6.6 Degrees of Online Marketing

Viral marketing is known and loved by marketers for its ability to grow one’s reach and expand one’s exposure to the farthest reaches of the Web. We tout it for its effectiveness, but at the same time are baffled by how, why, and when it works best.

Even if we can’t control it, the concept of select information being voluntarily disseminated by consumers online should play a part in every modern ad campaign. We no longer give a second thought to including in our creative work the ability to forward a promotional microsite to a friend, but put much less effort into encouraging Internet users to distribute banners of equal interest and importance. We might upload our video ads to YouTube in the hope they’ll find a broader audience there, but relegate past expandable formats to our internal intranets once the campaign has come to a close.

Well, new research is out that might have you reconsidering the degree to which this effort to leverage online connections is incorporated into your clients’ marketing campaigns.

According to researchers at Microsoft, you and I (and you and any other random person) are connected by 6.6 people. A study analyzed over 30 billion Microsoft Messenger conversations had by 180 million people worldwide in June of 2006. It found it took just 6.6 “hops” to draw a connection between any two random instant message users.

Sound familiar? The theory confirms that of Six Degrees of Separation, made famous in popular culture by the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” trivia game that maintains every actor can be connected through the movies they’ve filmed and the actors they’ve worked with to the “Footloose” star.

More recently the theory has been put into practice on Facebook, where users can join any one of dozens of Six Degrees-themed groups. The largest group, which currently counts nearly 5.4 million members, was formed by novelist Steve Jackson as a research tool for his latest tome. His objective was to determine whether he could reach every Facebook user (some 90 million in all) through the group, thus illustrating that everyone is connected through the Internet.

How the theory and Microsoft study apply to our line of work should be pretty plain. The concept of online connection is at the very core of several aspects of the online media business, including viral marketing. You’ve surely seen proof of this first-hand; it’s no coincidence that we keep receiving the same e-mail forwards again and again, from different acquaintances around the world. If everyone is connected through the Web, think of the potential for how far one of our marketing messages could go, and the volume of consumers we could ultimately reach.

Still, viral marketing as a strategy is nebulous at best, and if you’re among those marketers who prefer a more tangible application of online connections, you’ll be more interested in a company like Media6degrees. The aptly named advertising platform can help you connect with consumers by leveraging the not-so-random people in their lives: their online friends.

Since it was founded in 2007, Media6degrees has been using non-personally identifiable social networking data to build an audience of potential customers comprised of users who have shown interest in a product, and their friends. It’s the ideal application for a form of online media that’s built on connectivity, and the proven concept that targeting based on consumer affinity breeds higher response rates than traditional targeting methods.

Although this type of campaign takes a more controlled approach to utilizing online connections, it hypes the same motto that connects Dame Judy Dench to Kevin Bacon, or your boss to a Net-surfing priest in Spain. The power of consumers connection is paramount to our work, and should be leveraged every way we know how.

It’s a small world after all.

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