Social Media, Viral Marketing and Crowdsourcing

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The following entries have been written, recited and edited by Indrek Saar, Norbert Kaareste, Marek Mühlberg and Maris Üksti.

About Social Media[edit]

by Norbert Kaareste

When trying to define what is social media, one would be greatly bedazzled as the term has gotten so wide-spread. Almost every bit of information published over the World Wide Web could be defined as social media nowadays.

But by the common understanding the term "social media" originated from the year 2004, when Chris Shipley (Co-founder and Global Research Director) coined the term on The BlogOn 2004 conference (July 22-23, 2004) where he focused on the "business of social media". "Shipley and Guidewire Group used the term "social media" in the months leading up to that event to discuss the coming together of blogging, wikis, social networks, and related technologies into a new form of participatory media." 1

So overall social media is everything that is produced/written by the consumers (of information) for the consumers. Modern web-based technologies (blog-platforms etc.) have greatly enhanced this tendency and most likely will continue to do so.

What defines today's social media[edit]

When one looks at the history that shaped today's social media, it is imminent, that ever since the beginning the common man (the consumer by the old system) is the media ( When trying to define, what is social media today, one thing is carved in stone: its a medium that is produced by peers for peers.

The second great factor shaping the social media is the internet. While it could be possible to implement social media peculiarities on the old medium (eg. magazines) (, it is imminent that without the internet the social media wouldn't exist, as the neccessity to share and publish rapidly and easily is only available through internet.

There are some other terms that have help to generate the idea behind social media:

Web 2.0[edit]

One of the most important factors influencing social media from its start are the principles that form web 2.0.

To better comprehend the term, it is important to see its origins. While there are many opinions about what is web 2.0, experts have agreed that web 1.0 was the readable web (Cormode & Krishnamurthy 2008) and 2.0 is the writeable web (O´Reilly Media 2005). Readable web in this context means that all of the content in the internet was one-way communicated: author published his or hers work on the internet and the readers could only consume. Web 2.0 brought the ability to alter that content, either by republishing it interactively (sharing), giving instant feedback to the author and/or making the author’s role universal – everybody is a content consumer and provider today.

User-generated content[edit]

A study conducted by eMarketer in early 2009 found that the number of Internet users who consume user generated content and who create it will shoot up significantly in the next four years:

   * By 2013, nearly 155 million US Internet users will consume some type of content created by users, up almost 34% from 2008
   * The number of content creators will grow to 114.5 million by 2013, an almost 39% increase from 2008
   * By 2013, 51.8% of all US Internet users will be content creators, up from 42.8% in 2008

User generated content can and should be seen as the backbone of social media, as stated before the peer to peer system supplementing the social media solely depends on user generated content.

Virtual community[edit]

The words "virtual community" and "online community" have been bandied about, hyped and interpreted in many ways. According to Boetcher et al "Online or virtual community is the gathering of people, in an online "space" where they come, communicate, connect, and get to know each other better over time."

The reasons why people go through the effort to gather into communities comes from five factors (Boetcher et al):

  • To socialize
  • To work together (business)
  • To work together (community - geographic)
  • To work together (issues)
  • To have topical conversations

Examples of social media[edit]

One of the most comprehensive classification of social media comes from CNET blog WebWare. WebWare generates every year a top 100 of web applications that feature web 2.0 principles. In the year 2009, the classification used by WebWare (being also a good classification of social media types) were:

Music & Video[edit]

This category of social media could also be described as the entertainment section, as music and video publishing and sharing on the internet is an evolution from traditional media to new media (from radio, TV to internet).

Browsers & Extensions[edit]

Although technical in its standard values, today a web browser could be seen as paper (or print-machinery) is to journalism. Interesting example of a browser and social media crossover is the web browser [Flock], that defines itself as a social web browser.


Commerce as a type of social media has also developed a long way, with sites like Craigslist and Woot! being the most famous example. Craigslist started almost fifteen years ago as a one-man project and today it is one of the top 10 most visited websites in USA.


This segment mainly offers instant messaging platforms but nevertheless the developments in communication sector will greatly affect the social media sphere, as the Google Wave (new understanding of e-mailing) is thought to be the ultimate predecessor to today's social media (


Although simplistic in their way of working, file-sharing sites like Skydrive or Dropbox are also benefiting to the widespread of information, examples being in the case of Skydrive massive user-generated file-collections of information on a certain subject.

Location Based Services[edit]

Location Based Services have developed greatly over the last few years and it is wise to believe that the highpoint of LBS is soon to be arrived, as almost every person in the world has a mobile and of these persons the share of those that own a smart-phone, is rising ( LBS is more or less an extension of the media (social media) to a persons location, thus ultimately breaking the last physical barriers that have tormented media from the start (there has not been any services offered that are based on the clients location (more detailed than ~county level).


Websites focusing on productivity (like Google Docs, Zoho) have long benefited to the growth of social media. One of the most common collaboration methods today are among others the joint editing of documents over Google Docs or services alike.

Search & Reference[edit]

This segment is a type of social media, that is truly innovative, as the times before social media a person, who had the ability to recommend something (journalist, editor etc.), was in a power stance. Today, using common sites like anybody can recommend and reference on any subject to persons who are willing to listen. Another interesting site defines itself a a social search engine, offering its users the ability to co-search and comment the results for others.

Social Networking & Publishing[edit]

Last but not least - the social networks (Facebook, Myspace) have long been the most outstanding examples of social media boom. Facebook, with its more than 350 million users worldwide is definitely a good example of a new media environment.

Alternative classifications[edit]

Future of the scene[edit]

One of the most universal predictions to social media development is that its users / producers will be more universal by their profile. As today there are multitude of sites, that offer social media functions, the membership of those sites is dependant on pre-registration. Imagine what would happen to the userbase, if suddenly anybody with a OpenID, or Google ID or etc. could login and start using the service. The growth of usage wouldn't be tremendeos but it would still be significant.

Another big change waiting the social media sphere is the "un-walling" of social media platforms. Today, if you post your valuable input to a number of sites that you are a member of, there is a multitude of steps to be taken by a friend of yours to "consume" that content (register a profile, add you as a friend, browse your profile). It is believed that eventually there can be only one system for social media (most commonly is Google Wave named) that offers the platform for easy consumption by any person interested (and accepted by the producer).

A more technical overview of possible ways the future might (or will) shape social media is given Mike Laurie, who sees the social media develop in ways, that could today be seen as too "futuristic" (RFID monitorin of your life-style, face-recognition software etc.).

About web 3.0 and social media[edit]

As stated before the social media (what it is and how we use it) was and is greatly defined by web 2.0 principles. Therefore it should be taken under consideration, what affects would web 3.0 (or some other abstract development of the current web) have on the social media sphere.

One could say that the main factors constituting the web 3.0 in the coming years are semantics, AI and mobility ( Web browsers (or PCs themselves, or technological mobile accessories) will turn out to be more and more the browsers who offer assistant-like work outcomes for users to consume. This will be done by using elaborate schemes of semantics and also some degree of AI by the “automated browser”. Also it is clear, that information (content) will forsake all kinds of limits to its spread, meaning that it will be accessible from any type of machine or from any place on earth. (

In conclusion[edit]

It is understood that social media can encompass a multitude of technologies available today on the internet. However the core subject of social media is and will be sharing. And sharing by peers to peers. This type of sharing doesn't have no limits, as today spheres like communication (blogs, social networks), collaboration (wikis, social bookmarking), multimedia (photo, video sharing), reviewing (product reviews, community Q&A), entertainment itself (virtual worlds) and other are defining social media.

But it will definitely not stop here, as there are tendencies that will reshape again our experience with social media. Of these tendencies the important ones to point out are universal accounts ( - meaning that our profile on the internet will ultimately be singular - with bits of it publicesed to different social mediums. Another important notion is the shift of audience. As in the old days there were the audience and the stage (, now the audience has turned there eyes on each other, and the group sizes are decreasing. But this turns the audience instead of the stage to the mass medium. Time magazine understood it in 2006, when it chose YOU to be the next big thing (,9171,1569514,00.html).


About Viral Marketing[edit]

by Maris Üksti

What is Viral Marketing[edit]

The simplest way of defining the term 'Viral marketing'is to describe it as a word-of-mouth marketing. Viral marketing describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence.(1) As Dr. Ralph F. Wilson describes, off the Internet, viral marketing has 'creating a buzz', 'leveraging the media' and 'network marketing'. But on the Internet, it's called 'viral marketing'.


There is a lot of controversy around viral marketing. According to Wikipediathere is debate on the origination and the popularization of the term Viral Marketing, though some of the earliest uses of the current term are attributed to Harvard Business School graduate, Tim Craper and Harvard Business School faculty member Jeffrey Rayport. The term was later popularized by Rayport in his 1996 Fast Company article The Virus of Marketing, and Tim Draper and Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 1997 to describe Hotmail's e-mail practice of appending advertising for itself in outgoing mail from their users.

Mark Hughes writes in his book 'Buzzmarketing' that according to critics buzz is random, merely serendipitous and can't be coralled. Hughes tried it out himself - he played the game both ways: big brands with big budgets and start-ups with cash-starved budgets. He found out the hard way that viral marketing works: it demands that you out-think instead of out-spend.

By Hughes (2005) viral marketing captures the attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand or company becomes entertaining, fascinating, and newsworthy. To put it simply: Buzz starts conversations.


The most known and classic example is what one of the first free Web-based e-mail services did: (1)

  • Give away free e-mail addresses and services;
  • Attach a simple tag at the bottom of every free message sent out: "Get your private, free email at Hotmail
  • Then stand back while people e-mail to their own network of friends and associates;
  • Who see the message;
  • Sign up for their own free e-mail service, and then
  • Propel the message still wider to their own ever-increasing circles of friends and associates.

Elements of a Viral Marketing Strategy[edit]

As some viral marketing strategies work better than others, the six basic elements one should include in strategy, are:

  • Give away products or services
  • Provide for effortless transfer to others
  • Scale easily from small to very large
  • Exploit common motivations and behaviors
  • Utilize existing communication networks
  • Take advantage of others' resources

A viral marketing strategy need not contain all these elements, but the more elements it embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to be. 1

Other tips

Make people feel something - The most important trick of all is to create a very strong emotion. It can be expressed by having a strong opinion with commitment and dedication.

Do something unexpected - To make people to notice a product or service, one has to do something different, something unexpected.

Do not try to make advertisements - Big companies think that viral marketing is just advertisements that people share - it is not. Traditional marketing is about promoting the product, showing how good it is, giving it center stage. Viral marketing is all about a good story.

Make sequels - When you got people's attention you need to act, and one the best ways of doing that is to give them more.

Allow Sharing, downloading and embedding

Connect with comments and audience - Connecting with people through comments means talking back.

Never restrict access - Viral marketing is never about exclusivity. It is about getting it out there for everyone to see.


Because of technology, word of mouth is moving faster than before. Text messaging, e-mail distribution lists, chat rooms, message boards, websites, videos, blogs. Viral marketing has become the aim for Internet marketers, that are looking to realize their goals as Hotmail did. Almost everybody wants to take their product 'viral'. It's important to give some thought in to what underlies viral marketing, but using most common networks (twitter, facebook, youtube) in fresh way with new ideas, it is more than likely to get people think and talk about the product.




3. 'Buzzmarketing' Hughes, Mark (2005)


About Crowdsourcing[edit]

by Indrek Saar


As Wikipedia says: „Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group (crowd) of people or community in the form of an open call“.[1] Crowdsourcing is used to gather volunteers for making a better product, translation or design. It’s is based on collective thinking and carried out by good will using Web 2.0 tools and technologies. The term itself was brought up by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 and because of its young age and controversial meaning, crowdsourcing has faced a lot of criticisms. Crowdsourcing relies on a group intelligence which projects are mostly held and managed in internet which makes collaboration to be more open and attention to focused on the project. By listening to the crowd, organizations receive a lot of valuable information from outside which helps to understand customer needs. In crowdsourcing the first step is initiated by a client.

Crowdsourcing vs. Outsourcing[edit]

In crowdsourcing the task is outsourced to undefined masses rather than a specific people or group as in general outsourcing. Sometimes the crowd is rewarded either monetarily, with prizes or with recognition and in most of the cases the only reward is intellectual satisfaction.


The crowdsourcing process in eight steps:

1. Company has a problem.
2. Company broadcasts problem online.
3. Online "crowd" is asked to give solutions.
4. Crowd submits solutions.
5. Crowd vets solutions.
6. Company rewards winning solvers.
7. Company owns winning solutions.
8. Company profits.

Crowdsourcing translations[edit]

Many website owners face the problem of translations. If your website is attractive enough then a crowdsourcing for translations might be a good idea. If talking about worldwide websites like Facebook for example by inviting users into translations process it also helps to increase the quality. There must be a good reason why people should voluntarily start to translate. In fact, such business model cannot be used for any type of companies but rather for social media sites like Facebook, Wordpress and Flickr. People are carrying out these translations voluntarily and for free because they are using those services every day and they want to be a part of making a better product for others and themselves also.

As can be found from Michael Arrington article to TechCrunch MySpace continues to roll out local versions of its social network and they tend to put a team on the ground locally and then build the site not only in the local language, but promote local artists and other popular culture as well. MySpace now has offices in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Milan, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo, Copenhagen, Sydney, Mexico City, Sao Palo, Buenos Aires, Toronto, Tokyo, and Beijing. Offices will be opening up soon in Mumbai, Moscow, and Istanbul. Facebook is taking a radically different approach – tapping users to do all the hard work for them. They are picking and choosing and asking just a few users to test out their collaborative translation tool. Once the tool is perfected and enough content has been translated, Facebook will offer users the ability to quickly switch the language on the site, per their preference.[2]

Examples of usage[edit]

  • reCAPTCHA is a free CAPTCHA service that helps to digitize books, newspapers and old time radio shows. Over 200 million people have helped digitize at least one word using this system.[3]
  • Wikipedia is a free web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedias’s 14 million articles have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. And almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone. [4]
  • Pepsi launched marketing campaign in early 2007 which allowed consumers to design the look of a Pepsi can. The winners would receive a $10,000 prize, and their artwork would be featured on 500 million Pepsi cans around the United States.[5]


Some critics think that it’s not acceptable that some individuals gain big profit out of crowdsourcing activity. There are also ethical and social aspects around which are subject to wide debates. Some of the best known critics are Douglas Rushkoff, Jimmy Wales.

Some possible pitfalls of crowdsourcing as provided by Wikipedia:

  • Added costs to bring a project to an acceptable conclusion.
  • Increased likelihood that a crowdsourced project will fail due to lack of monetary motivation, too few participants, lower quality of work, lack of personal interest in the project, global language barriers, or difficulty managing a large-scale, crowdsourced project.
  • Below-market wages or no wages at all. Barter agreements are often associated with crowdsourcing.
  • No written contracts, nondisclosure agreements, or employee agreements or agreeable terms with crowdsourced employees.
  • Difficulties maintaining a working relationship with crowdsourced workers throughout the duration of a project.
  • Susceptibility to faulty results caused by targeted, malicious work efforts.


Crowdsourcing has emerged as a popular trend for companies to involve people from outside to get things done and there are plenty of success stories out there. The aspect which affects the outcome of crowdsourcing business model the most is a large and active community. What is also crucial is transparency, so that people would understand why they should participate and what they are working for. Crowdsourcing is fun way of sharing ideas, finding amazing people and getting things done.







Social Media, Viral Marketing and Crowdsourcing - a Short Summary and Analysis[edit]

by Marek Mühlberg

Social Media[edit]

On December 25th 1990 Tim Berners Lee was able to implement the first successful communication between an HTTP client and a server via the Internet. Thus creating the World Wide Web. (Lee 1990) But that was the beginning of Web 1.0. The definition of Web 2.0 (social media) was first mentioned by Darcy DiNucci in her article "Fragmented Future." (DiNucci 1999) DiNucci wrote that: The Web will be understood, not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens. It will still appear on your computer screen, transformed by the video and other dynamic media made possible by the speedy connection technologies now coming down the pike.

The mention of interactivity is what defines social media. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams stated in their book (Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything) that "customers become "prosumers" by cocreating goods and services rather than simply consuming the end product." (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). This is the type of behaviour we have been seeing a lot during the past 5+ years. For example, Facebook in itself is merely an infrastructure, users are the ones that define the environment and it's value by cocreating content and interacting with each-other.

Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein state that social media is "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content" (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010). These Internet based-applications include blogs, social networking sites, learning environments, wikis, photo and video sharing environments, audio and music sharing sites, bookmarking sites and many more. Simple asynchronous interaction mechanisms have been replaced by more complex collaboration based systems in order to create content and avoid delays in the process.

By adding information and generating content, users engage in a reciprocical process of creating knowledge for each-other. This notion brings us to the concept of constructivism. One can agree with McMahon who states that social constructivism emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding (McMahon 1997). This is what happens in Facebook, Friendster, Orkut and many other similar environments, where people cocreate content. Social media can be viewed as a micro-society, nevertheless all conventional rules apply (including peer pressure). People define what they like, they construct their profiles, they mingle and flirt, just like they would in real life. Social media is a reflection of reality.

An extensive list of social media applications is available on:

Viral Marketing[edit]

According to Theresa Howard "the buzzwords viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet." (Howard 2005).

Rory Sutherland, a distiguished marketing specialist hosted a speech on TED titled: Life lessons of an ad man. Sutherland emphasized that creating the illusion of scarcity usually results in greater demand for said products/services. A concept which has been successfully implemented by all major league companies over time. It's not so much about the use of pre-existing social media infrastructures, rather than the fact of engaging people in the process volutarily.

Viral marketing doesn't work by just uploading your commercial. It has to be worth forwarding to one's peers. If something is scarce, it's deemed valuable (e.g. Google Wave accounts) and people start wanting it. If it's funny, it's worth sharing. Few examples of viral marketing include: Google Wave accounts (the need for an invite); Orkut accounts (the need for an invite) and even funny clips like Charlie the unicorn (almost 20 million views on Youtube).

Not only corporations, but also individuals have used viral marketing for their benefit. In 2006 a young man created a website titled for the sole intention of reaching 1 million hits in order to engage in an alternative sexual practice with his girlfriend (


The term "crowdsourcing" was first used by one Jeff Howes in a June 2006 Wired magazine article. On his website Howes defines crowdsourcing as "the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call."

Crowdsourcing practices are all about harnessing the power of the masses. For example, Orkut and Facebook have used crowdsourcing to translate their networks into different languages. Such contributions are made with no financial incentives in mind, depending solely on the good will of the contributors.

Although financial incentives are not usually the case, crowdsourcing can be used with or without a rewarding mechanism. For example, the A Le Coq brewery (located in Estonia) recently held a product design competition with the sole purpose of harnessing the power of the masses to design a new special edition beer can.

In some form or another, consumers have always contributed to the creation of a better product (e.g. product surveys, suggestions for the manufacturer etc). In short, crowdsourcing is a more systematic approach of doing the latter by paying almost nothing for the new ideas.

Some well-known international practices of crowdsourcing include:

- Facebook translations - Orkut translations - uTest (a competition to find software bugs in popular applications, - Finding Emil! (a recent interantional search for a missing boy,

An extensive list of examples can be found at:


Social media, viral marketing and crowdsourcing are all connected by the human factor of co-creating value. Social media encompasses the communication patterns and infrastructures, while viral marketing and crowdsourcing signify the different business practices related to the concept of social media.

Since all of the above concepts and practices are relatively new, there are bound to be some inaccuracies regarding the definitions, confines and future perspectives of these concepts. Although there is some discussion related to these topics, there are very few evidence of in-depth studies regarding social media, viral marketing and crowdsourcing.


1. Tim Berners Lee. (1990). WWW project history. Available: Last accessed 11 December 2009.

2. Darcy DiNucci. (1999). Fragmented Future. Available: Last accessed 11 December 2009.

3. Tapscott, D., Williams, A.D. (2006) Wikinomics: how mass collaboration changes everything, New York: Portfolio.

4. Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein Michael. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media. Business Horizons, Vol. 53. Issue 1, p. 59-68.

5. McMahon M. (1997). Social Constructivism and the World Wide Web - A Paradigm for Learning. Paper presented at the ASCILITE conference. Perth, Australia.

6. Theresa Howard. (2005). 'Viral' advertising spreads through marketing plans. Available: Last accessed 14. December 2009.

7. Rory Sutherland. (2009). Life lessons of an ad man. Available: Last accessed 14. December 2009.

External Links[edit]