Friends in High Places: Implications for Viral Marketing


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I read an interesting post by Tomi T Ahonen on his Communities Dominate Brands blog.

Tomi tells the story of how Teri Hatcher (of Desperate Housewives fame) was sitting far from President Bush at a Correspondents Dinner. Teri, who knows President Bush Snr (who was not at the dinner), silently send him an SMS from her mobile phone. Thirty minutes later, some Secret Service men came over and informed Teri that President Bush would like to meet her. Apparently, President Bush Snr has phoned his son and asked him to be nice to Teri.

What a great story. It shows the power of influencers in social networks (President Bush Snr). And it shows how powerful the mobile phone is as a social tool. But it also shows how important it is to prepare the ground before influence can be used in social networks (Teri already knew President Bush Snr well enough to SMS him).

Duncan Watts, formerly Professor of Sociology at Columbia University but now at Yahoo, describes how important it is to prepare the ground for viral marketing in a recent paper on Viral Marketing for the Real World. The majority of viral marketing simply doesn’t work; the message doesn’t get transmitted onwards by receivers enough to reach a tipping point and to explode on the scene. And because of the dynamics of transmission, it is virtually impossible to say before hand, which viral marketing campaigns will be hits and which will be duds. The paper points out that companies using viral marketing greatly benefit from integrating it with traditional marketing methods. Traditional marketing greatly increases the susceptibility of the audience to the viral marketing message and makes it more likely to be transmitted onwards to others. By giving the audience simple tools to transmit the message, they can not only increase transmission but can also follow the message as it is transmitted from one person to another. Watts call this ‘Big Seed Marketing’.

What do you think? Do you have friends in high places to get your message across? Or must you rely upon modern marketing methods?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. I remember when Yahoo was first starting. A friend of mine was a systems administrator at Stanford at the time. Had Stanford not given Yahoo the free space and support, they would probably not be where they are today. If those guys had been at another school, a public school even across the bay, they would not have had the opportunity they did. That said, had they not been the people that they are they would not have been able to take advantage of the chance.

    The playing field is not level and we all know it. We do the best we can and hope to have a Tipping-Point moment where someone with the right connections pushes our project or lifts the curtain at the right time. The best way for that to happen is to be busy doing the thing you do well so that when the chance arrives you are ready to deliver. One of the best examples is Chick-fil-A. The Cathy brothers were in the restaurant business for 20 years before they opened the first sandwich outlet. Too often we see enterprises that are launched that require that bit of luck, which are not really good businesses otherwise.

    If we want to stay with the virus analogy. Think of this. One trip to the forest probably can get you sick but if you want a really virulent virus you have to be in the jungle for a while.

  2. Roger

    Thanks for your comment, it is much appreciated.

    I agree with you when you say that some businesses seem to have inordinate luck when getting starting. But how much of that luck is really chance, and how much of it is prepared in advance. As you point out on your Squidoo lens, there are lots of things that entrepreneurs should do to ensure lucky breaks happen to them more often.

    Graham Hill


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