How the internet has revolutionised word of mouth

By: Grant Leboff

Date: 12 March 2014

How the internet has revolutionised word of mouth/Woman telling secrets - pop art retro style{{}}As early as 1967, Professor Johan Arndt from the Colombia Graduate School Of Business identified “word of mouth” as “one of the most important, if not the most important source of information for the consumer”. As time marches on, word of mouth has only become more influential.

The plethora of information online has resulted in “official” marketing messages, produced by companies, being seen as less credible and, therefore, less influential than in any previous age. This, together with the decline of trust in institutions, has meant that we increasingly turn to our colleagues, friends and family for information we trust.

Online conversations

Of course, social proof — in other words what others say and do — has always been one of the most influential factors in the decisions we make. However, the web, together with digital technology and the resulting rise of social platforms, means that today we can access more social proof with greater ease than ever before.

Word of mouth has always happened face-to-face and that is still the case. However, there are now two important factors to consider. Firstly, where the catalyst for word of mouth was often broadcast media such as TV, billboards and adverts; today, a growing catalyst for word of mouth is online media. Secondly, conventional word of mouth and online are merging, as more of us post opinions on social platforms, having conversations online rather than face-to-face.

Social search

Search is going social and the web has become our primary source of information when searching for products and services. The result is that the most important marketers, for any company today, are its engaged community of customers, prospects, partners and suppliers.

The more public support or advocates a company has, the more likely it is to be commercially successful. Rather than broadcast messages as in yesteryear, marketers today are more like facilitators, creating value, fuelling conversations and encouraging people to become involved with the company. In so doing, it is the participants themselves who become the most effective communicators of an organisation’s message.

Social listening

This means businesses have to become masters of particular disciplines. Using social listening tools, a company must learn what its customers and prospects talk about and share. In so doing, it becomes more likely that a company will create content that will be well received and shared by the community it wishes to engage.

Data becomes vitally important as companies track their own content that has the biggest impact and is shared most widely. By obtaining an understanding of what content works, a business can then produce better material on an ongoing basis. Using data to understand the people most likely to share, and those with the greatest influence, means a business can invest extra time and resources nurturing these particular individuals.

Proactive approach

Businesses should also be encouraging advocacy. That is, supporting and providing platforms where customers can leave reviews. In business to business environments, companies that are engaging face-to-face with customers should be asking if they can use positive feedback as a testimonial on LinkedIn or in a tweet.

Word of mouth has always been vital. In the past, many companies have left it to chance hoping that providing a great experience will lead to positive recommendations. Of course, this still happens. However, on its own, it is no longer enough. Businesses now have to be more strategic about garnering word of mouth.

So, what are you doing to encourage advocacy?

Grant LeBoff is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and CEO of the Sticky Marketing Club.