Viral is Dead, Let it Spread Instead

Real estate firms that are thinking about implementing social media marketing strategies should pay attention to Charlene Li‘s predictions. Li’s series of five interviews paint a road map of the social media future firms ought to be considering today:

melded identities


social algorithms (see also my earlier post on trust indicators in social networks)

open platforms

privacy and permissions

organizational trust

Her thinking mirrors that of Henry Jenkins, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, who essentially argues in his white paper “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead” that marketers need to shed the terms “viral” and “memes” and adopt “spreadability” as a benchmark.

What Jenkins points out, and Li implicitly endorses, is that humans are not passive hosts that propagate marketing messages. Rather, humans take an active roll in transferring and transforming marketing messages. Thus, marketers need to rethink their approaches to conceiving of, executing on, and managing marketing campaigns by migrating away from command and control modalities to adopting more of a marketing midwifery role.

I think that Li’s and Jenkins’ thoughts also pertain to CRM definitions. Let’s shed the agri-centric CRM labels like “cultivate,” “nurture,” and “harvest” for terms that recognize a consumer’s role in allowing themselves to become part of a CRM system, rather than passive victims of that system. Terms like “engagement,” “conversation,” and “partner” align with Li’s and Jenkins’ sentiments, seem more respectful of an individual’s role in a CRM system, and are reflective of the fact that consumers are active participants in a firm’s “relationship management” processes. And assuming that a firm’s client services division performs at high levels of consumer satisfaction, this ethos shift also has the potential to empower “engaged” consumers to spread the word of a firm’s client services successes (much like Li relates in her Comcast example in the above “organizational trust” interview).

5 thoughts on “Viral is Dead, Let it Spread Instead”

  1. Eric,

    Went to show at S.P.A.C.E. on Friday night. The band was Tyrone Wells from Los Angeles. The guy has no record contract, no promotion arm and no big-ticket backers. (He has self-produced two CDs and numerous singles.)

    What he and his band have is YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. His music generates three million hits A MONTH on YouTube and various music channels. His music has been heard on numerous TV shows.

    He sold out the room in Chicago. A band from L.A.

    He was on his way from Iowa, stopping in Chicago on his way to Indianapolis. He is looking to ladder up venues. He sold out a room of 200 (mostly women in their 20s). His next time through Chicago, he may double that.

    Talk about “spreading”…

  2. Yo Eric,

    Good find, and good stuff.

    The only thing I take issue with is Charlene Li; the “either-or” approach here. More and more, I’m becoming convinced that it isn’t “you must change” in every case, but more of a “you must add”.

    In other words, it may be that consumers are in fact passive victims of the smart marketing system. Look at how Apple consumers all blandly act as walking billboards for their products, or various logo-emblazoned sportswear consumers are passively sending out marketing messages.

    But marketers need to do more than just passive marketing, right? We need to do BOTH, not one to the exclusion of the other.

    FYI, I caution against using other radically different industries — like independent music (or in my case, the military) — as analogues for real estate. It’s often very useful, but sometimes can lead to really misleading conclusions.


  3. Pat, great example with Tyrone Wells and adding the Rocky Mountain News update. I wish I had seen the show. And it’s “proof in the pudding” how “traditional” models of promotion and distribution are not necessarily needed these days at the levels they once enjoyed to garner success.

    Rob, arguably the most analogous industry to real estate is insurance, but where’s the innovation in that industry? Your caution is well-taken, but aspirational goals are what’s needed in the real estate industry to drive change and inspire creative/innovative uses of new applications to redefine one’s marketing prowess.

  4. True, Rob.

    I think I was making less an analogy than pointing out how one industry — the music business — has been changed by technology. Here is a guy who is selling out venues across the country from his base in LA with none of the traditional avenues of building a base.

    The proof will be in the pudding, of course. Can he leverage his current growth into larger, more profitable venues? After all, traveling cross-country, one-night-stand at a time, with four or five other smelly guys in a van doesn’t sound like much fun.

    Unless you’re in your 20s and your shows are loaded with 20-something women!

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