Word of Mouth

Social media are one example of online word of mouth. Word of mouth (WOM) is a powerful marketing tool, as discussed next.

Forms of Word of Mouth

Contrary to popular opinion, most WOM is not generated online. Research and consulting firm Keller Fay notes that 90 percent occurs offline, specifically 75 percent face to face and 15 percent over the phone. Keller Fay also notes how advertising and WOM are inextricably linked: “WOM has proven to be highly credible and linked to sales; advertising has proven to help spark conversation”21

Viral marketing is a form of online WOM or “word of mouse,” that encourages consumers to pass along company-developed products and services or audio, video, or written information to others online.22 With user-generated content sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Google Video, consumers and advertisers can upload ads and videos to be shared by millions of people.23

Creating Word-of-Mouth Buzz

Although more interesting brands are more likely to be talked about online, whether a brand is seen as novel, exciting, or surprising has little effect on whether it is discussed in face-to-face, oral communications.24 Brands discussed offline are often those that are salient and visible and come easily to mind.25 Research has shown that consumers tend to generate positive WOM themselves and share information about their own positive consumption experiences. They tend to only transmit negative WOM and pass on information they heard about others’ negative consumption experiences.26

It’s worth remembering that much online content is not necessarily naturally shared and does not go viral. One study found that only 4 percent of content “cascaded” to more than one person beyond the initial recipient.27 In deciding whether to contribute to social media, consumers can be motivated by intrinsic factors such as whether they are having fun or learning, but more often they are swayed by extrinisic factors such as social and self-image considerations.28

Companies can help create buzz for their products or services, and media and advertising are not always necessary for it to occur. Procter & Gamble (P&G) has enrolled more than half a million mothers in Vocalpoint, a group built on the premise that certain highly engaged individuals want to learn about products, receive samples and coupons, share their opinions with companies, and, of course, talk up their experiences with others. The Vocalpoint moms have big social networks and generally speak to 25 to 30 other women during the day, compared with an average of five for other moms. A campaign for P&G’s Secret Clinical Strength Deodorant resulted in 42,000 click-throughs to an opt-in coupon redemption and 50,000 strong product reviews on the brand’s Web site.

Ultimately, the success of any viral or WOM buzz campaign depends on the willingness of consumers to talk to other consumers.29 Customer reviews can be especially influential.30 A recent Nielsen survey found that online customer reviews were the second-most trusted source of brand information (after recommendations from friends and family).31 Many review sites are now using a Facebook login that attaches a review posted by someone to his or her Facebook profile. By attaching their reviews to their Facebook pages, users can find out what friends or noteworthy celebrities deem positive or negative about a brand.32

Although many WOM effects are beyond marketers’ control, certain steps can improve the likelihood of starting positive buzz:33

• Identify influential individuals and companies and devote extra effort to them.

Companies can trace online activity to identify more influential users who may function as opinion leaders, such as industry analysts and journalists, selected policy makers, and early adopters.

  • • Supply key people with product samples. Chevrolet gave a free three-day rental of its electric Chevy Volt car to 900 people with a Klout online influence score of more than 50 (out of a possible 100), resulting in 46,000 tweets and more than 20.7 million largely positive blog posts.
  • • Work through community influentials. Ford’s prelaunch “Fiesta Movement” campaign invited 100 young Millennials to drive the Fiesta car for six months. Drivers were chosen based on the size and quality of their online social network as well as a video they submitted about their desire for adventure. The campaign attracted 4.3 million YouTube views, more than 500,000 Flickr views, more than 3 million Twitter impressions, and 50,000 potential customers, 97 percent of whom were not already Ford owners.34
  • • Develop word-of-mouth referral channels to build business. Professionals will often encourage clients to recommend their services.
  • • Provide compelling information that customers want to pass along. Make it easy and desirable for a customer to borrow elements from an e-mail message or blog.

Measuring the Effects of Word of Mouth

Many marketers concentrate on the online effects of WOM given the ease of tracking them through advertising, PR, and digital agencies. Through demographic information or proxies for that information and cookies, firms can monitor when customers blog, comment, post, share, link, upload, friend, stream, write on a wall, or update a profile. “Marketing Insight: Tracking Online Buzz” describes some company efforts in this area.

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