Is Viral Marketing Being Oversold When a Tweet is Only Retweeted 1.4 Times?

"Please retweet me, please!"

Please retweet me, please!

[tweetmeme]I must say I was shocked when I learned  that of all the billions of tweets out there, most are only retweeted 1.4 times.  Of course, this isn’t counting Ashton Kutcher and other Influentials.  I’m talking about the tweets of mere mortals like you and me.

I learned this at the Viral Marketing Meetup held in New York last evening.  The impressive roster of speakers included Duncan Watts, principal research scientist a Yahoo! Research; Tim Schigel, CEO of; and Erik Martin, community manager at   It was a heady session because all the speakers focused on the metrics – is the frenzy around viral marketing actually producing business and building brands?

Is word of mouth (WOM) being oversold?

The jury is still out, of course, because social media as a marketing tool is still in its infancy.

But Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University before moving over to Yahoo, is skeptical.  He discounts the notion that highly popular Influentials are any more successful in starting a trend than the rank-and-file.  In a Fast Company article from two years ago, he is quoted as saying, “If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one–and if it isn’t, then almost no one can,” Watts concludes.  This article is a good read and just as timely today.  (Not everyone embraces Watts’ points of view).

Watts backs his assertions with research involving thousands of subjects, conducted while he was at Columbia, which is how he learned that most of our tweets land with a thud.  No zipping around the world for our 140 characters.

Is Intel Building its Brand on Facebook?

Coincidentally, I also attended a webinar yesterday entitled “9 Companies Doing Facebook Right and What You Need to Know.”  The presenters were Facebook expert Mari Smith, and Michael Stelzner, white paper guru and founder of the Social Media Examiner.  Intel was one of the case studies.  It was all very interesting, but I had to ask myself, what is Intel’s Facebook presence doing to build its brand?   Is this viral marketing at its best?

Currently, the company is running two contests:  one in which Intel is giving away PCs to build its database of fans, and in the other aspiring Latin, Urban and Singer/Songwriter artists are invited to upload their best original song in the Intel “Superstars” Competition.  Fans vote for their favorites with cash prizes for the top 20 winners.

I’m not being grumpy.  I think it’s great that ordinary folks can win new computers and that the company is supporting emerging artists.  But I’m trying to see how these contests are helping a company that makes core processors.  I’m sure great minds thought up these promotions, so who am I to question them.

What I learned makes me wonder if we should retrieve old-fashioned mass advertising from the graveyard.  When big companies, as well as small ones, are huffing and puffing to attract customers one at a time through WOM, reaching a few million customers with a 30-second ad sure sound appealing.

If you need assistance with improving your viral marketing, contact me today.

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  1. Jeannette,

    That is surprising data but it makes me feel a little better about my blog data. It sounds like we are doing better than average if our blog gets tweeted twice. While I am enjoying twitter and see benefits, I would hate to have to rely on twitter to support my business. Thanks for sharing.

    Chris Paulsen

  2. Hi Jeannette,

    I tend to agree with you although I know this is not a popular position amongst marketers. I think the social networking arena is a double-edged sword. Sure, the more followers you have and the more times you are re-tweeted enhances your exposure to “possible” future revenue and yes, people like to do business with people they know so….. However, if companies both large and small don’t participate in this social media frenzy, they can potentially lose by their competitors being “out there” more than they are. What is the answer? I have no idea but i would like one of Intel’s new PCs!

    BTW Chris, I can brag that I get tweeted THREE times – sometimes 🙂

  3. Well Jeannette…if you ask Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, they would tell you “Absolutely tweeting is worth it!” And then there’s Ashton Kutcher vs. Larry King. So, hell…I don’t know…I guess Google cares, because all of the web rating services seem to want to know that you are “Twitter-Sized” and that people are going to your blog from Twitter. But 1.4 visits.

    I think we need to get together and write a VERY controversial blog…like the one Penelope Trunk wrote today. She is telling Gen Ys if they can’t get a job that they should have a baby. She got a LOT of attention and a bit of disagreement from me.

    Maybe we should just go for it! I am willing if you are!

    Keep blogging Jeannette….you have good stuff!

  4. Thanks Christian and Bea for your comments. Hey, Bea, I’m always game for a little controversy. Who’s to dispute what we say? Everything is getting a little crazy in the blogosphere. Everything seems to be turning upside down, or maybe it’s right side up, have you noticed? I love your Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan examples because as far as I can tell, their occupation is to be famous. That’s what I would like — to be famous and make a lot of money without having to do anything!

  5. Really nice way to approach the subject Jeannette. One of the first groups to get my attention on Linkedin was the SMFBC or Social Media for Business is Crap. It interested me, because its founder had the willingness to openly say in a roomful of marketers, that he thought Social Media was a very poor marketing tool. I’ve been of the same position and still am.

    We see a lot of hype for things like FB and Twitter, but you never see much in the way of tangible statistics proving their value. The problem is that these outlets were never intended as advertising platforms. They were built as social networks, and thus the audience they hold is far from interested in business. They are interested in gossip, drama, playing games, and shooting the breeze with friends.

    You can see the results of all the marketing hype in the responses by the general Twitter and FB audience to the attempts to turn them into branding and advertising platforms. Complaints of spam, predictions of their decline, and suggestions of exodus to other media.

    I don’t think traditonal advertising mediums have a lot to worry about from Social Media. The best advertising doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it really is.

  6. I think there is a place for old fashion marketing. 30 second spots are still pricy with a diffuse audience out there. I know one company that is having a lot of success with fax marketing.


  7. Hi Jeannette,

    Thanks for featuring Intel not once but twice in your blog. I think you bring up a really great point about whether or not programs that fall outside a company’s known expertise (in our case technology) translates into brand loyalty when consumers find themselves shopping for a new PC. We at Intel believe, however, that greater engagement by consumers does in fact bring about greater sales. The two specific promotions you focused on from a recent glance at our Facebook page weren’t necessarily about technology. But there are countless other occassions when the content we feature on our Facebook page does highlight the great work the company is doing in the tech space and in other realms, like becoming a greener company or investing in the US economy by building factories here.

    One thing I think you’re saying is that traditional marketing isn’t dead. I couldn’t agree with you more. Intel will always invest in myriad ways to market the brand. But our forray into social media serves to address other objectives, like engagement or advocacy (WOM).

    Thanks again for your feedback!
    ~Kelly Feller, Snr Strategist, Intel Social Media Center of Excellence

  8. Hello Kelly —

    I’m glad to see that Intel is monitoring social media! Of course! I appreciate your take that Intel is expanding its brand message beyond your core competency in technology. I would say that major companies, like yours, with large budgets for all kinds of promotions, have the luxury of trying out different things to see what works. I’m a little concerned that many other companies are throwing their scarce dollars at social media without analyzing the potential return on investment. There needs to be a balance between the new and the old (read traditional advertising and PR), which I’m glad to see you also support.

    Thanks for taking the time to write — I applaud Intel for following up.



    PS — You mention WOM as a goal of your social media efforts. I wrote a blog recently about the woman who virtually invented WOM, a good friend, Linda Pezzano. Here is a link to that blog if you’re interested

  9. I think social sites are intended to connect with people to build your following. You can not get word of mouth advertising if no one knows who you are. I dont think that social networking is good for selling because it is usually seen as spam. If you build a following you can then educate them on your services.