Rising to Stardom research study: what makes some YouTube videos go viral

About three years ago, my colleague Yuping Liu and I were curious about how some YouTube videos gain popularity so quickly while others never get a second look. At this time, videos like "Charlie bit me" and "Chocolate Rain" were rising everyday people to stardom. What made these videos stand out more than others? We set out to answer that question by studying the user-generated content on YouTube.  

I'm pleased to announce that today, our research paper, "Rising to Stardom: An Empirical Investigation of the Diffusion of User-generated Content" was published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing. Here is the full-text article.


With the explosive growth of online user-generated content and the desire by marketers to better utilize this space, it is beneficial to understand the viral diffusion of such content and to identify messages that are most likely to achieve popularity. In this paper, we combine network analysis and the diffusion literature to study the spreading of user-generated videos online. We identify three groups of factors that affect diffusion outcomes: network structure, content characteristics, and author characteristics. Using a proportional rates model, we analyze the diffusion of a sample of videos on YouTube. Our results show that it is preferable to have many subscribers who each has a few friends than to have a few subscribers with many connections. Furthermore, a curvilinear relationship exists between subscriber network connectivity and diffusion rate such that diffusion is at its highest under moderate connectivity. Examining content characteristics, we show that entertainment and educational values affect diffusion but production quality does not matter. Moreover, we find that quality as manifested by user ratings influences diffusion more than innate content quality. Not surprisingly, an author's past success carries over to the current content, and content from younger authors is more popular.

We collected a random sample of over 100 user-generated videos newly uploaded onto YouTube over the course of a week. We tracked each video for a period of two months, recording the number of views and the average user ratings each day. We also collected a large number of characteristics for each video, including those related to the video content, to the video author and to the network of users connected to the video author. We had study participants rate each video on its production quality, educational value and entertainment value. Here are some highlights of our findings. 

  • Diffusion rate is at its highest under moderate network connectivity. Authors with a large number of subscribers who each has only a handful of friends are in a better position than authors with a small number of subscribers who in turn may have a large number of friends.
  • Influence rather than reach facilitates the diffusion of user-generated content, demonstrating the value of opinion leadership.
  • Entertainment and educational values positively affect diffusion, whereas production quality did not matter.
  • User ratings had an impact on a videos successful diffusion. Increasing the average rating by 1 star can lead to as much as 13.5% gain in diffusion rate.
  • Younger users’ contributions are more likely to be popular.
  • An author’s past experience and success positively affect diffusion of new videos. 

We hope that marketers and public relations practitioners (as well as other content creators) will find this information useful in more effectively predicting the success of user-generated content and planning successful online campaigns. We also hope this study offers a stepping stone for more research on the topic.



Becoming a PLPeep as social media strategist for Powerful Learning Practice

I've been working in social media for more than six years now, but I'm getting to take my skills to a whole new level with Powerful Learning Practice (PLP). PLP offers professional development to help educators incorporate social media and new technology in their classrooms. Since October, I've been serving as PLP's social networking strategist, managing Facebook, Twitter and the PLP Network Blog. I also get the opportunity to connect with PLP's learning communities online.

PLP offers a long-term, job-embedded professional development program to help educators better understand 21st Century learning environments. PLP's model enables thousands of educators around the country to experience the transformative power of the social Web: Face-to-face in their own schools, exchanging ideas through a community of inquiry and in re-envisioning their own personal learning practice.

So with PLP, I'm not just marketing with social media, I'm participating with social media. I'm directly connecting with educators who are learning to develop their own Personal Learning Networks through social media. I'm very excited to approach social media from this new perspective, and it's opened my eyes even more to the power of social media. I've used social media for learning and connecting with others for many years, and it's truly been priceless for my own personal learning and professional development. It's very rewarding to help educators do the same.

Two of my colleagues at PLP, co-founder Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall, recently published The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age, a book to help educators create a learning community through social media and take advantage of technology to improve their own learning and ultimately the learning of their students. This would be an excellent gift to share with any teachers in your life.

PLP also offers e-learning courses. There's a free Web 2.0 Tools eCourse that anyone (not just educators) can check out. Sign up and you’ll receive an email every day for two weeks with a Web 2.0 tool activity. At the end of the eCourse, you’ll be well on your way to being a Web 2.0 tools master and developing your personal learning network.

To learn more about Reina Communications' role at Powerful Learning Practice, check out my interview on the PLP blog.


RIP Steve Jobs, one of the world's greatest leaders and visionaries


I don't think I have ever felt so personally saddened by the loss of a public figure as I have today with the loss of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was a brilliant innovator and an inspiration to us all to "Think different." He changed the world by putting the tools in our homes and in our hands so we can all be innovators. 

I wanted to share an excerpt from Steve Job's epic 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

--Steve Jobs

We all owe it to Steve to use our MacBooks, our iPads, our iPhones and other devices to change the world for the better.


Analysis of a #SocialGood campaign: how can we better use social media for social good?

Yesterday was (RED) and Mashable's Social Good Day, a day when social media enthusiasts around the world are encouraged to collaborate and come up with ideas on using social media to promote social good. As a blogger and social media consultant, I gave it my best to come up with and share a creative idea for using social media for social good. What I came up with was to post about Social Good Day on my Greater Good Life blog and offer to donate $1 to the Global Fund (up to $100 total) for everytime the blog entry recieved a comment or a post on Twitter or Facebook. The goal of the campaign was to spread the word out about (Red) and Social Good Day.


Every good social media campaign should end with evaluation research: What were the measurable results? Did the campaign acheive its goal? What are the key learnings from the campaign that would improve future campaigns?

Measurable results 

For larger campaigns, I would tally the results using a service like Radian 6, but I'm approaching this small scale campaign the way my small business clients would, manually counting comments, mentions and posts. By 10:30pm on Social Good Day, 12 hours after the campaign started, my blog post received:   

  • 20 tweets with @replies
  • 5 shared facebook posts (probably more, but this was harder to track)
  • 89 likes and 56 comments on the (RED) facebook page (showing their support, they posted about my campaign). 

The social good blog post received about 100 more unique visitors than a typical blog post would in the first 12 hours as well. The post received 56 referrals from Facebook in addition to 30 referrals directly from (RED)'s facebook page.

That's what I could quickly hand count, I'm sure I missed a few posts. Comments and referrals are still coming in, but it's safe to say I'll be donating $100 to the Global Fund!


Was the campaign's goal achieved?

The goal of the campaign was to spread the word about (Red) and Social Good Day. While the $100 donation affords a lot of HIV/AIDs medication for patients in Africa, I could have donated that on my own without a campaign. The important result was that there were at least 100 posts about (Red) in the social media sphere because of my blog post. A hundred social media users shared information about (Red) and Social Good Day with their thousands of friends and followers! I consider the goal acheived!

What can be learned from this campaign about using social media for social good? 

Bloggers should be personally engaged by an organization. I've been busy with clients the past few weeks and hadn't kept up with my Mashable or (RED) news feed. I found out about Social Good Day this morning and had to react fast. How did I find out about Social Good Day? I recieved a tweeted direct message from (RED) asking for my support. The tweet was personal in that it mentioned my support from the year before and linked to a blog post that reference my campaign last year. 

This wasn't the first time (RED) had engaged with personally. The first Social Good Day last year, the organization retweeted and @replied me, making a point to show appreciation for my effort. This morning, I was not at all prepared to do a blog post about Social Good Day, but the personal engagment inspired me to make it happen. Had I not had a personal engagement with (RED), I wouldn't have gone to that kind of trouble.

Every blogger has an influence. Don't limit engagement to the blog stars. My Greater Good Life blog has nothing on the Huffington Post or Care2, but (RED) didn't overlook me! Often times, social good campaigns are quick to point out that even the smallest donation can make a big difference, yet they don't abide by their own "every little bit counts" philosophy when it comes to engagement. As a blogger, I've never been pitched by a nonprofit (other than (RED)) to write a post about their efforts, though I'd be happy to do it! If my local SPCA did a simple blog search on Google, I'm sure they would see I've posted about dogs. If my local food pantry did the same, they'd see I've posted about world hunger. If these organizations that have causes relevant to my blog invite me to their organization for a tour or suggest a good story, I'd be happy to support their cause. Organizations just have to ask in a way that is not a pitch, but a collaboration. 

An organization should use social media to show they care about their supporters as much as their cause. I've given money to a lot of organizations that resulted in repeated, tree-killing impersonal direct mail being stuffed into my mailbox. These organizations care a great deal about their causes, but they don't seem to care about me as a supporter. I'm a number, a dollar figure to them, not a person. Social media allows organizations to truly interact with supporters and build a relationship with them. Supporters can offer an organization much more than money, they can offer word-of-mouth and inspiration to others. 

There is a lot of distraction in the social media space, so consistency is key. Facebook's major redesign dominated the discussion online today, on both Facebook and Twitter. As much as we posted about social good, this added some clutter to our message. My campaign blog post did not get the same attention from my Facebook friends as it normally would. I think this was because so many of my friends were complaining about and trying to figure out the new Facebook changes launched today. This kind of distraction is uncontrollable in social media. We have to take into account that whatever our message, there are countless other equally important messages floating around in the space. The best way to counter this is through consistency of the message. Use of a hashtag and very simple descriptions with links keeps a message clearly communicated amongst the clutter. 

Keep the conversation going. The goal of spreading the word does not end with starting a conversation. The conversation should be continued through additional interaction. I did with my campaign so far by replying to any tweets and posts that came my way. When I have time over the next several days, I'll go back and follow and subscribe to the people I interacted with on Twitter and Facebook and send those who left comments on my blog an e-mail thanking them. (RED) does a stellar job of this. (RED) kept in touch with me after last year's campaign, and I hear from the organization personally via social media throughout the year. I maintain an interest in (RED)'s cause, even with all the distractions in the social media space, because (RED) continues to engage me.

How could the next campaign be better?

Next time, I'd spend more time. I wasn't prepared for Social Good Day, so the campaign could have been better planned and executed with a little more time. Maybe I could have found sponsors and partnered with other bloggers. Also, 12-24 hours is not long period to run a campaign. Perhaps a campaign like this should have been launched on Social Good Day and continued throughout the week.

Next time, I'd love to join forces with a large group of bloggers. I could envision a social good campaign where 50 or more bloggers join forces to make a bigger impact. A call to bloggers could be placed on the campaign's website. Bloggers can sign up and pledge to post and donate a specific amount. There could be a page that showcases all of the participating bloggers. There is a lot of potential to experiment with here. I hope this campaign offers a stepping stone for others to take this idea and run with it.

Next time, it would be great to include a photo or video component. Words are only one dimension of social media. Photos and videos would make this campaign more three-dimentional. An organization wishing to expand on this campaign could set up a Flickr photo pool, a YouTube channel or a Tumblr or Posterous blog to collect multimedia entries. Even with my small scaled campaign, if I had planned a little more, I would have loved creating a video for Social Good Day. I'm sure other bloggers and social media users would do the same.

So that's my analysis of a #SocialGood campaign. I'm always happy to share my ideas with worthwhile organizations that need help brainstorming strategic efforts. Please contact me if you decide to run a campaign like this one and would like more thoughts. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go donate $100.



How to keep technology from complicating our lives

The pressure was on for me last week. As Google+ entered the social media sphere, I jumped on Twitter, Facebook and technology blogs to find an invite so I could check it out. As a social media consultant, it's my job to stay on top of the latest and greatest in social media, explore what's out there and get learning. Now, I'm faced with the dilemma of splitting my time with an additional social medium. Considering I'm checking at least 8 social networks daily and regularly reading countless RSS feeds and blogging, I started questioning how I was going make time for Google+ in my already technology-time-warped life of e-mails, text messages and all things Apple.

Technology is supposed to make everything easier, yet it often just complicates our lives. I realize this when I find myself interrupting a nice meal at a restaurant or a relaxing day at the beach by checking my iPhone incessantly.

Thankfully, I found an article about 10 Karmic Laws for technology, and it inspired me to get a grip on what's important and to keep it simple so that technology actually works for me (not the other way around!). Here are some highlights from the article:

Not all tweets are created equal

Tweeting or updating your Facebook status is pretty much like getting up on a stage in front of 100+ of your friends and acquaintances and saying something into a sure to think twice about your intention and be respectful of your audience. A simple tip: don't over post -- not every thought that comes into your head needs to be shared.

Post in the past tense

Live your life, then share it. Here is an example: "I'm talking to the most amazing person in the elevator." Really? How can you be doing that when you're preoccupied tweeting about it? Instead, just enjoy the conversation. Forget there is a phone in your pocket or purse. Give yourself to that conversation. Then 10 minutes later, share the past tense variation "I just had the most amazing conversation with a women in the elevator!"

Give it a rest

Create a technology Sabbath! Choose a day of the week where you will not allow any electronic devices or media into your daily routine (outside of mandatory situations, like work).

When it comes down to it, much of the networking we're doing online is just taking time out of our lives to clutter the lives of our friends. Just because we have the ability to share every mundane thought of the moment doesn't mean there is a reason to. By limiting our time with and access to technology, we're forcing ourselves to value its use more and make better use of our limited time spent using it. So the answer is not in finding more time for technology, but in making sure each text, e-mail and post we create enhances our own lives or the lives of those we're connecting with.

If I live by these Karmic Laws, I'm pretty sure I'll reduce about half of the clutter I consume and produce using technology. And that makes time for me to take advantage of Google+ and anything else new that comes my way.