Viral spread, viral marketing, virality and spread. These terms are used haphazardly in marketing material today to describe how digital content, a brand or direct marketing message can travel on its own without additional promotion. The content itself begins to weave a pattern from node to node across the Web -- congregating in some environments and dispersing rapidly from others. A Web 1.0 analogy of this is email -- user-initiated, user-spread and self-promoting through the credibility of the sender. Web 2.0 widgets lend persistence to this model. Widgets are a powerful vehicle for viral spread and distribution that allows visitors to interact and spread the content or message to their own site, blog or social networking profile page. This results in the placement of content with user endorsement that has the ability to tap into the power of social networks for maximum spread.
Measuring the effectiveness of widgets can be quantified. The basics of measuring the viral spread of widgets narrows down to three core metrics:
1. Unique Visitors - a count of unique visitors
2. Views - the sum of individual requests to view a widget
3. Placements - the sum of unique instances of a widget
Unique visitors and views are old hat in the metrics industry, but tracking where the widget is viewed and travels introduces a new set of challenges. Placements are a new metric that identify the intersection of a unique instance of a widget and a URL. The unique instance factor is determined by a placement ID that is assigned by the widget-serving platform when the widget is initially seeded on a site and made available for sharing or when it is it shared from site to site. In measuring placements, we group them by domain in order to segment and identify patterns that plot the widget's journey.
So now that we have the placements metric that is grouped by domain, how do we analyze this data? It narrows down to the flow - where the widget was, where it is and where it went. The business questions with respect to spread that marketers and widget creators should be asking are as follows:
· On which domains are my widgets being viewed?
· Which domains are spreading my widget?
· Which domains are spreading my widget into a specific domain of interest?
Let's break this down with an example.
1. John views a widget on MySpace.com
2. Using the service menu on or adjacent to the widget, John shares the widget to his Facebook.com profile and also registers it as a Facebook application.
3. The widget is now on Facebook.com for John's friends to view.
4. John's friend Karen views the widget on his Facebook profile page and is also made aware of this new widget through her Facebook minifeed.
5. Karen chooses to grab the widget from John's profile and place it on her profile as well. Once complete, she views the widget on her Facebook.com profile page.
Analytical results of this example:
· Unique Visitors: The widget had 2 unique visitors view the widget, John and Karen.
· Views: The widget had 3 views to the widget. One view was on MySpace.com by John and two views were on Facebook.com by Karen (one on John's profile and one on hers).
· Placements: The widget had 3 unique placements - one placement of the widget on MySpace.com and two placements of the widget on Facebook.com.
· Directional flow:
o The widget was spread to Facebook.com.
o The widget was spread once from Myspace.com and once from within Facebook.com.
Widgets produce a true "web" of traffic across the Internet. Instead of tracking where the visitor goes across the Net through panel research firms such as Comscore and Nielsen, we are now able to track and analyze where the content (the widget in this case) is traveling to and from with accurate data collection methods. This turns the table for marketers. Instead of using promotional tactics to drive visitors to the content, tactics need to be used to drive the content to the visitors.It's been said that 2008 will be "the year of the widget." Widgets introduce new ways of distributing content, as well as new challenges and opportunities for marketers. Critical components of marketing strategies for optimizing widget spread should focus on creating engaging and well-designed creative and seeding your widget (the initial placement of a widget on one or more Web sites) on sites and specific pages that align with your target audience.