Predictive Marketing

Extend Your Reach on Twitter With Viral Marketing

One of the many attractions of Social Media is the opportunity to amplify your message through viral marketing.  In theory, if you can deliver the right message to a select number of the right people, you can reach thousands, or even millions of people on a shoestring budget. In previous posts, I have analyzed how to maximize the effective reach of your message on Twitter by deploying your tweets during the best time of day to your followers, and repeating that message at strategic times to extend your reach even further. The objective of both of these techniques was to reach as many of your followers as possible with your message. Let’s now examine the opportunity of extending your reach beyond your group of followers through viral marketing on Twitter.

The Lure of Viral Marketing

Every marketer dreams of the following scenario: You convey your message to a select group of individuals. Each of these individuals then repeats your message to one or more of their friends, who in turn repeat the message to one or more of their friends, and before you know it, your message has successfully reached millions of people.

The most recent example of this dream scenario was the  Facebook campaign to have Betty White host Saturday Night Live.  A 29 year old man from San Antonio started the campaign with the modest goal of gaining 5,000 fans on the Betty White to Host SNL (please?)! Facebook page. He reached his goal in a month and wrote a letter to Lorne Michaels, the Executive Producer of SNL, to encourage the selection of Betty as a host. The story was then picked up by major news agencies. A few months later, the Facebook page had 500,000+ fans, Betty White hosted SNL, and the show grabbed its highest ratings in 18 months.

Viral Marketing on Twitter

Dream scenarios are by definition rare. How much can you reasonably expect to extend your reach beyond your group of followers through viral marketing on Twitter?

The vehicle for viral marketing on Twitter is the retweet. It’s the indicator of how many times your message is repeated throughout the Twittersphere.  To get an idea of what the typical results of viral marketing on Twitter are, let’s take a look at what some of the most retweeted users are able to achieve.

I have focused the above analysis on business or news oriented sites, since I am addressing the question of how business marketers can extend their reach through Twitter. Therefore, no celebrities or other non-business entities are included.

The data shows the total number of followers for each user, the average number of tweets they make each day, the largest number of retweets they generated from a single tweet during the week of May 13-19, and an estimate of the % increase in reach they achieved over and above their follower base with their best tweet of the week.

In the calculation of the percentage increase in reach, the analysis makes the assumption that on average, each user who retweets is followed by 300 people. Although 93.6% of Twitter users have less than 100 followers, I’ll use Hubspot’s estimate of an average of 300 followers for the most active 5 million Twitter users. This makes intuitive sense, since the users most likely to retweet are among the most active, and in a long tail distribution the average is higher than the median due to the effect of the users with the most followers.

The data is surprising. I would have expected that the number of retweets would have been much higher for the six users with more than one million followers. Mashable wins the award for most retweets at 1,018.  The award for the greatest increase in reach goes to a tweet by HubSpot at 135%, more than doubling its reach via retweets.  Although it was only retweeted 159 times, the much smaller number of followers of HubSpot in comparison with Mashable translates into a greater percentage increase in reach.

The data seems to indicate that the users with the relatively smaller following have the opportunity to gain the most in percentage reach. This is not surprising, since for users whose following exceeds one million, there is only so far that they can extend their reach.

The Limits of Viral Marketing on Twitter

The above examples show how much the best tweets of some of the most retweeted users are able to extend their reach via viral marketing on Twitter during a typical week. The two best case scenarios, for HubSpot and Avinash Kaushik, range from a 60% – 135% extension of their reach. In terms of the dream scenario for viral marketing, these gains may not seem like much, but in practical terms, any time that you can increase the effectiveness of your marketing by 60%+, that’s significant.

Twitter is not the best platform for viral marketing. Tweets are ephemeral; they come and go. Twitter lacks the permanence of a blog post or a Facebook page, making it harder to achieve the explosive exponential growth of a true viral campaign. And the dream scenarios of viral marketing are not achieved via a single marketing medium; they are achieved through a perfect storm of mutually reinforcing marketing media. For example, the Betty White campaign was heavily reinforced by traditional news media.

When it comes to Twitter, it may be best to remember Avinash Kaushik’s tweet: “Success on twitter comes fm participating in conversations & adding value. It does not come fm “social media campaigns”.

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