Viral Brand Genome
Online virality is predicated on Homophily, a sociological principle
from the 1950’s that explains our inexorable tendency to link up
Homophily with one another in ways that confirm our core beliefs. Those who
liked Ike, in other words, liked each other.
People who travel in social circles tend to behave similarly. A social circle, also called a
“social graph” can be as innocuous as members of a website or just as simple as
lifetime friends. As examples: Long time friends, Brad and David have the same silver
Land Rover, whereas Corey and Emaleigh, clicked on the same Gilt Group email.
Homophily is especially intriguing where social graphs and ecommerce meet. Can we
someday statistically predict the likelihood that friends will make the same purchase?
Today, we all have friends who are active on online social networks. Eric, for example,
updates his Facebook status three times daily, each time notifying his 450 friends of his
current mood, a thought he had, or something as simple as what he’s eating for lunch.
We also have friends who share more targeted opinions within specific topics. Brian is a
recognized cycling expert, he passes advice to novices constantly though his twitter
feed. Both of these people are influencers. Their immediate social circle is often
persuaded by their opinions and actions.
trueAnthem finds individuals like Eric and Brian, identifies the links to their 200+ friends,
and tracks individual purchase behavior on ecommerce sites.
trueAnthem’s social commerce occurs in four key steps:
1. Establish links between online individuals and create a social map.
2. Determine who the dominant influencers are.
3. Link individuals to shopping and commerce behavior.
4. Leverage influencers to market products to their friends.
“The purpose of this
document is to explain
behind this predictive
mapping, known as
the Viral Brand
David Westendorf, COO
The Social Media Player’s the Lynchpin
For consumers, trueAnthem is simply a way to get free music.
Today there is rampant music piracy; but via the trueAnthem network, the 100+ bands
on trueAnthem give their music away for free, and are paid for it. This is alternative
business model to iTunes, where emerging bands get lost in the overwhelming noise.
Moreover, trueAnthem monetizes a world where 40 billion tracks were downloaded for
free in 2008, and only 4 billion tracks were actually paid for.
While trueAnthem’s music is free of charge, and free from DRM restrictions, largely
consumers are willing to listen to an audio “trueAd” accompanying each free track. A
trueAd is an 8-second endorsement, done by the artist, creatively mentioning the
brand. Therefore, consumer “fans” of a band get a glimpse into the personal lives of the
musicians they adore, with a message sponsored by the brand.
We call this “socially responsible downloading.” 4.5 million people have bought-in to
the trueAnthem concept, making the business viable as it scales long term.
An important leverage point for trueAnthem is that the bands already have online fans.
As a demonstration, Shaolin Temple of Boom (SToB), an Industrial Rock band, has
124,931 “friends” on MySpace and 12,000 on Facebook. This fan base creates an instant
audience for any advertiser that supports this band.
The free music and video assets are ingrained in a dedicated “Social Media Player” for
each band. (Exhibit 1)
This is a Flash-based media player, compatible across over thirty-eight social networking
sites including: MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Orkut, Bebo and dozens of lesser sites. It
is also embeddable for bloggers and savvy HTML programmers. (Exhibit 2)
The Social Media Player begins its life as a “seed” on trueAnthem.com and the band’s
social networking pages. Shaolin Temple of Boom’s (SToB’s) Social Media Player (Exhibit
3) begins its life at www.myspace.com/shaolintempleofboom.
Within hours, SToB’s 124,931 friends are alerted that there is something fresh on the
band’s page. More often than not, the music released with trueAnthem is new material,
and free for the taking.
Of the 124,931 SToB friends, a certain portion will “grab” the Social Media Player and
install it on their own MySpace page. In the SToB example; 4,541 people grabbed the
Social Media Player. These 4,541 fans placed the Social Media Player on their own
pages, for their own friends to see. This action is a visible badge of fandom, a digital
expression similar to bumper stickers or concert t-shirts.
We call this sharing order of fan’s friends, and their friends’-of-friends (FOAF). In one
promotional campaign, the depth of FOAF was eight levels of people deep. Ultimately,
SToB had 45,287 grab installations of the Social Media Player.
The Social Media Player itself is a simple UI (Exhibit 4), with the following options: listen to
audio files, view videos, click banners, download tracks, shop, etc. The orange “Share”
button enhances the person-to-person virality.
The Social Media Player also has the capability of administering a questionnaire (lower
portion of Exhibit 4), which brands can customize for their strategic targeting purposes.
This self-selecting media has proven to be a competitive advantage for advertisers,
especially as they attain higher levels of precision in their message delivery.
Beneath this simple UI is tremendous consumer reporting intelligence… the “prize”
found within the beautifully wrapped present.
Graph Theory Put to Work
When a Social Media Player gets grabbed from a webpage, the MachineID associated
with that initial Social Media Player is written to the database as a ParentID (Exhibit 9)
This is the single most important element in tracking web virality. trueAnthem has filed for
provisional patent protection under Patent Application #61142881: “A method of
reporting data to a party, a method of assembling the data, a method of reformulating
the assembled data, and a method of presenting the reformulated data to the party.”
A relationship is cemented in the database that permanently links a parent to a child.
With the exception of a band’s first Social Media Player that originates on
trueAnthem.com, all consumer end user Social Media Players have a parent.
Through this unique process, we are able to follow content as it travels throughout its
viral life, and monitor it at each stop along the way. A “tree” is constructed within the
database where “parents” beget “children” who beget “grandchildren” etc. Each
node maintains an association with other family nodes. Some nodes are dead-ends,
where individuals grab from parents yet have no children of their own, while others
prolifically spread across multiple generations.
For each node, all down-stream activity below the individual on the tree is rolled-up
and tallied for the individual in a “RollUp.” Though an individual’s Social Media Player
may only be directly responsible for 68 song listens, his children, grandchildren, etc. are
responsible for 94 listens. Therefore, this individual is indirectly responsible for a total of
162 listens. (Exhibit 10)
One element in which advertisers find deep value is the BannerClickRollUp. This is
important because advertisers gain visibility into which individuals influence commerce
behavior (Exhibit 11).
To build the most meaningful tree, we prune all Social Media Player posts which have
never loaded, hence our tree load/post ratio will always be greater than 1.
For all nodes that a PersonId can be associated with, we group these nodes by the
PersonId and the statistics are rolled up. This enables individuals to install more than one
Social Media Player on their pages. Naturally, an individual can be a fan of more than
Exhibit 12 shows the beginning of a tree; a visualization of the data structure. Every
node below is parentally related to the node above it.
This visualization is a hint of the Viral Brand Genome, which is outlined in more detail in
Viral Brand Genome Visualizes Everything
Based on the strong underpinnings of the data structure, we have the ability to sort the
data in multitude of ways. Advertising partners have the ability to hone-in on what they
deem strategically important. In the example below, Wonka valued pure virality and
recognized those individuals who spread the campaign message most. In this case,
installments or “grabs” was the measured variable.
Exhibit 13 charts the 13 most influential individuals out of a program where 2.4 million
uniques engaged with the brand’s message.
If a brand values listens, downloads, etc. this is all possible to track. Increasingly, brands
most strongly value their own criteria. As shown in Exhibit 4 in Section 1, “Do you wear
contacts” is a simple criteria to determine influence, and track appropriately.
In Exhibit 14, we see virality as broken out by the client’s age groupings; 13-15; 16-17
and 18-20. The individuals listed are actual, and are the actual quantity of Social Media
Player (Widget) Installs.
Flash Technology Facilitates Tracking VBG
As the Social Media Player is loaded within a web browser, an applet gets deposited on
the end-user’s computer. This applet installation happens whenever someone
encounters the trueAnthem network: trueanthem.com, Social Media Players on any
web domain, social network, a client’s websites, etc. There is no manual download
Similar to a browser “cookie”, this applet, called “VBGApplet”, provides a conduit for
information to pass between the client’s machine and the server. It resides in the User
Profile settings on the end user’s machine. However, unlike a website-deposited
cookies. Moreover, it doesn’t suffer from the same unfortunate reputation as a
At the instant of install, the VBGApplet pings trueAnthem’s database, and determines
whether the computer is new to trueAnthem or a previously enabled machine. In the
former event, a new database record is created, where each computer is assigned a
sequential Global Unique Identifier, called a “MachineID.”
The following fact will be repeated throughout this document- All end-user Social Media
Player interactions are recorded by the VBGApplet. Every action is captured: song
listens, file downloads, video views, grabs, shares, banner displays, completed
questionnaires, etc. Every time the Social Media Player is loaded with new content, the
VBGApplet checks-in with the server and transmits the new data. The information is
passed to the database (see Section 3.0 below) and added to the MachineID
associated with the action.
For an increasing number of trueAnthem clients, trueAnthem’s Flash tracking tags reside
on key website pages, such as product information and ecommerce pages (Exhibit 5).
These 1-pixel-by-1-pixel trueAnthem Flash tracking tags recognize when a trueAnthem
registered machine is visiting the webpage. Webpage information and MachineID are
passed back to the trueAnthem database, and added to the record associated with
that MachineID. The benefit of this is intelligence for banner clicks, product shopping,
and ecommerce transactions, is that the information is gathered at the individual level.
All of the end-user actions generated through the Social Media Player are deposited
into a core transactional database. The database environment utilizes SQL Server 2005,
using tSQL language. This enables data to be written to the physical database and
extracted from the database for reporting and exporting purposes.
WebOrb de-serializes, or translates, Flash ActionScript client-side code to .Net server-
side code. This allows the Social Media Player to speak to the database; essentially a
facilitator between Adobe and Microsoft. As an added precaution, a log-server
maintains hourly data dumps for failsafe purposes.
All actions associated with a specific MachineID are added to the individual record in
real time. Theoretically, the maximum of fields is unlimited, however, a typical record
has about 120 fields of information.
Some of the Social Media Player’s recorded actions include: band name, songs
listened to, downloads, clicks, video views, banners displayed, email registration, opt-in
data, etc. (Exhibit 6)
The breadth of the individual information gathered creates tremendous cross-
tabulation capabilities. Promotional activity is then combined with shopping and
Below (Exhibit 7) illustrates trueAnthem’s analytic process at a high level. The end-user’s
experience of getting free music and video persuades them pass the player along
virally, while trueAnthem collects analytical data on them.
Information is added to the database at three levels:
1. Individual Information:
a. The Social Media Player interaction (outlined above)
b. Geographic Data: Such as IP address, State, and ZIP code (when
available from a social network’s API)
c. Marketing Information: Answers to marketing questions (Section 1.0), opt-
in information, email address, coupon download and redemption, etc.
2. Commerce Data from client websites (Section 2.5).
a. This data begins when banners are presented and clicked/not clicked.
b. Landing pages, product pages, cart pages, abandonments, etc.
c. For the first time, we can determine “which half of my advertising works.”
3. The person-to-person data
a. Limited to two very important fields, MachineID and ParentMachineID.
(further explained in Section 4.0).
The main trueAnthem transactional database writes nightly to a SQL reporting server
based on criteria set forth in scripted queries. Within these queries are algorithms based
on graph theory.
In the graph theory lexicon, each record is a “node” where it can be plotted in relation
to other nodes.
How Do Brands Take Action?
Identifying individual influencers is an academic exercise unless there is an actionable
plan for the brand.
sCRM is trueAnthem’s answer.
sCRM enables a brand to nurture a relationship over time. Of course not all consumers
are “in-market” at any given point in time. This principle becomes a fallacy within
current direct marketing, which is much more “snapshot” oriented.
trueAnthem’s content, which is constantly refreshed, allows brands to keep their
message in front of the consumer. Thus, enabling the brand’s message to turn into
action throughout the consumer’s consideration and shopping phase. When the
consumer is truly in-market, there is a logical action to take.
trueAnthem recommends cultivating heavy influencers with special attention. In the
Wonka examples above, trueAnthem identified 450 individuals who influenced 2+
Social Media Player Installs. It was simple for Wonka to send a care package of
Whereas chocolate is not a common ecommerce purchase, sCRM makes more sense
for brands with strong direct ecommerce channels.
Currently, trueAnthem and several key clients are building profiling technology to
determine the relationship between content consumption, viral influence, shopping
behavior and actual ecommerce behavior.
The field of social commerce through consumer behavior profiling, is emerging as a
new phase of internet marketing. Previously, the companies that changed the way
internet marketing targeted consumers were companies such as Claritas that
enhanced targeting through clusters; Omniture pioneered web profiling; and Google
increased contextual relevance. The field of social commerce will have similar
Fundamental consumer behavior has been recognized. The information is readily
available. The winner will be the first to market, with the best tools for analysis.