Research casts doubt on viral marketing, Long Tail

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Research by HP Labs into the social actions of internet users has revealed some surprising results that cast doubt on the effectiveness of viral marketing.

HPs Social Computing Lab (SCL) has been looking into the way web users communicate with in-depth studies into Facebook, YouTube and other sites and has come up with formula to show how internet sites gain or lose popularity and in how social networks interact.

The research seems to show that in fact humans aren’t as social as they think they are, which could explain the spotty performance of many viral marketing campaigns.

“Viral marketing works in some cases but it doesn’t go through too many hops [into other groups], Dr Bernardo Huberman told reporters.

“People have short attention spans. We were surprised by how ineffective viral marketing is.”

In Facebook for example, the SCL analysed 95 million emails and pokes. The analysis showed that no matter how many friends one signs up it appears that users only regularly socialise within two or three subgroups.

The research also cast a few doubts on the so-called ‘Long Tail’ phenomenon, described by Chris Anderson in his book ‘The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More’.

This refers to the tail of the demand curve for products and claims that companies can be very profitable selling a wide range of products in low volume as it can meeting high volume demand which drops off quickly.

“A study of Amazon says the long tail isn’t going as far as it was,” Dr Huberman said.

“We see long tails everywhere but whether enough in them to reserve in them is another matter.”

The SCL has used these findings to come up with mathematical formulae that can be used to predict how popular web sites or product can be, based on the first few days of its release. This could be vital for predicting long tail products and services.

SGL has also developed a social networking and blogging system dubbed Watercooler, that monitors all the blogs within the company’s firewall and can track important opinions as they develop.

In addition it can display these findings in a variety of ways using a ‘Zeitgeist’ function. It has not yet been decided if this will be turned into a marketable product.
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