Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Importance of Word-of-Mouth

Marketing Charts recently published results of a study of word-of-mouth marketing. All marketers know that word-of-mouth is powerful. The PQ Media study shows that formal word-of-mouth marketing is still miniscule compared to other marketing media. It is growing at a rapid rate, and they predict expenditures will exceed $1 billion this year.

Efforts to generate WOM are fairly recent and they have met with mixed results. I think I know why.

A firm that has achieved explosive growth with its WOM program is BzzAgent. What they do is interesting overall, but my focus is on their disclosure policy. They require that Buzz Agents disclose the fact that they are “buzzing” a product, whether it’s in person or in some medium like a blog. The requirement to disclose is absolute.

Doesn’t that limit the effectiveness of the agents? To the surprise of virtually everyone, it doesn’t. Whatever the venue, people just seem to accept the disclosure and move on to information, or product experience, or whatever it is that’s being offered. BzzAgent is much in the news, having recently established a major strategic partnership with the Interpublic Group, but I can’t find any reports of the negative consequences that would come from a revelation of non-disclosure.

Think back to the blot on the record of John Mackey and Whole Foods caused by his dishonest postings. The Wall Street Journal recently reported (subscription required) that all Whole Foods executives have been forbidden to post on any Internet forum not sponsored by the company. That’s too bad, but it’s what you get when you do something wrong and get caught at it.

What started this train of thought was the reminder a few days ago that there are sites on the Internet where you can find people willing to write for pay in Internet forums of all kinds. The ones I’ve looked at don’t seem to have a disclosure requirement. For my money, that’s a bad idea. Period.

Transparency works. Deceit does not.

Word-of-mouth works—if it is honest and transparent.

It’s really hard to hide anything in this always-on world. You will get caught. So build transparency into your social media programs. You and your brand will be better off!
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