts has become a YouTube sensation after his win on the British equivalent of American Idol (with over 20 million YouTube views).  But the article makes one wonder how big a role Columbia Records played a part in stoking his ‘grassroots’ viral marketing campaign, especially since Rubin is so savvy about using young employees to create more buzz.

Full story at Download This: YouTube Phenom Has a Big Secret — Singer Marie Digby Isn’t Quite What She Appears; ‘Make People Like Me’  (WSJ, 9/6/07, Ethan Smith and Peter Lattman, p. A1).  Article highlights follow:

“A 24-year-old singer and guitarist named Marie Digby has been hailed as proof that the Internet is transforming the world of entertainment.

“What her legions of fans don’t realize, however, is that Ms. Digby’s career demonstrates something else: that traditional media conglomerates are going to new lengths to take advantage of the Internet’s ability to generate word-of-mouth buzz.

“Ms. Digby’s simple, homemade music videos of her performing popular songs have been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube. Her acoustic-guitar rendition of the R&B hit ‘Umbrella’ has been featured on MTV’s program ‘The Hills’ and is played regularly on radio stations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Capping the frenzy, a press release last week from Walt Disney Co.’s Hollywood Records label declared: “Breakthrough YouTube Phenomenon Marie Digby Signs With Hollywood Records.”

Ms. Digby feigned surprise at her marketing rise in an Aug. 16 MySpace blog entry and never mentioned the backing of Hollywood records or the role they played in her rise.  Digby admitted in interviews that she left out Hollywood Records because “I didn’t feel like it was something that was going to make people like me.”  But Hollywood Records played an integral part, advising Ms. Digby, 18 months before her meteoric rise to feature video covers of popular hits by Maroon 5 or Nelly Furtado so that searches for these songs would ‘discover her’, they bought her an Apple computer and software and advised her on how to get her songs online.  And it was the posting of a cover of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ that launched her.  Hollywood Records distributed high-quality versions of her songs to radio stations and arranged a deal with iTunes.

When radio stations ‘found’ her and invited her onto the shows, she played the rube, saying  “‘I’m usually the listener calling in, you know, just hoping that I’m going to be the one to get that last ticket to the Star Lounge with [pop star] John Mayer!’ ” The WSJ reported that station programming executives “now acknowledge they had booked Ms. Digby’s appearance through Hollywood Records, and were soon collaborating with the label to sell ‘Umbrella’ as a single on iTunes.” [The radio station didn’t discover her through random YouTube searches of others’ hits.]  She later faked the similar part of a discovered diamond in the rough when on Carson Daly’s show.

The WSJ notes that “at a concert last week at a Los Angeles nightclub called the Hotel Cafe, Ms. Digby played to a sold-out crowd of young fans. Even with the club’s handful of tables reserved for Hollywood Records executives and their guests, Ms. Digby continued to play the ingenue. Introducing ‘Umbrella,’ Ms. Digby told the audience: ‘I just turned on my little iMovie, and here I am!’ “

When viral marketing goes postal

The social marketing site,, apparently has taken viral marketing to a new high (or new low!).  When you sign up, it plunders your address book (without your permission) and sends them all e-mails inviting them to join Quechup and so forth, until everyone on the planet has been invited many times over.

Remiescent of:  ‘Open the pod door, Hal!’   (2001 – A Space Odyssey reference)

One of the problems with ‘bots is that we might have a different agenda than theirs — Quechup wants to raid your social networks; most people like to gatekeep their friendships or their friendships don’t last very long. 

Answer, be afraid of Quechup, be very afraid.  (And it’s not just because I don’t like Ketchup.)   ‘ Would you like Quechup with your SPAM (blast e-mail)?’

For reports of disasters that befell them see Shava Nerad‘s site or here or here.

Also called a ‘Q-style trust virus‘ and the previous blog entry talks about how social networking + trust viruses of this type could plunder and amass all the information stored by people on the Internet (like Plaxo and through on-line address books) for identity theft or other nefarious purposes.

Advertisers to mine Facebook personal info

I wrote earlier about advertisers mining the personal information users store on social networking sites here

Latest report in WSJ Facebook Gets Personal With Ad Targeting Plan (Vauhinin Vara, 8/23/07, p. B1) highlights Facebook’s latest plans to enable advertisers to capitalize on Facebook user’s personal information.  Plans are to launch this in Fall 2007 and rumors are that it will be akin to Google’s AdWords that lets companies buy keywords for searches and then place their advertisements when those words are searched.

Picking pals via pickle likes and beliefs about ADD-food coloring link? helps one find friends and dates through a combination of ‘nearest neighbor technology’ (see below)  and answers to questions like whether you like pickles, whether you think food coloring causes attention deficit disorder, whether you like jelly beans and whether you’re in the mile high club.  [“Nearest neighbor” technology is the same one that Netflix uses to recommend you new movies based on what you’ve liked in the past or Amazon uses to recommend other books you might want to buy from what you’ve bought.]

The technology can certainly find others on the site that have the same or similar patterns to your answers to an array of questions, but I’m more skeptical that these shared likes/dislikes/beliefs are enough to hold people together.  But maybe the fact that you share a like of jelly beans and dislike of pickles is enough to give you an excuse for why you should be friends and thus help you break the ice.  But the fact that many of the answers are trivial still leave enough mystery and difference to make the relationship work.  We’ll have to see how successful the dates actually are.

The site developers also hope to form partnerships with media entities that want to use the user base to answer product related questions (like do you like Reese’s pieces).  Obviously a temptation would be to then target ads, coupons, etc. to actual or potential users within the user base. might decide to sell the information to marketers;  see earlier post on how online entries are a boon for marketers.  [ users at the moment are skeptical — 68% think advertisting is just another form of propaganda.]

An article about can be found in “New Social Website Tempts the Inquisitive” (Boston Globe, 6/11/07).

Social Networking Info Online: a Marketer’s Dream

 [see related post on Social Capital Blog called Surveiling Ourselves]

Excerpt from recent article on how marketers will be able to ouse blogging information:  “Bloggers beware: the number of groups looking to harvest information about who you are and who you know is rising.”

“While social networking sites like MySpace might predominantly be forums for teens to project their graphic exuberance, the growing web of personal electronic networks is emerging as a lucrative honey pot for business intelligence gatherers.”

Read full article “Groups Mine Web Social Networks for Info” in The Age (6/8/07)