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Proof that Savvy Social Media Users are the Most Contagious Viral Seeds

This is a guest post by Dan Zarrella, social and viral marketing scientist. He has put together a viral content sharing report and below is an expansion and exploration of some of the data uncovered by that report.

The research I did on viral content sharing shows that frequent users of social web technologies like Twitter, blogs, and social news and networking sites tend to share online content with more people, more often than those that do not. This means that for marketers these users can be a powerful vector for making content go viral.

While this may sound like some what of a “duh” statement, the concept of “influencers” has been much debated recently. While there is data that individuals give more attention to content passed to them from friends as opposed to A-list bloggers, the fact still remains that there are segments of users who spread content more prolifically than the rest. And by their very nature as savvy social media users, these viewers engage in online activity that makes them easy to target.

We know that people who read Digg, Reddit, Propeller and the like tend to have higher viral reach and sharing frequency than those who do not, so make sure your content appears on these sites. The same applies to those who read blogs, and use Twitter. When it comes time to seed your content, be sure to put it in the path of these extra-contagious users.

An interesting detail of this data is that while frequent users of Facebook and web forums share content with more people and more often in some aspects, generally they’re not as virulent as the users of less-mainstream technologies (with the exception of blog readers). This may be due to the fact that users of sites like Twitter and Digg tend to be early adopters, as opposed to the less-geeky Facebook audience; which seems to indicate that geeks share more content online than non-geeks.

When I segmented these high reach and frequency users, I found that they displayed useful preference trends. When compared to average web users they share more content via IM as opposed to email or Facebook messaging, and they share more news and opinion than humor. When these users share content one-to-one with their friends, they prefer blogs and social news sites to mainstream sites, but that aversion to mainstream media disapears when they share in a one-to-many fashion (broadcast sharing like submitting to Digg, blogging and Tweeting). Again as these users are important viral seeding vectors, we should listen to their preferences and give them news or opinion with short, clean links ideal for instant messaging, and lay off the “funny” email chain letters.

This is a small part of the large data presented in the full report I did on the results of my survey, if you want to know more, be sure to read the rest of my viral content sharing report.

Dan Zarrella is a social and viral marketing scientist, you can read his blog here or follow him on Twitter here.


  1. Brett Borders

    Very nice research, Dan. I appreciate you taking a professional approach.

  2. Kara

    Really interesting-I love it when numbers back up statements:-) The point of why frequent users patterns make them more likely to come in contact with viral content is important to consider when targeting an audience.

  3. Nu


    Thanks for this article. its very useful, and I may use the results to motivate my organization to be more forward thinking.

    However, one very popular method of sharing that isn’t explicitly called out in the report is Wikis. I assume that they would fall under “forums” and “how-to and instructional”, though either seems to fall short of invoking wikis in my book. I’ve probably read a dozen wikipedia articles in the last 48 hours.

    did you make a decision (explicitly or otherwise) to exclude wikis, or do you believe the data on them can be teased out in some way?

    I humbly suggest that you include them in any followup research on this topic you do.

    Nus last blog post..How to Eliminate Most Telemarketing Calls by Leveraging Technology & Common Sense

  4. Chris M

    Fantastic research, thank you for taking all this time to research this Dan. I must agree with you, it’s the net savvy people who are always engaged in the social media spheres, so they’re the ones who are eating up all the news which is floating around.

    Chris Ms last blog post..Earth Dance Cape Town is almost here!

  5. ricoflan

    Nice little bit of analysis. Thanks for taking the time to do this and sharing it. I’m clicking through to the full report…


  6. Simon Slade, Doubledot Media

    Very useful research. Thank you for sharing it with us!
    The figures sure do show that a little time and effort marketing to “contagious” users will get your name and business out there. Just make sure you are eventually reaching your target audience in order for it all to be worthwhile.
    Good luck everyone!

    Simon Slade, Doubledot Medias last blog post..1

  7. David Bradley

    Nice charts, looks interesting…but…

    “The research I did on viral content sharing shows that frequent users of social web technologies like Twitter, blogs, and social news and networking sites tend to share online content with more people, more often than those that do not.”

    Conversely, those people who don’t use social media a lot don’t tend to share things online.

    Couldn’t that have been taken as read. Apologies if I’ve missed the point…

    David Bradleys last blog post..How to Get Free Books

  8. v

    I am a total newbie.
    Can you walk me through all this stuff or send me the steps.
    As I believe it must be taking a lot of time and commitment everyday to do this.

  9. video conferencing setup

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  10. Scott Lifts

    Interesting that blogs are one of the most popular sharing sources. Makes sense though since it is so easy now to set them up.

    Scott L.
    .-= Scott Lifts´s last blog ..Air Bag Lift Table =-.

  11. Jeff Bellows

    I agree with Scott’s comment above. Blogs are now so easy to setup and optimize. You can share just about any type of knowledge you have with little or no experience with website knowledge. Amazing how far and fast the internet has come.

    .-= Jeff Bellows´s last blog ..Tilt Table Bellows =-.

  12. Frankle


    Im not sure I agree with Scotts comment. Blogs are not that easy to setup for most people. We have just been doing it so long that it seems easy to us.
    .-= Frankle ´s last blog ..Light Bulb Crusher Machine =-.

  13. spcuk

    It’s a known fact that social media traffic is the most perspective one (thatnks to its viral possibilities), but not the best converting one. Anyway the main question is how to ewhore your project go viral.

  14. Lee

    Maybe social media traffic is the most perspective one.

  15. Vince Williams

    Still a relevant post all these years on, reach is important and social reach, being seen on all the big social sites is needed for any company to rise above the deafening noise out there.

    Great to see the graphics in use to back up the facts and not just to fluff out the article, without them it would have been hard to conceive just how important it is to get your message in front of the right users.

  16. Samantha

    I would agree. Social media is important…but not for everyone. In our business we hired someone to take care of our social media presence online and it had mixed reviews. It seems we had good penetration with our customer base but the social media presence we had did not convert very well. So take caution with your marketing dollars.