How I Resisted a Media Virus

10 05 2013

berger.rThe new book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, covers one of my favorite topics – how ideas spread through word-of-mouth. Its author, Jonah Berger is marketing professor with considerable chops, and I’ve listened to him on numerous podcasts, read articles he’s written, and interviews he’s given. I’ve gone to his site and looked at the extra material he’s collected to go with the book. I’ve even downloaded a sample of the book from Amazon to my Kindle, and found it extremely engaging.

I really want to read the book. But…I simply can’t bring myself to plop down the money to buy it.

I’ve been tempted over and over, and somehow I’ve managed to resist the temptation. First, there is the magnitude of the marketing campaign – Berger seems to be hitting me from every direction and in every possible way. Normally,I would consider that to be a positive, especially when it comes to books about marketing. But in this case, the standards are different. A book about how to use word-of-mouth should use word-of-mouth as a major part of it’s marketing.

Instead, the overwhelming and slick campaign feels more like a hard sell, and my natural defenses against that are coming to the surface. I can practically feel myself not wanting to reward the campaign by contributing financially to its success.

Second, I’m less than 100% convinced by the premise of the book. The samples I’ve read so far give me a good overview of the approach Berger is using. He identifies six specific reasons why information spreads. In his media appearances and articles I’ve been exposed to, he talks a great deal about social capital. That idea is very strong and useful. No arguments about that one.

But he also refers to another way things spread, which he calls “triggers,” and uses it to explain the runaway success of Rebecca Black’s song “Friday.” This is where I feel let down. According to Berger, the reason the song hit it big, and then got even bigger, was because of the name. Every Friday, people would be reminded about the song and views on YouTube would spike.

It may be true that people would look for the song on Friday more than any other day, but it hardly explains why people ever bothered to look for it in the first place. Perhaps the book chapter gives a more detailed explanation of how a song so reviled became so popular. After all, there are so many songs uploaded to YouTube every day. How did this one song break out? But I suspect that if that information were part of the book, it would have been at least alluded to in the article as well.

That’s not to say that book isn’t worth reading. In fact, I’m ready to consume almost any media that involves Berger discussing the book’s contents. I’m even looking up the academic papers he’s written that serve as the scientific basis for the book. But I don’t want to feel like a sucker. And there is something about the way the book is coming across the makes me worried that that’s exactly how I’ll feel if I purchase the book.

And even though the book is Contagious, that’s enough for me to keep the virus at bay. I know I don’t fall into the majority on this one. The book is still on the New York Times best-seller list, more than two months after its publication.





Study Proves Appearance Counts, Even in Social Media

24 11 2009

With the rise of social media, personal profiles and photos usually give people the first hint of our personalities. And according to a recent study at Sonoma University, appearance plays an important role in communicating our personalities, especially in the all-important First Impression.

“The appearance one portrays in his or her photographs has important implications for their professional and social life,” said Sonoma psychologist Laura Naumann, who carried out the study along with Sam Gosling of The University of Texas.

In the study, participants were asked to view full-body photos of people they never met in controlled poses and in natural poses. They were then asked questions about the people based on their observations and their answers were compared to answers from people who knew the people in the photos.

While some information was accurately gleamed from the controlled poses, the study revealed just how much information is communicated in the natural poses. Participants were able to correctly identify nine out of 10 personality traits from the way people presented themselves in the pictures.

“We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the basis of very little information,” says Gosling, “but what’s striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple a single photograph.”

Naumann said the finding can help people create the impression they want to make. “If you want potential employers or romantic suitors to see you as a warm and friendly individual, you should post pictures where you smile or are standing in a relaxed pose,” she suggests.





Transmedia: Composing Symphanies of Narrative

30 07 2009

Once upon a time, storytellers tended to limit their craft to one medium such as a book or a film. If their stories underwent a “transmedia” transformation – if a novel were turned into a movie or a movie turned into a novel – the new form simply repeated the story from the original medium. It did not extend the universe of the story, amplify sub-themes from the original work, or provide useful background on main or secondary characters. For most fans, the closer the “remake” clung to the original, the better.

But those days are coming to an end. Transmedia storytelling – using multiple media platforms to tell various parts of a large and complex story – is quickly gaining stature and credibility. The new form, pioneered by the Wachowski brothers through the Matrix series, often includes movies, video games, comic books, and animated features. Every medium tells its own part of the story while maintaining full fidelity to original “universe.”

Henry Jenkins, who popularized the term transmedia in his book Convergence Culture, notes that some stories can become too large for any individual to master.  To work properly, transmedia storytelling depends on a collective intelligence generated by the people who experience the stories (and even those who create them). That’s why the rise of the Internet, and particularly the host of Web 2.0 platforms, has been vital to the rise of the new narrative form.

Jeff Gomez, another pioneer of the form, explains the creative and economic elements of transmedia storytelling in the clip blow:





Are Press Releases the New Spam?

5 11 2007

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail and the Long Tail blog seems to think so. In a dramatic post on his blog, Anderson announced he was mad as hell and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. Anyone who sends him unwanted PR correspondence would be permanently blocked.

“I’ve had it,” he wrote. “I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam, it’s PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.”

The problem, Anderson explained, isn’t that he hates PR people or press releases in general. He hates the “lazy flacks” who make no effort to learn about his interests before sending an email.

He has a point, on at least two levels. Irrelevent e-mails annoy the people who get them. People who send them are wasting everyone’s time, not least their own.

At the end of a second post on the issue, Anderson pulls out a quote from one of the commentors who understands how to avoid turing PR into spam:  

Almost every email I send to my “spam list” (self titled), gets some sort of reply. Like “Cool event, can’t make it – sorry. Keep me posted on the next one” Or “Wow, can we get two press passes.” Or most often, “Can you email us contestants in our constituency so we can interview them for the local angle?”

Of the 1500 or so people (note, “people” not “titles”) in my self-collected db, I think I’ve gotten 10 un-subscribes. All of whom just switched jobs. There’s no one in our dB that covers the weather. Or wars. Or fluffy little kittens. They all cover tech, robots, AI, etc. And they LIKE getting my “spam.”





Web Discovery: The Next Wave in Web Search

12 10 2007

Google remains the undisputed heavyweight champion of Internet search technology but the tech giant may require some tweeking to stay relevant in the long run. People are beginning to shift away from key word searches in favor of “discovery search” – engines that offer a bit more scope than a list of sites with the key word in them. 

The New York Times discussed the phenomenon in a recent feature on StumbleUpon, a social media site that allows people to share sites they find interesting.

 Say you are a soccer fan, but you are neither in the market for new cleats nor in search of the buzz on Greg Ryan, the coach of the United States women’s team. Instead, you just want to see interesting soccer sites. Googling “interesting soccer” or “great soccer stuff” is not likely to be satisfying.

A Web service called StumbleUpon has spent the last six years trying to satisfy such a need, perfecting a formula to help you discover content you are likely to find interesting. You tell the service about your professional interests or your hobbies, and it serves up sites to match them. As you “stumble” from site to site, you will feel as if you are channel-surfing the Internet, or rather, a corner of the Internet that is most relevant to you.

The article describes discovery search as “niche activity” but pointed out that StumbleUpon has grown from 600,000 registered users to 3.5 million in the past two years, suggesting that the concept is beginning to take off.