In the world of business the success of your idea depends hugely on word of mouth and feedback, especially with the Internet. The same is true of music, with new bands scrabbling to get any bandwidth with already saturated music lovers. In such a situation we often rely on music taste makers that we know and trust to point us towards new music we might like. This was a subject that Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his excellent book ‘The Tipping Point‘, where he described such people or groups as ‘super influencers’ who have an effect on many people’s opinions and can even make or break new products.
Well it seems not everyone believes Gladwell’s view of how information is dispersed. In a recent article Fast Company talks with Duncan Watts, a Network Theorist, on his own views of how information travels. He feels that information sharing in tightly grouped areas such as music depends much more on who gets the first attention, rather than who is referenced by the most connected people. This was found in an experiment where he set up new songs on a music sharing site, and then asked different groups to rate the music – but some of the groups had a social aspect, and others didn’t. What transpired was that the top rated list of songs was totally different for each group, there was no shared ‘best song’. The result for the ‘social’ world seemed to be driven more by who got the first votes, not who was actually best.
This result has some intuitive merit. In today’s social information networks, information that is tagged most rises to the top of display lists such as ‘Recent Top 10’ or similar. Other people then see these lists and give their own opinions on this music, perhaps biased by its position in the list, instead of going round all available music and seeing what they like. In this case the influencer is the social group en masse, rather than a single super influencer. Either way it seems that getting out there first with your product into a new area is critical, although as Watts says – “In general, the ‘best’ songs never do very badly, and the ‘worst’ songs never do extremely well, but almost any other result is possible&rdquo – so make sure your product is worthy of any attention is receives and you can’t go far wrong. Or if it’s not great, then make sure you can get feedback from this failed attempt to make sure the next one is worthy.
Derren Brown is a well known British illusionist, who often specialises in ‘tricks’ where he influences his randomly chosen helpers to do exactly what he wants them to do. In the video below Derren influences some advertising folks, as well as showing us how he did it – it’s fascinating watching and makes you realise quite how much we are programmed ourselves.
Seth Godin has always been a fascinating guru in the realm of modern marketing and his presentation at TED is no exception to this rule. It is, Godin expounds his basic view of modern marketing: you have to be remarkable to succeed these days, not average – and being remarkable makes the right people notice you, who then tell their friends, who tell their friends and so on.
Godin expounds that you focus your new idea towards the early adopters, the innovators – because they are the only people interested in truly new ideas – the average person is only excited by this week’s latest DVD on a normal day. In Japan they have the concept of an ‘otaku’, someone who would travel all the way across Japan purely to try out a new sushi restaurant. These are the people who should be your crusaders, telling all their friends about your new product because it is just the coolest thing.
There are many supporting examples in his talk; how sliced bread wasn’t popular until 15 years after it was launched, how key influencers watch Steve Jobs’ Apple infomercial for two hours and how Seth himself only scores 3.7 on Hot or Not. All of them are compelling and demonstrate how right he is. For those of you who are too lazy to watch this presentation (and hence keep your business going) his summary points are:
Design rules now: make your product fit consumer needs and be noticeable.
Safe is risky: Be remarkable, be the purple cow in the field, take risks and find out what people like.
Being very good is very boring.
So follow those rules and buy Seth a pint when your next business makes a gazillion dollars.
This month’s Radar magazine has an article about the ‘Prisoners of youTube‘ – all those poor folk who suddenly became famous because someone posted an embarassing video of them online. Since most of these clips are of the ‘Funniest Home Videos’ variety the people involved are generally pretty upset, since they had no idea they were being filmed and that other people would see. This does raise the question of release forms and how they are handled (or not) in a Web 2.0 world. Most online video sites say to ‘check this box if you have rights to upload this video’ but the truth is that none of them check this, it would totally destroy their models if they did. YouTube seems to be surviving a pile of lawsuits, either through taking down the content or creating partnership deals with the content owners, but that’s mainly for the big players, TV studios and the like.
So what of the individuals whose lives have been destroyed by this unwanted fame? Either they have to spend a fortune getting a lawyer together to get a cease and desist order, and to try and get financial reparation, or they can try themselves directly – but the damage has been done. The video is out. People laugh at them on the street. And even if one video service has pulled the video, someone will be uploading their copy of it somewhereelseright now. Should they ignore it and hope it goes away? Or is this the time for a new Web 2.0 rights movement that protects the rights of people to mess up without being embarassed to death without their consent?
Truth is, as long as we find this stuff funny someone will find a way to get it out there. Especially if you can start to make money on it as youTube is now promising. It will be interesting to see where this goes next.
Threshers, a large UK high street based supplier of alcohol, are bracing themselves for unexpected waves of customers after discount voucher was spread rapidly round the web. The 40% voucher was intended for trade partners of Threshers only, but the web mob got hold of the offer and told their friends – now the voucher has been downloaded almost a million times.
Threshers have no idea how much this will cost them – but hopefully for their sakes the 40% discount still gave them a slight profit. In the meantime, it’s a great cautionary example to the rest of the world to never expect any good offer released on the web to stay within the intended group – so be prepared for a) the hoardes of people who may take up the offer, and b) the media backlash if you handle it badly. For an example of how bad it can turn, remember that Starbucks got sued for one of their online vouchers being refused. Never good press.
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This is the site of Matt Hobbs, Product Manager. All views presented here are my own and not those of my employers.