Friday, March 09, 2012

Veiled Viral Marketing

Now that I follow some really informed companies, consultants, and trendwatchers, it is rare that a new business strategy hits me over the head with surprise. I may not be able to take advantage of new business ideas that are bouncing around the innovation and entrepreneurship domains, but I usually hear about them pretty early.
OK that said, here is a new one that is just being experimented with. I think it has potential, but definitely needs some work.  

The best names I have heard for this strategy so far is "veiled viral marketing" or "anonymous friend recommendations". I am sure all of you have received typical commercial recommendations. Based on all the tracking that companies like Facebook and Google do, they can show you ads for something that you are more likely to be interested in than something totally random. Sometimes they are on target and sometimes they are way way off. But on average, it is better to use targeting than most of the other options out there.  "People like you have rated this movie 5 stars."  "Your friends have given this book a thumbs up.You have also received the more direct social recommendations. "John Franken just bought a new pair of Nikes."  "Sally Stansfield the NYT article “Romney wins Super Tuesday.” 

The idea behind this new strategy is to come in somewhere in the middle. Lets say you want to make a recommendation to a friend but don’t want them to know the recommendation comes from you. What if Facebook tells you “A friend who prefers to remain anonymous recommends to you personally the movie “The Lorax."

I am pushing the envelope with a movie because there are few reasons someone would want to remain anonymous there. But one application is for sensitive information. What if you received a private message in Facebook that says “One of your friends who would prefer to remain anonymous would like you to visit the site “How to talk to a gay friend.” And of course there would be a link to the site. Perhaps a friend isn’t ready to come out of the closet yet and wants to make sure you can handle it before telling you. The same service would work for serious diseases as well - “One of your friends, who would prefer to remain anonymous, would like you to visit the site “How to talk to a friend with cancer.”

The other example I have seen I am less sure of, but maybe it could work if it were designed a little more friendly. What if you received a private message on Facebook that said “One of your friends, who prefers to remain anonymous, thinks you would look great in a J Crew navy blue rugby shirt.” And of course has the embedded link to the J Crew site. 

The one that I saw was for a support bra, but that one is over the line if you ask me. Hey, you can’t fault them for thinking outside the box. How many times have you really wanted to make that kind of recommendation but didn’t have the chutzpah?  But I am not sure the receiver would appreciate it very much.

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