Why TV Won’t Die: The Power of Big Seed Marketing
TV is dead. Push marketing is dead. Long live the conversation!
You hear that a lot from social media advocates, despite all evidence to the contrary. TV viewership remains at or near all time highs, media companies are profitable and social media remains a very small part of the overall picture.
“That’s fine in practice, but does it work in theory?” some might say, “there are powerful social forces gathering which will obliterate conventional media practices.”
And you would be wrong. Everything we know about how ideas travel through networks points to mass media broadcasting remaining dominant.
The Influential Myth
There is a very popular myth about certain people called “Influentials” who make up a sort of marketing holy grail. Supposedly, you can use these people to market to the masses very much as pictured in the diagram below:
You see, a lot of people listen to what these folks say and trust them much more than they do TV ads. So, instead of wasting money on expensive mass media campaigns, you can just recruit these influential people and they will do all the work for you. You will get many for the price of just a few.
Sounds great, unless of course you think about it for more than 30 seconds. How do you find these people? How do you evaluate their influence and convince them to speak on your behalf? You could, of course, just get someone famous, but then how would that be different than broadcasting?
Different Kinds of Influence
Let’s take the very simple model below taken from the orgnet web site. In this network, who is influential?
Jane might be in a position of power, but only connects with the rest of the network through Heather and Ike, who are gatekeepers. Diane has the most connections, but is distant from many people. Fernando and Garth aren’t as well connected as Diane, but are close to just about everyone.
In truth, everybody in the network is a potential influencer. There is no reason that Carol or Andre or Beverly or Ed, if sufficiently motivated, couldn’t spread an idea. Moreover, they almost surely do from time to time, on one subject or another. Should they be ignored?
Solomon Asch and The Influence of Majorities
Look at the picture below. Which of the lines on the right is the same length as the line on the left?
What if I told you it was A? Would you believe me?
How about if you were in a room with ten other people and you were the only one who didn’t think it was A?
This question was explored by experiments performed by Solomon Asch in the 1950’s. They showed that when confronted with a majority opinion, people would give answers which they knew to be wrong. The majority not only rules, it influences.
Again, the idea that a few people discretely influence the masses quickly breaks down. What really influences us are the “local networks” where we spend most of our time (i.e. work, school, neighborhood, place of worship, etc.).
A Receptivity Model
Of course, influence isn’t the only thing that is important. Some people are just more receptive to an idea than others. If you can find them, they will be pretty easy to convince and will help you to convince others, as in this model inspired by the Asch experiments:
In this example, we have three overlapping networks made up of people with varying receptivity to an idea. If you manage to reach someone with 0% resistance to an idea, they will be immediately convinced. However, most of the people will need others in the group to go along before they take the plunge.
Here, we can identify the ideal target – the one in the red circle. If we can get to her, that will be enough to convince her friend with 10% resistance next to her and a chain reaction will ensue where the whole network comes along. Because that network is also linked to people in other networks with 0% resistance, our idea soon spreads virally across all three networks.
However, even in this overly simple example it should be obvious how unrealistic this is. We would not only have to identify who is receptive to our idea, but what their relationship is to other receptive people. The critical target in the red circle is only special because of its position in the network, not due to any individual merit.
In reality it’s most efficient to reach a lot of people cheaply. Conventional targeting techniques are quite good at identifying masses of receptive people. Many say that this is wasteful, and it is, but everything comes down to price and mass media, especially TV, are champion price performers.
Big Seed Marketing
When it comes to social networks, there is no greater authority than Duncan Watts. Unlike many false gurus, he has not only has thought seriously about the issues, but co-wrote the seminal network theory paper back in 1998. Since then, he has performed a wealth of further research on what drives networks.
He’s advocating a very practical approach that he calls Big Seed Marketing. He points out that since even a network theory ace like him can’t pinpoint where influence lies, it makes sense for marketers to reach a lot of people through mass media, and then do what they can to enable consumers to pass the message along.
In other words, not only will mass media continue to thrive, it is essential if you are going to create social media campaigns that actually work consistently. This, of course, turns the social media argument on its head.
A Big Seed Orgy
A prime example of how Big Seed Marketing can be put to is O2’s Unlimtied Orgy of Fun, which combined a TV intensive brand with social media and event marketing.
Each week, students at different universities were given a challenge on YouTube, such as get as many people in one picture as possible. Winners announced on a dedicated Facebook page would get prizes and their school would move up in the rankings. At the end of the contest, O2 threw a big party for the winning school.
The results were fantastic. The events were mobbed, over 70,000 people became fans on facebook, the videos were watched millions of times and sales spiked. All of this for an amazingly small budget. However, it’s hard to see how it would be possible if TV hadn’t created a Big Seed brand in the first place.
TV is dead? Hardly. And that’s a good thing for social media (although not so good for the social media gurus).