What can we learn from the melding of social media and viral marketing?

“The power of influence is ever present in this discussion, which is what social media tools add to viral marketing. The crowd mentality is heavier within a social-media community, which makes it easier for viral marketing to do its job. Honestly, it seems like marketing through social media is the new form of viral marketing. That’s the wave of the future in marketing, a new and improved marketing platform.” - Organized Chaos: Viral Marketing, Meet Social Media by Curtis Silver

The power of social media for viral marketing seems to be the “it-statement” these days. We trumpet the power of the hot combination of social media and viral marketing, trumpet something about creating content that doesn’t suck, and then go about tweaking and refining our metrics and viral loops.

Woo-freaking-hoo. Thank you captain obvious.

In our rush to start virally marketing our wares and messages, I think we’ve overrun one crucial step. We’ve started to refine our implementation without solidifying the theory. For all we know, we might be like the astronomers, refining and refining equations describing the planet’s movements around the earth and then, wait, oh shit, nevermind, the earth’s not the center of the universe afterall. So, if we were going to take a step back and look at the theory, where would we start?

I think it all starts with augmented intelligence. Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the mouse, was preoccupied with this idea. While computers and Google have opened up an entire new world for us, social media has also grown into this tool of augmented intelligence – augmented social intelligence. Social media has allowed us to develop a new view of our social landscape - instead of being on the ground floor, we’ve gone to the top of the building. Newsfeeds, Tumblr dashboards, Twitter lists and other streaming tools help us get a general view of the conversations going on around us. And, individuals can regularly and easily communicate ideas to tons of friends at once. Our messages and thoughts can be broadcasted more aggressively (this is precisely what makes social media so enticing to marketers). And now that we’ve had this fundamental shift in social circumstances, we need to ask what the basic impact shift is having on us: How has this augmented social intelligence changed and inflicted our behavior pattern?

As we become more intertwined with our tools, it’s impossible to separate our social interactions from these social tools, which means that these tools are increasingly important for viral marketers to understand.

When I play the role of design researcher, these are the types of questions I ask myself. To do this, I usually choose to narrow down this broader question into more focused questions that can help me construct an answer. Here’s my jumping off point:

  • What are the social media networks, tools, and apps that we use? How do we use them?
  • Why do we use social media? What advantages do we perceive?
  • How does this new type of interaction make us feel?
  • How do we choose to portray ourselves in social media?
  • How do we use social media to augment our interactions in real life?
  • How do we use social media to create a shared cultural narrative?
  • Has our “standard” for messages we distribute changed? If so, how, and why?
  • How much importance do we assign our friend’s “messages”?
  • What are the ramifications of the new tidal wave of relevant information available to us?

Housekeeping: I turned on answers for this post, but anyone not using Tumblr should also feel free to give me feedback in the comments. Thanks!
Also, a huge thanks to Doug for helping me formulate my thoughts into this post! (: