Social Media Buzz: It’s All about Who You Know

When it comes to social media marketing, it’s not just how many people you “friend” on your network, it is how much influence you have with those friends and how connected they are, concludes a new study by Assistant Professor Hema Yoganarasimhan analyzing “buzz” marketing on YouTube.

Her research takes an important first step in looking at video viewership online, and how managers can use online campaigns to boost their return on investment. It differs from other similar studies in that it looks at whether influential social media users actually lead, or cause, their followers to use and purchase products they recommend.

“While video-sharing websites have become increasingly popular, managers have limited information on using this new medium as a marketing tool,” said Yoganarasimhan. The research, “Impact of Social Network Structure on Content Propagation: A Study Using YouTube Data,” was published in Quantitative Marketing Economics (March 2012).

Yoganarasimhan points to a Ford Motor Co. buzz marketing campaign for its subcompact Fiesta car in 2009. Sidestepping traditional marketing, Ford steered Fiestas to 100 influential video bloggers, in return for them blogging, tweeting and recording their experiences. The result: Ford garnered 6.2 million YouTube views, 750,000 Flickr views and about 4 million Twitter impressions in less than a year, leading to 6,000 car orders and 100,000 “hand-raisers” who expressed interest.

The key, Yoganarasimhan says, is handpicking influencers who can spread information efficiently, factors not based on only the size of the author’s network, as prior studies assume, but also the structure and the author’s place in it.

“Authors with many friends are also likely to have more engaging personalities, greater expertise and experience, and an overall better reputation for dispensing good information­—all of which also contribute to their effectiveness,” she said.

It’s Fashionable to be Cloaked

Yoganarasimhan also has been exploring fashion industry advertising strategies. “The common view is that more information is always better,” said Yoganarasimhan, whose paper, “Cloak or Flaunt? The Fashion Dilemma,” was published in Marketing Science (January/February 2012).

“For conspicuously consumed products, giving more information to customers is not always good,” Yoganarasimhan says. “Having more customers is not always good either.”

In the high-end clothing industry, she explained, often the most fashionable items are kept under the radar intentionally.

Yoganarasimhan’s research suggests that “cool” people buy hot products to show off their taste and fashion knowledge to their friends. If a fashion designer were to advertise these products broadly, those who wouldn’t have known about the products without advertising—the “uncool” people—might buy them, which would lead the cool people to leave. “You can’t keep them both,” she said.