July 12, 2007

Viral marketing and ethics

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:27 am by mondhandy

Here is another blog post about marketing. There was another one (which I can’t find anymore – I never seem to be able to find web sites I would like to refer to) about how a relatively new social network saw enormous growth by all but forcing their users to give away their passwords for their email services (ie Hotmail, Yahoo mail, Gmail). Then the network would send out invitations to all people in your address book automatically. The blog I cited above also mentions something similar: people give their MySpace login to the service, and invitations are sent to all their MySpace contacts. Facebook does it, too – when I first signed up, I didn’t understand that you can also search people with the small search box in the sidebar. Instead I clicked “find friends”, but in that dialogue you are also almost forced to give your email password to Facebook so that they can send invitations to all your friends. Given the hype around Facebook, I can readily imagine a lot of people giving in to the pressure (“I want to be part of it, too”) and giving up their passwords, because they give you the impression that that is what you have to do to participate. Note: I don’t like Facebook very much.

I don’t like that kind of viral marketing, because I consider it slightly unethical. People should be educated to never give away their passwords. That is not the worst part, though. The really bad part is giving away your friends email addresses (private information) to a third party. That is a big no no in my book. So while that kind of marketing seems to work for the time being, I would resent doing it, because it would encourage people to do things they shouldn’t do in my opinion.

Still, viral marketing obviously is important, and while the moon calendar has no inbuilt viral aspects, I use it as a criteria for deciding on upcoming projects now. I think a truly viral product has more than just an email invitation form, though (I added one of those forms to Mondhandy.de, too, but so far nobody has used it). A truly viral product is viral because it depends on the interaction of people. An example would be a multiplayer computer game where you invite your friends to play. I guess one way to make the moon calendar viral is to add another activity that basically says “convince a friend to buy the moon calendar today”. What are other viral products: the link tracking thing could be inherently viral, if it was used for a link exchange like a top list (ie the links are being sorted by how many referrals you received from a web site). Thinking about it, for many services there could be a way to add that kind of viral spin. The current social networking services and photo sharing services seem only mildly viral, in that context. You can watch photos and videos without having to add your own ones, so the viral pressure is not very high. OK, the social networks (a ka MySpace) require you to convince your friends to join, so that you can have a network of friends. The added benefit is not really clear to me, though. It only makes sense if it gives you a quick way to notify your friends about important ongoing things.

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