Harvard University recently wrapped up a four year study researching how social media contacts, friends, influenced one another’s taste when it comes to videos, music, and other forms of media. And the results are startling. The ‘rub off’ effect is minimal. While many friends do share similar tastes, those similarities typically stem from how they became friends (and social media contacts) than from some sort of conscription or recruitment to certain tastes in the future.
Viral marketing, pushed by marketing specialists, programmers, and hot button band-wagoners alike, operates under the assumption that ideas and tastes spread easily from person to person and that digital spaces and platforms accelerate that process by a multiplicative factor.
This study suggests that while digital communication and social media certainly accelerates communication and can pass a video or idea around quickly, the idea that it can recruit people into changing their tastes to be more in line with a brand or product, is probably unfounded. Marketing companies would probably do better to research under what circumstances, and which types of social media contacts, do actually pass taste or brand loyalty and how that process actually continues.
Simply creating viral marketing campaigns may attract attention, however that attention may not transfer from the campaign to the brand behind it (such as in the recent Old Spice viral marketing campaign). Geo targeting and marrying real life friendships with authority transfer, is likely the best avenue for viral marketing. Providing platforms for friends to recommend restaurants in an area to one another, for instance, although such platforms face difficulty in attracting population.