Harvard/Yale Measure Strength of Internet Buzz

David Godes and co-author Dina Mayzlin of Yale’s School of Management measured the buzz about new television shows by monitoring conversations about the shows in internet chat rooms.

They compared the amount of discussion about new television shows in the 1999-2000 season with the shows’ Nielsen ratings to discover if there was a correlation between internet buzz and the number of viewers who actually tune in.

They found that buzz can indeed matter.

Buzz plays a major role in entertainment. Motion pictures and broadcasting are two of the categories a 2001 McKinsey report found to be largely driven by buzz. The report also says that 54 percent of sales across industries are affected by buzz or lack thereof.

One might think that only the hippest new things, products and entertainment on the edge, are the subjects of buzz.

Not true.

Any product can be the subject of buzz among a certain group that values information about such products, whether they be movies or pharmaceuticals.

The Godes/Mayzlin study looked at television shows that weren’t necessarily groundbreaking, just a little new and different: "Judging Amy," "Stark Raving Mad," "Once and Again," "Malcolm in the Middle" and "The West Wing" were all high on the buzz meters.

The urge to understand how buzz works is being led by marketers who want to use it to move products.

The McKinsey report explains how buzz can be created by people who are not even target customers of a product--celebrities, for example--and how rationing supplies of a product can be used to create buzz.

Along with entertainment, toys, sporting goods, and fashion are all heavily influenced by word-of-mouth, and the McKinsey report concludes in these areas buzz isn't something that just happens but more often is the result of shrewd marketing.

The problem for marketers is that sometimes word-of-mouth is just that, with the media not taking part in the transfer of information at all.

Godes and Mayzlin’s study may have found a fascinating new way to figure out just what these webs of people are telling each other.

“We found that for television, for anybody, they should look to newsgroups or online communities for information on word-of-mouth,” says Godes.

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