Word of Mouth has always been a potent form of marketing. Technology is now allowing word of mouth to be broadcast and to scale.
The broadcasting of word of mouth takes several forms. It can be liking or disliking an action or a post. It can be a comment that resonates against a social graph. It can be publishing a tweet, a blog or a video. It can be passing along a positive or negative comment that one comes across. Importantly it is not necessarily initiated or contained in the digital world. It can start offline, move online and then accelerate offline or vice versa.
This scalable broadcast word of mouth now creates a potent new marketing network, which we refer to as “ The Peoples Network”. Engaging with “ The Peoples Network” is significantly different than most other activity marketers have become specialized at.
1. First engage, and then market: Most marketing efforts begin with a campaign, which is then modified as results filter in. Marketers must realize that today technology allows one to listen to what people are saying about your product and services independent of your marketing efforts and deciding how to react to these efforts is predicated on careful listening. How you decide to “engage” is more important than deciding how you “program” a response. Unlike other “networks” like broadcast or publisher networks, The Peoples Network rewards responsiveness, flexibility and customization. It rewards conversation as communication. Conversational marketing is different than Broadcast marketing.
2. It’s what you do, not just what you say: Oddly the most powerful form of conversational marketing is not what you say or how you say it, but what you do and deliver. Positive word of mouth is predicated on convincing folks that you are taking action, delivering a superior product or service or fixing their problem (versus talking about fixing a problem). “ Social Media” is often less about media and advertising, and is more about customer service, product quality and value creation. It is about giving a “gift” whether it is lessening a pain, providing a discount, or offering valuable content among other things. Don’t spend money on telling folks how cool your company is … invest in being cool.
3. Its voices – not just users – who are important: Most marketers focus on heavy and frequent users since this group drives a disproportionate share of profits. Often we confuse heavy influencers with heavy users when the opposite is often as true. There are two types of influencers: Advocates who speak positively about your product and detractors who complain about it. Our research has indicated that detractors are four to six times more likely to speak than an advocate. Thus not only must marketers “arm the advocates” but also “defang the detractors”. The detractor is likely to be a lapsed or non-user. Thus marketing today requires paying great attention to the nonuser and light user as much as to the heavy user. Influential voices are not the same as heavy product and category users.
4. Engaging the Peoples Network is a much bottom up as top down effort: Every marketer is now preparing a central listening post and customer response unit somewhere central and at headquarters. While this is important it is critical to note that a driving force of social is mobile. And mobility is really about place, location and retail. It is about what happens at a restaurant, at a store, at an event. Marketers must train and empower their local and retail efforts to engage, and not just run things from some central command post far away from the action and often too slow in response.
5. Its about people and authenticity rather than technology platforms and buzz: Technology is especially important today. Technology allows for broadcast of word of mouth, and technology is allowing us to better understand and listen to what people are saying and sharing about our brands. It is understandable that many marketers are investing in technology platforms and creating “Facebook” and “Twitter” strategies. But it is like being in the water business and focusing on the plumbing and forgetting to pump in the water. Social media or Conversational marketing is first and foremost about people and about being real. Machines are not real and will not be for some time. Marketers must invest significantly in people. Training people to respond. Training people to think and market differently in this age. Investing in additional people in customer service. Real people, real voices, and real conversations are the only way of being authentic.
6. Earned Media is the most expensive form of media and needs to be integrated with paid media to be impactful: Earned media is not “free”. The only way one gets positive word of mouth is by actually delivering value through products, services or experiences. This is expensive and limited in scale, but the positive word of mouth reflected in posts and comments, called earned media, often have great impact. Those online and offline conversations can then be scaled via “paid media” to reach broad audiences. In fact a majority of times people hear about great “earned media” is through “paid media”.
7. Avoid social media silos: Often the insights you get form social media listening platforms will impact all your marketing efforts – not just your social media efforts. Make sure your social experts work closely with the rest of your marketing team.
8. Vet your experts and get sound advice: It’s astounding that there are so many social media “experts” out there in an area only about five years old. LinkedIn’s Social Media Marketing Group has nearly 94,000 members. Be careful when some “social expert” comes selling you snake oil for free.
This piece will appear in the forthcoming book Listen First! Turning Social Media Conversations into Business Advantage: A Playbook from the Advertising Research Foundation by Stephen D. Rappaport (April 2010 by John Wiley &Sons, and soon available for pre-order). Listen First! Is an updated and expanded edition of The ARF Listening Playbook, originally published in January 2010. For more information contact Steve Rappaport (firstname.lastname@example.org).