Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) is far from a new phenomenon. It's a proven sales tool based on the solid dual premise of trust and friendship that was largely organic in origins. What is new is the fact it's gone digital, social and real-time, and is easier for brands to manipulate than ever before. That's not, however, to presume it's easy to control or doesn't require very careful handling. Get the basics wrong and you can stand back and watch as your reputation crashes and burns in front of your eyes.
The Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey
showed that while just 14 per cent of people trust advertisements, 78 per cent of people trust consumer recommendations. What social media does is catapult these conversations around the world at breakneck speed, reaching millions more people via channels like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter than was ever possible in the broadcast era - providing your content is relevant, compelling and timely, and you've done your homework in first successfully identifying and engaging with those prime influencers. Only then will they grant you the all-essential leverage, by opening the gates to the marketers' paradise -- the hallowed social graph -- and begin spreading the word.
Facebook's power hinges on the power of contagion. It stands to reason that brands want to target people with demographic and psychographic characteristics similar to those that they know already respond to their messages. They also understand the power of the adage: 'birds of a feather flock together'. While this is very effective in tracking and acquiring swathes of new fans, the real motivator behind influencing buying behaviour is insidious contagion.
The discovery of a brand's latest promotion, sale, event or new product can spark a dramatic viral reaction, which starts with one friend, before spreading to other friends and their friends and so on. In the blink of an eye, a shift in buyer behaviour has been brought about through the traditional mechanisms of friendship and trust.
As Microsoft head of marketing, Mitch Mathews, said: "This is the era of customer participation. The old model was 'informing, persuading and reminding', the new model is 'demonstrating, involving and empowering'."
In terms of the WOM dos and don'ts, simply posting dry content to your Facebook page and expecting it to reach your connections through the news feed is not enough. Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm
makes it harder for brands with low fan engagement to reach their audiences with status updates and posts alone, forcing them to provide complementary advertising support. Facebook's Sponsored Stories ad unit - initiated by the consumer, not the brand, and only delivered to the user's friends in their news feed -- is one workable solution. It relays user interactions including page likes, page posts, check-ins, apps used and games played and turn it into promoted content.
For example, a supermarket can pay to have a percentage of all check-ins to its brand featured in a sponsored stories slot in the right-side column. Brand generated content is replaced with the appearance of a user's friends actions, the idea being when users see their friends 'liking' or checking in to that supermarket, it will drive increased trust and increased traffic.
You should also monitor what people are currently saying about you and, whether that is good or bad, respond as a friend or fellow user might, not as a dictatorial authority figure. A major contributor to Barack Obama's successful presidential campaign was his down-to-earth, friendly exchanges via Twitter and YouTube.
Ever inventive, Facebook's latest actions, such as 'read a book', 'watch a movie', and 'listen to a song', are all about improving the scale with which brands can drive contagious reactions, and permit brands to piggyback on real-time consumer actions, driving further engagement, branding and word of mouth across the social network, whether on a Facebook page, .com site or mobile assets.
Such consumer-initiated, enhanced word of mouth ads are the future of advertising across all social media platforms. Shrewd brand advertisers are activating Sponsored Stories in all of their Facebook buys, having proved itself to be an easy and cost-effective tactic that can produce outstanding results. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) may be right in that 90 per cent of all WOM still occurs offline, but the shift is coming and Facebook is the one to watch. Dave Williams is CEO of BLiNQ Media