Liu-Thompkins’ (2011) research found that a need for a “big seed” strategy (using many seed viewers) depends on the video’s quality. A seeding strategy involves determining how many initial viewers (seeds) to disseminate a video and what type of viewers to choose as seeds (Liu-Thompkins, 2011). As these seed viewers are responsible for the initial dissemination of the viral message to other fellow viewers, “selecting the right targets as seeds can have a significant impact on later rounds of the viral diffusion process” of the video (Bampo, et al., 2008; Watts and Peretti, 2007). An effective video should break through the clutter and viewer indifference to encourage further pass-along of the message (Liu-Thomkins, 2011).
When considering target seeds understanding what specific characteristics of a video connect for specific viewers needs to be understood. One example is researchers have found female and younger consumers to exert more influence on their targets and to be more susceptible to viral influences than male and older consumers (Katona, et al., 2011; Trusov, et al., 2010). From a motivational standpoint, research has found altruism to drive message sharing (Ho and Dempsey, 2010; Phelps, et al., 2010).
As mentioned in the earlier section, “Forwarding by Viewers,” personal ties are very important for spreading messages and pertain directly to seeding. “Just like birds of a feather flock together, in human relationships, researchers have found a tendency for individuals to connect with others that are similar to them,” a phenomenon called homophily (Mcpeherson, Smith-Lovin and Cook, 2001; Liu-Thompkins, 2011). Homophily happens online where users with similar backgrounds and tastes are likely to seek out and consume similar content (Liu-Thompkins, 2011). Viewers of a homophilieus network are motivated to pass on a video, “either due to personal interest in the content topic or due to group norm” (Liu-Thompkins, 2011).
However, a video can find that its online spread may be limited by a particular seed network because of the individuals’ similarities, keeping the video stuck in the circle of similar individuals (Liu-Thompkins, 2011). This prevents the video from reaching a larger, more diverse “universe” of viewers (Brown and Reingen, 1987). From this perspective, homophily begins to have it’s drawbacks for a viral video.
Liu-Thompkins’ (2011) research found that there is a “sweet spot” for seed viewers to promote the viral spread of a video. “When seed consumers share too few or too many common interests, diffusion outcome is not optimal. Instead, a moderately heterogeneous group of consumers can best increase the reach of a viral message to more diverse consumer populations” (Liu-Thompkins, 2011).
Results showed that it is best to share a video with seed viewers that have a strong tie with the message originator (Liu-Thompkins, 2011). Viewers are strongly influenced by the message originator, which increases the probability that the message will be passed along to further waves of consumers (Liu-Thompkins, 2011). This point was demonstrated in a viral video campaign by Honda Motor Co., who created a two-minute video about their Accord model car (Dobele et al., 2007). Honda emailed the video to only 500 employees, and three years later after the video was forwarded on the Web, it had been viewed by 4.5 million people (Dobele et al., 2007). Honda sent their video to their employees who had a strong tie with them, and they forwarded the video to others that would also likely respond to the video favorably (Dobele et al., 2007). Honda utilized seed viewers (in this case employees) to forward the video onto others, which led to a viral video.
Seeding videos through large networks like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media avenues is recognized as a powerful way to launch a viral video. YouTube has a system of “subscribers” where viewers can choose to receive automatic updates to new video uploads by channels they choose to subscribe. Twitter has a system of “followers” where individual Twitter account holders receive 140 character messages in their Twitter feed from each person they follow. Facebook has a system of “friends” and “likes” where an individual with a Facebook account receives “status updates” from all their Facebook friends as well as organizations’ pages that they’ve “liked.” These social media portals provide instant access to large seed networks of people and a platform to disseminate information and video content.
Successful YouTube producers and stars like Ettinger, the “Obama Girl,” have large followings (seed viewers) on YouTube. The YouTube channel, Barely Political, where Ettinger was launched into fame, has 1,791,577 people who have subscribed. Every time Barely Political uploads a video each subscriber receives a notice to watch it. That is a very effective way to seed their videos, and has led to over 1.25 billion views for their videos. It is no wonder non-profits like Smart Power hire YouTube stars like Ettinger to tap into their followers and subscribers. These are instant seed networks.
Additionally, studies by TubeMogul (2011) show that paid media, another way to tap into seed networks, is increasingly necessary to “go viral.” The study shows that even getting a video featured on YouTube’s homepage yields fewer views than it use to, down 28.2% from the same measurement conducted in 2008 (TubeMogul, 2011). The result, and TubeMogul’s recommendation, is that paid media is now necessary to get videos watched, even in viral campaigns.
Hampp (2011) suggests organizations can reach large amount of seed viewers that are already part of online networks through paid placements. One million paid views on “cherry-picked” key sites like Metacafe and Daily Motion can be bought for $100,000 (Hampp, 2011). According to Sharethrough CEO, Dan Greenberg, “if you buy 1 million views, sometimes the content is so compelling you maximize the sharing and it turns into 4 million or 5 million views” (Hampp, 2011).