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“The Wizards of Buzz”–Another Example of Marketing’s Loss of Control

[Cover Art]In another example of how marketing is at risk of losing control of the traditional message mongering, today’s Wall Street Journal the article “The Wizards of Buzz” (or here  for a subscription version) described how a “new generation of hidden influencers is taking root online.”  The authors and reviewers submitting to the social bookmarking and news sites such as Digg, Reddit.com (recently purchased by Condé Nast), Del.icio.us (bought by Yahoo), Newsvine.com, StumbleUpon.com, and Netscape. 

Authors and reviewers post a short summary and link to an article or website they find interesting.  If others also find it interesting, they give it the “thumbs up” vote, increasing the ranking of the summary and the author.  These summaries are displayed on the social news sites according to their popularity. 

These ranked submissions serve as a shortcut to “what’s hot” on the web for those of us without nearly as much time as the “Digg”ers–much the same as the New York Times Bestseller lists, Amazon.com’s Top Sellers list, and the Wall Street Journal’s Most Emailed Articles. 

Using Dapper, a company that designs software to track information published on the Web, The Wall Street Journal analyzed more than 25,000 submissions across six major sites and found that “a substantial number of submissions originated with a handful of users.”  Thirty users on Digg were responsible for submitting more than 30% of the postings (hey, is this kinda like the Pareto 80/20 rule? Let’s call it the Bingham 30/30 rule!).  One user on Netscape.com was responsible for 13% of the stories in the two week study period. 

As an aside, this begs the question: How in the world can someone find time to write 217 stories–even if they are only a paragraph long??”  This equates to 108 posts/week, 15 posts / day.  Assuming it takes 3 minutes to read an article of interest and 5 minutes to log in to Digg, write a summary and post the link, that takes up more than 2 hours each day!

With these sites, public opinion about your company and its products is being driven first by what the blogosphere is writing about it and then by how violently others agree with the comments being made!  Gone are the days when companies could mistreat customers and employees because nobody would notice.  Now, every interaction is widely publicized.  If your products work–customers are happy.  If they don’t work, everyone knows about it–immediately.

So much of what marketers used to do is out of their hands.  No longer are they the sole influencer of public opinion.  No longer are their campaigns the sole driver of awareness and purchase decisions. 

 The big question for marketers now is how can they influence the influencers?