Ground-breaking research on Social Media

Recently a book, that I highly recommend to marketers, was published: Viral Marketing – The Science of Sharing by Dr Karen Nielson-Field who used research from more than 2 years of work, 5 different data sets, 1000 videos, 9 individual studies and a large team of researchers from Ehrenberg – Bass Institute for Marketing Science. 

Here are some findings/summary and a question to the author at the end. 

A study found a 14% increase in the number of people who enjoyed a video following a recommendation vs those who had discovered it by browsing. 
- The study also found that when a viewer enjoys a video, they are 97% more likely to purchase the product featured in it. 

Generating arousal is key to achieve sharing success. 
- Videos that evoke feelings of exhilaration tends to be more shared than any other high arousal positive emotion. 
- Most videos are falling short on this.
- Videos, on average, that elicit high-arousal emotions gain twice as much sharing  as those that elicit low-arousal emotions; yet more than 70% of all commercial videos evoke low-arousal emotions. 

Focus less on creative appeal and more on emotional appeal.
- Knowing what emotional responses to go for improves your potential return, but not your risk. The right sort of emotional response should be best considered a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a video to be a viral superstar. 

 • No single creative device i.e babies, kittens, dogs, celebrity etc, is more or less likely to elicit a high-arousal emotional response than a low-arousal response, or vice versa, from its audience. 
- Creative devices like babies, kittens, dogs, celebrity etc do not appear to work any better than other creative devices at gaining higher rates of sharing. Babies do outperform many other creative devices, but only when the video evokes high-arousal emotions. (and many don´t…)
- But of all possible creative devices, videos that display personal triumph appear most likely to deliver sharing success. Followed by science/nature/weather. 
- So no need to focus on having a  baby, dog or celebrity in they video. Instead invest in pre-testing to ensure the material makes the viewer laugh, gasp or get goose pimples. 

Contrary to popular belief the brand is not the enemy. 
- No relationship is evident between how much sharing a video achieves and the level of branding executed. 
- High-arousal positive videos display more branding than the other groups, yet still share the most. 
- The level of branding present has no effect on the degree to which a video will arouse viewers. 
- You will throw money out the window if you do not:
1. Get the brand in early. 90% watch only the first 10 seconds. 
2. Make sure the brand is visually frequently shown in the video. 
3. Make sure the brand is verbally spoken at least once. 
Otherwise the video will not influence future propensity to buy the brand. 

More than 90% of viewers don´t share. 
- The large majority of videos have a reproduction rate that is lower than 1 (where 1 means that every person who views it shares it with another person; that is, 1:1). Viral growth is a function of both time and this rate of reproduction. The closer the reproduction rate is to 1, the slower the rate of decay. 
- When a video starts with a larger pool of seeds, the gains in absolute earned reach will outweigh the associated costs. 
- Even for a video that shares really well, there are far more earned views when the brand starts with a large seeded audience. 
- Views that result from personal recommendations, i.e a Facebook post by a friend, have a much higher share rate than views that do not i.e discovering a video while browsing. 
- The effect of popularity on engagement(incl sharing) peaks in the first three to seven days of a video´s life. 
- Less contagious videos can be winners, too (if they are well seeded or supported), is´s all in the interpretation of success…
- Videos that are shared more than we would expect given the size of their audience evoke high-arousal emotions and exhibit creative that involves personal triumph. 
- Video content needs to be widely viewed in order to simply gain an average amount of sharing. (A virtuoso playing a violin in her bathroom may be fabulous but cannot be widely appreciated.)

It is important to get seen, it´s equally important to be remembered.
- Advertising works by refreshing and building memory structures that are linked to the brand. 
- Memory cues make it easy, as most customers are light buyers, for the brand to be thought of and noticed at the critical time of purchase. 
- Advertising needs two critical elements to be remembered: being well branded and getting noticed. 
- Videos that evoke high-arousal emotions are most remembered. They are remembered around three times more than videos of low arousing content. 
- Arousal is about getting some additional reach, but it is also about being remembered. Views alone can´t do this. Regardless of how many views an advertisement achieves, if it is poorly remembered it is ineffective. Even if your creative can be recalled and it has a high level of views, the advertisement is still ineffective if the brand is misattributed to your competitor. The brand must be prominent and easy to identify. 
- BrainJuicer´s FaceTrace™, a facial detection measure spanning seven core emotions, study suggest that their "Emotion-Into-Action" score was a superior predictor of IPA Effectiveness Award winners compared with other common pre-testing metrics.
- Single-source data is the gold standard for measuring advertising effects. 

Reach is important, but it needs to be quality reach to achieve maintenance and growth. 
- Video sharing is not driven by brand love. 
- While the Pareto Law is widely applied "rule of thumb", it is misleading. It is actually the light buyers who are the most valuable for brand growth. 
-  NBD (Negative binomial distribution) tells us that as a brand grow it achieves higher market penetration and higher average purchase rates., but the shape of the distribution ALWAYS stays same. The bulk of change is seen among the brand´s very many light buyers and non-buyers. Light buyers contribute to the bulk of brand growth. 
- Gaining many more buyers is key to brand growth, even though most of them buy infrequently. To do this, advertising must reach large numbers of light buyers = quality reach. 
- Facebook fan pages consists of mostly heavy and moderate buyers and are inefficient at providing vast reach to customers that are most fundamental for brand growth. 
- Brands should be wary of over-investing in the relatively small numbers of already heavy buyers who typically congregate around online brand communities. 

Question: Would it not be effective to use fans/heavy buyers as door openers for content like social videos? Considering the Unruly study showing that views that result from personal recommendations, i.e a Facebook post by a friend, have a much higher share rate than views that do not i.e discovering a video while browsing/banner/editorial etc. A heavy buyer have light buyers as friends plus at the same time these friends would be more likely to share the video on to their networks again. 

PS. Let me be the first in line to express how grateful I am of the research done and published by Ehrenberg-Bass Institute in Australia. The work is important for marketers working with the aim of placing brands in the hearts and minds of people.

2 responses
A great question and a multi-tiered answer (too hard to reply on Twitter). Is it 'good' to use fans/heavy buyers as door openers for content - yes all reach is welcome. Is it 'effective' , not when brand growth is the objective. Let me explain. Sure, sharing from personal recommendations may be higher (and this is not surprising, WoM is noted to have a greater impact on behavioural outcomes than general advertising), but there a couple of issues. One is scale, the other is the reality of this amplified reach you speak of (i.e. friends of fans). Brands grow through penetration, so getting lots more people to buy your brand (not through increasing loyalty). And the way to gain penetration is to focus on infrequent buyers (heavy buyers already buy as much as they can). So while heavy buyers are important to maintain, marketers need to get access to lots of light buyers in their media buy. So back to our two issues. In any brands' shopper population there are significantly fewer heavy buyers than light buyers (negatively distributed). This has implications on the scale of reach achievable when focusing on fans as a distribution channel. Quite simply, they might 'punch above their weight' in terms of sharing relative to non-fans, but overall exposure is a fraction of what it would be if it were distributed more broadly. Secondly, you talk about the amplified reach opportunity whereby heavy buyers will pass to light buyers who might pass to more light buyers etc... And theoretically this is true. But the reality is quite different. Earlier research of mine (2012) showed that clutter (and FB algorithm) has a huge impact on the ability of content to cut through to friends of fans. So while mathematically amplified reach seems beneficial, the reality of being viewed by friends of fans is very different - certainly not enough light buyers to make a difference to brand growth. So this is why I say yes exposure to fans/heavy buyers is welcome, but not effective. To any marketer in the digital space I say "so focus more on getting seen and less on getting loved". Karen
Much appreciated Karen! I think your points are all valid, but would argue that if the brand create "a story" with the aim of becoming part of the stories between people - it´s still important for brand growth to also target heavy buyers as they are more inclined to share to their social networks and thus is valuable for being part of kickstarting the brand story. That said I agree that this is in most cases not by far sufficient(not only due to cluttering and i.e FB algorithm but also due to the need for mass penetration/kickstart as early as possible), paid seeding is crucial to gain quality reach and drive brand growth. I do think you should include the opportunity to use a brands social fan base as part of your reach strategy in the equation. If a brand should invest in building a social fan base on different social platforms is another topic... Getting seen is definitively important - and I believe your research underline the importance of placing the brand in both the minds and hearts of as many people as possible as often as possible is key for growth. And to achieve this would you not need a consistent and distinctive story that resonates in the market - which includes the brand being well branded/prominent in the different executions of the brand story being distributed in the market? Or do your research show another story? Looking forward to more quality research from you and your colleagues. Joakim