The Economy Of Buzz: Blogs Are Market Conversations
People talk, some more than others.
With each conversation, information is spread from one person to another, and if the topic of conversation is interesting, exciting, or has value; people will discuss the topic with other people.
Photo credit: Gerd Marstedt
Talking is also important because we need to survive at our jobs. Jerry Kaplan wrote in his book Startup, "Hardware engineers tend to hang out together, in fear of missing the one critical word-of-mouth factoid that might save them their jobs." * Talking and sharing information is vitally important to survival, it's hardwired into humans and is a basic part of what we do.
(*source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing p31)
People talk about their daily lives whether it be at school, around the water cooler at work, at the dinner table or at a bar, most of the information that people spread is about theirs or other people's lives.
The products we use can also be part of the information we spread. One of my friends bought an iPod shuffle, I watched him at a meeting as he proceeded to tell 10 to 20 people what a great investment it was for him; and how it was so small he can bring it to the gym, and use it when he goes running, how he could upload books to listen to them, and all this for $99.00.
He couldn't praise the product enough because it had added real benefit to his life. Rosen also related, "In other cases we use products to send messages to the people around us. By announcing to the world what book we read, where we ate last night, or what electronic gadget we bought, we tell others about our wealth." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
Whether we read the NY Times or Wall Street Journal, wear Gap or Old Navy Clothes, have an iPod or a Walkman, drive a Toyota or BMW, whether it's books, movies, music or clothes, what we recommend makes a statement. In fact, we build our own personal brand and the products we use are how establish it.
The men gather at the magaa'd, a central tent used for social gatherings (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing) and as Rosen puts it, they talk about, "Everything: life, food, where to buy what, what's the best price for gas and cigarettes, where to go next." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
The magaa'd "became their 'newsgroup' hundreds of years before computers where invented." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing) And the Bedouin men use it to find where they can bring their herds. It is a central location were new information is brought and shared with the group; it aids in survival.
According to Rosen, "Word of mouth has always served two functions: to spread information ('There's rain not far from here') and to analyze it ('Maybe we should go over there.')" (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
A quick way to get information is to ask other people what or how they do something. By asking others what doctors they use, it reduces risk. Whether it's buying a car or a computer, talking to others reduces the risk of purchasing a worthless product or wasting time.
Some people talk more when they are upset. I had a workmate who first thing in the morning would go from one office to the next telling the same story of how somebody did something wrong to her and how mad she was.
People want to talk, according to a survey by Roper Starch Worldwide who interviewed 35,000 adults and teenagers in 35 countries. They found that,
"spending time with family and friends is high in the list of most popular leisure activities: Seventy-three percent of adults and sixty-three percent of teenagers said that they frequently spend time with their family. Thirty-two percent of adults and sixty-two percent of teenagers surveyed frequently spend time with friends. These numbers are higher than the percentage of time spent watching TV, playing sports, listening to music, or shopping." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
And, according to Diane Crispell of Roper, "People are extremely social, and [reaching] people through their relatives and friends is extremely powerful." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
In addition to mass media, the most basic way people spread information is through face-to-face communication. People are bombarded with information from radio, television, Internet, billboards, email, instant message, etc., which we either consciously or subconsciously filter out.
Regarding the Internet alone, Jupiter analysts believe that in 2005 Internet users will receive over 950 advertisements a day, per user. (source: about.com, Jupiter: Online Advertising to Boom)
As information continues to flood people, it will become increasingly harder for companies to send messages that break through all the clutter and communicate clearly and effectively to a targeted audience.
Increased importance will be placed on getting people to talk about a product, service, or brand. For the most part, people love to communicate, interact and connect with other people,(granted some of us are better than others). It may be our natural inclination to communicate well with people.
Whether we talk about the new car we bought, a recent trip we went on, or ask a trusted friend about the best printer for our new computer; we are always spreading information and ideas, influencing and being influenced.
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell presents ideas on how information or trends spreads. He finds a few significant personality types and explains how they are critical to spreading information.
Two of those personality types are Connectors and Mavens.
Connectors are the type of people who know a lot of people, and more importantly, keep in contact with the people they know. Meeting people, keeping in touch, connecting is naturally what these people do.
In the book, Gladwell presents a number of studies to show the existence and the power of "Connectors" when it comes to spreading information. One of the studies Gladwell conducted was the acquaintance survey.
The survey is based on 250 surnames taken from a Manhattan telephone book. The way the survey was conducted is that the participant gets one point for every person they know with a surname on the list. The survey was taken by people from different backgrounds, ages, professions; people
from all walks of life.
There were survey participants who were in their teens who were recent immigrants to the United States; and they knew on average 21 names on the list. Other survey participants who were health educators, mostly white in their 40's and many with PhD's, knew on average 39 names.
Another group of survey participants were a sampling of Gladwell's friends and colleagues who where in their late 20-30's, and knew on average 41 names.
What is interesting is how varied the results were from people knowing the fewest number of names to people who know the most names. In a college class that was surveyed, the low score was two and the high score was 95.
In the random sample the low score was nine and the high score was 118; with the medical educators the low score was 16 the highest was 108. In total, the survey was given out to about 400 people and around 2 dozen knew under 20 names, 8 knew 90 and 4 knew over 100.
Malcolm Gladwell's acquaintance survey shows that Connectors know more people, and they keep in touch with them, making them instrumental to the spread of information.
What does this mean? Among every social class, age and education level, there are a few people who know a lot of people.
These are the people that Gladwell describes as Connectors.
Gladwell also points to a study that took place in the late 1960's by psychologist Stanley Milgram; the purpose of Milgram's research was to understand how people are socially connected, and how information spreads through a population.
Milgram created a package like a chain letter, and sent the packages out to 160 people living Omaha, Nebraska. In the package, there was the name and address of a stockbroker who was living in Massachusetts. Each person who received a package was asked to write their name on the package and send it to somebody they thought might get it closer to the stockbroker.
The idea was to see how many hands the package went through to get to the final destination. Milgram found that most of the packages reached the stockbroker in five or six steps.
Twenty packages reached the broker at his home, and most interestingly 16 of the 20 packages had all been sent to the same person before reaching the stockbroker. The balance reached him at his office and the majority of those came through two other men. Half of all of the responses were delivered by the same three people.
The studies findings reveal that not everybody is linked to everyone else in five or six steps, but rather that there are a few people who are linked to the world in smaller steps and everyone else is linked to them.
Gladwell did his own experiment by analyzing how he met each person in his social circle. Out of a list of 40 of his friends, 30 of them can all be linked to one person. The experiment made him to realize that what he thought was his circle of friends was really more of a pyramid, with the one friend responsible for most of his connections on top of the pyramid.
He also realized that his circle of friends did not belong to him, but that he had been invited into a sort of social club revolving around his one friend. Through these studies, it is clear that some people can spread information on a wider scale than people who do not have the characteristics of the Connecter.
Mavens are people who are the most expert of the experts. They are savvy in the marketplace; they possess a wealth of information and willingly share it.
Not only does Gladwell describe them as the kind of people who read Consumer Reports magazine, but they are the types of people who write in to correct the editors. And according to Gladwell, Mavens read more publications than the average person, which may be a reason why they have so much information to share. (source: Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make A Big
Difference p. 67)
Mavens are the kind of people who do research to gather information on a product and then share their information with others. Because of the information Mavens have, and their willingness to share it, they play an integral part in spreading information.
Mavens like helping other people, which makes them a very credible source to listen to. People may filter out advertisements, but they do listen to people they know and trust.
I have a friend who is a Maven; he is the kind of man you turn to when you are thinking of buying a computer or any other piece of technology. In fact, no matter what you are talking about, he is more than likely to have wealth of information on the subject, if he does not, he will research.
When I was planning a trip to California not only did he tell me the best roads to drive along, but he gave me maps, created an itinerary and told me the about the best GPS software that is available.
If you are looking to buy a car he can tell you which ones have the highest safety rating. He knows how to fix computers and gives expert real estate advice. He will give you an article from The Wall Street Journal that has to do with a conversation you had.
He is a trusted source of information for everyone I work with. When he shares information with other people, he does so naturally, not to prove that he is smarter, but to help.
Mavens are the people who have information and spread it; connectors can get information from Mavens and spread it to large numbers of people.
In the book, Anatomy of Buzz, Emanuel Rosen relates the experience of Jim Thompson, who after purchasing a Palm Pilot developed a fascination with it.
Thompson would use the Palm for everything, from keeping track of his car mileage to playing games. He talked about the gadget everywhere he went; with friends, family, cashiers at stores, even with the medical groups he belonged to.
Rosen goes on to relate how Thompson even started a web page entitled, "Jim's Health Care Pilot Page." As a result he received contacts from physicians who use the Palm or were interested in purchasing the gadget.
Soon Jim started to play the role of tech support from his home in Canada to Palm users as far away as Japan, Australia and other countries. Users started to recognize him as an expert on the devices' medical application.
People kept coming to him for advice and according to Rosen; loves to help and was happy to be able to offer advice. (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
Jim Thompson is what Rosen refers to as a "Network Hub". (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
Rosen defines network hubs as, "Individuals who communicate with more people about a certain product than the average person does." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing p43)
Some people also refer to them as opinion leaders, influencers or evangelizers.
According to Rosen there are four kinds of hubs:
- Regular Hub. These are the kind of people who spread information and influence other people about products. They may connect with a few people or a few dozen. Jim Thompson would be considered a regular hub.
- Mega Hubs. These are mostly people who are famous: celebrities, politicians, or people in the media. They have two-way links, similar to regular hubs but they also have thousands of "one-way" links with people.
These Mega Hubs communicate primarily through the media. They are part of a social network like all other people, but their power lies in their connections with thousands or even millions of people. Because of the Internet, and now Blogs, it is now possible to achieve Mega Hub status without having to be a celebrity in the standard sense.
- Expert hubs. These are the people who are listened to because they have become an authority in a certain field: the kinds of people that you ask advice from when buying a car, or traveling etc. These are the types of people Gladwell refers to as Mavens.
- Social hubs. These are the kinds of people who connect with other people, and bring people together, Gladwell's Connectors. They have similar characteristics as people who act as hubs. For example, they are usually ahead in adoption of new things compared to the majority of people.
Hubs are imperative to the spread of information. The Internet and now Blogs gives people the ability to become Mega-Hubs, without having to be a celebrity in the traditional sense.
According to a study on "Influential Americans," Roper Starch Worldwide states, "We have learned that in fact those folks are leading edge consumers in many ways." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
"They are the first to do just about anything, says Diane Crispell of RSW. For example, in 1982, 8 percent of these individuals owned a PC, compared with 3 percent of the public as a whole. This trend had continued over the years. In 1995, 53 percent of influential Americans owned a PC, versus 24 percent of the total public." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
Characteristics of Hubs
The following are characteristics of Hubs according to Rosen:
- They are connected: Network hubs, in the high tech industry tend to gravitate toward other network hubs where they can get more information. They share information with others that they gather both online and off. They go to trade shows, belong to users groups and online forums.
- They tend to travel: In a study by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer conducted in the 1950's, physicians who adopted tetracycline earlier than other doctors went to more out-of-town medical institutions.
- Information-Hungry: They serve as "experts," so they are always learning, always looking for facts. For example, they are readers of magazines like PC magazine and Consumer Reports.
- Vocal: They have opinions and they share them. According to Roper Starch Worldwide, "37 percent of people who demonstrate the characteristics of a network hub made a recommendation about a car or truck in the last year, while only 19 percent of the total public says they have done the same." (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing)
- Exposed to the media: They read more. One study found that financial opinion leaders are more likely to read publications such as Money, Barron's or the Wall Street Journal, or watch TV programs such as Wall Street Week. (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz, How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing p51)
Hubs gather information from the outside world and spread it to the people they are connected to.
In another study conducted on farmers, the farmers that were the first to adopt a hybrid corn seed took more trips to Des Moines, Iowa's largest city.
To date, I am not aware of a study to see if people who have the characteristics of "Hub" travel more on the Internet than other people. However, it would seem probable since they collect information and share it with others.
Because Hubs travel and are information hungry they can connect and share new information with other people.
Bloggers Hyper-Accelerate Word of Mouth.
To illustrate how information spreads offline, Emanuel Rosen and his assistant conducted a study of a group of college students to examine how Buzz or the exchange of information spreads.
They asked the students to name people with whom they discussed the movie Shakespeare in Love.
The illustration depicts the network of information exchange in action. The figures represent the students, the gray lines are social ties, and the thin black line indicates the path of communication exchanged by the students.
When the various types of personalities, Connectors, Mavens and Hubs, are injected into the Blogosphere, their ability to spread the information becomes hyper-accelerated. Gladwell speaks of a man who faxes a dozen people to tell them about a new restaurant.
If the man had a Blog, he could have posted an entry about the restaurant for the readers. In turn, maybe some readers want to go to the restaurant themselves.
Perhaps others will email the entry to their friends, still other readers may have their own Blogs and could link to the original restaurant entry, exposing more readers to the entry.
Whether the Blog has 25 readers or 250,000 the information could spread exponentially.
Connectors become hyper-connected, spreading more
information at exceptionally faster rates. The power of spreading information by word of mouth becomes tremendous.
Figure 3.4 is from the Blog, xiaxue.Blogspot.com. The Blogger posts a photo of herself and recommends the nail salon that gave her a manicure. The readers begin commenting about her manicure, and about going to the salon for themselves.
This is a snapshot of the global conversation in action: people communicating, information spreading through the Blogosphere.
This is also a company's dream, to have
people talking about and recommending their services. Although there are 4 people commenting in the screen-shot, the Blog has a readership of 9,291 visitors a day, i.e. 278,730 visitors a month.
Some of those readers could have spread the information further, posting it on their Blogs and emailing it to other people. (See above Figure 3.4.)
It is highly unlikely that the nail salon has an advertising budget to reach that many people and how effective would their advertising be? How much more likely are we to listen to a recommendation of a friend or a trusted source over advertisements?
Bloggers that exhibit the personalty types of connectors, mavens or hubs, not only spread information but can also have an impact on their readers because there is a relationship between the Blogger and the readers: A relationship built on trust.
Many Blogs have a personal writing style. It is almost as if one of your friends were talking to you, rather than your reading an article in a newspaper or magazine.
The style of writing is very informal, and sometimes quite funny.
Readers may feel that they can develop a relationship with the Blogger because the Blog is an ongoing conversation about a particular topic, or topics so readers can get to know the likes, dislikes, views and opinions of the Blogger.
Most Blogs also have a biography and photos of the Blogger, and a number of Blogs allow the readers to comment, which makes it an interactive experience that readers get to participate in.
Blogs tend to be transparent; a reader would not expect a Blogger to have a hidden agenda as to what is posted on the Blog. If a Blogger says that "they like or dislike a certain product," readers typically feel as though that is their true opinion and not what a corporation is paying them to say.
Some Bloggers have been paid to write about products, doing so without telling their readers. When it has been disclosed that readers have been misled both the Blogger and the company lose credibility.
Blogging is based on trust.
It would be similar to a friend recommending a product, only to find out later he has actually been paid to do so. Other companies have gone as far as to set up Blogs to create buzz deceitfully hiding the fact that the Blogger is part of the company itself.
These vain attempts to misuse the Blogoshpere and deceive people have also been exposed.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Advertising Design in the Graduate School of Syracuse University.
(c) Copyright 2005 James Torio
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