Veiled Viral Marketing:
Disseminating Information on Stigmatized Illnesses
via Social Networking Sites
Derek L. Hansen
Brigham Young University
email@example.com or @shakmatt
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Field Trial Recruitment Methods
• Facebook Ad for women age 13-25 in U.S.***
• University of Maryland, Michigan, & Michigan State
• Fliers & emails to large courses in iSchool, Public Health,
Business School, and Journalism **
• Posters in student union and health center of UMD *
• Add in UMD student newspaper *
• Health Advocacy Groups *
• 1,022 people downloaded application
• 90% women
• Median age = 20
• 40% Single, 34% In a Relationship, 25% Married
• 16% actively looking for Dating or A Relationship
• From 44 states & some international (NY, DC,
Maryland, Pennsylvania, & Michigan had most)
• Veiled Viral Marketing = “trusted” source + veil of
• Fact Check: HPV showed that some users have
interest in sending veiled invitations and those
who receive them have a relatively high
Potential Problems & Solutions
• SPAM (due to indiscriminant friending)
• Allow people to turn off veiled messages
• Invitees can decipher veiled inviter
• Careful checks
• Require invitations to multiple people
• Increased stress for feeling singled out
• Require invitations to multiple people & tell invitee
• Link to reputable sites that are targeted toward wide audience
• Possibility of inappropriate messages from “friends”
• Only allow pointers to authoritative content, not personal messages
• Cleaner implementation
• Understand WHY there is a high acceptance rate
via user studies, interviews, and focus groups
• Try in other domains (e.g., mental health)
• Implementation in directed social networks (e.g.,
Share icons from:http://brandfreeze.com/share-icons/Viral marketing works well because we trust sources that are close to us and they often know what we care about.
A growing number of health educators and promoters are adopting viral marketing techniques. For example, one viral marketing health promotion campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer had women post the color of their bra on as a wall post without any explanation.
Despite the success of some viral marketing campaigns, when promoting health messages about stigmatized illnesses it is not clear that people want to associate themselves with them even if they realize it’s an important message to share. For exampled, STDs and mental health. Who wants to have a Chlamydia ribbon on their Facebook page? Some wouldn’t mind, but others definitely would.Chlamydia, Herpes, Syphillis and The Clap. Courtesy of http://www.giantmicrobes.com/Image of mental health courtesy of: http://civilrightsandwrongs.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/mental-illness-sketch-2.jpg
Anonymous notification systems such as inSPOT allow people to anonymously or non-anonymously notify a partner that they may have an STD.Online communities on stigmatized illnesses are popular, largely because people can hide behind a pseudonym.Anonymity in these cases can be a bit disconcerting because sexual predators can
One potential solution to this is what we call “veiled viral marketing”. It is veiled because those sending messages to their friends are hidden behind a “veil” so that their friends know that the message was sent from one of their friends, but not which one.
Fact Check: HPV is a Facebook Application.Why HPV?It is a stigmatized illnessIt is highly misunderstood, particularly by youthIt has potentially devastating health effects, such as dramatically increasing the likelihood of cervical cancerThe Gardasil HPV vaccine had just been releasedThe target audience is precisely those who are most likely to be Facebook users (e.g., young adults)It includes a short quiz with information associated with the answers, additional resources that take you to high credibility websites, and “pledges” that you can take (though no follow up is conducted).
This is what 2 of the 8 questions look like after answering the question. Quiz questions were developed by a team of experts at Partnership for Prevention and the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland.
Upon completion of the quiz users could choose to invite via facebook (unveiled) or anonymously (veiled) or not at all.
Number of stars indicates how successful the approach was in recruiting people (one star = not successful; three stars = very successful)Our methods likely led to a higher proportion of health advocates and people aware of public health issues than are in the general population.
In a Relationship also includes those who were engaged (3%).
Note: After completing the invitations a popup message suggested that the individual uninstall the application if they wished to remain anonymous. This was required since if one of their friends visited the application’s page on Facebook it could show their friends who also have the app installed.
The low percentage of veiled invite sessions may have been because they learned at this point that it was an email invitation.
Unveiled inviters sent an average of 10 invitations via the Facebook invitation interface.Veiled inviters sent an average of 3 invitations via the email invitation interface.This accounts for why the Unveiled invitations are so much more even though they only started with twice as many people who visited the invitation page.