Not all Word of Mouth Marketing is Equal

Not all Word of Mouth Marketing is Equal

While it’s true that “Word-of-Mouth” is a form of marketing we all commonly and instinctively know to be the most effective, efficient and low-cost (even free to some extent), there are plenty of opinions as to how to do it right. So much so that there is not one simple definition that everyone can agree upon that defines what word-of-mouth is, and the forms it takes are not equal in their application or success rate.

The Networking Bandwagon

In recent years as more and more people have jumped in or gotten back to good ol’ fashioned networking, confusion has crept in as online social-media have attempted to brand themselves as word-of-mouth too, arguing the similarities with offline relationship-building. This of course quickly gained credibility, and has drawn some to conclude that it can replace the need for human voices speaking to each other.

Let there be no doubt that even if one understands that there are similarities, they are not created equal and should not be treated as such. There is a time and place for every form of word-of-mouth marketing to be the most successful, even if the messaging conveyed is similar.

Social Media is hard

If you’re like me, you probably struggle with fully understanding social media – or at least how it is or could be making a difference to your business. With so many platforms, and competing ideas for how to get noticed among the clutter, it is no wonder that the most popular topics at any given conference in almost any industry are related to how to use Social Media to build a business. Talk to any Chamber of Commerce about what their members are looking for in the way of education, and they too want to hear about social media. Everyone wants to do it, and believes that it has the power to solve what is lacking in their marketing.

But talk to any Social Media expert (and at Mountaintop University we have several) and they will tell you about how it is not an exact science, there are no guaranteed returns and not every platform is going to be right for your business. They will also tell you that it is more about awareness and engagement than actually closing a sale. Those are hard concepts, and difficult to accept when all you want are the benefits of a something for nothing marketing plan. Some of those same things can be said about offline word-of-mouth marketing too, but there is one key difference.

Feedback is King

In social media you often hear that content is king. Whether it is producing blogs and articles or tweets and images that engage and build relationships with customers, one lives or dies by the quality and quantity of content. But talk with any good networker and they will tell you it is the instant feedback that is king in word-of-mouth. It separates face-to-face word-of-mouth with its online counterpart. A social media campaign or a series of posts might take days or weeks to measure its success at getting through to an intended audience. But a face-to-face networker can tell on the spot whether the message is getting through, whether the audience is engaged, and whether the relationship is being moved forward in some way. And they have the ability to change focus and message in real time if necessary.

Contrast the simplicity of using mankind’s earliest form of sharing knowledge with a still-emerging social media landscape and it is easy to see that before one gets too involved with the latest post for Facebook, they should consider what made face-to-face word-of-mouth the most effective form of marketing in the first place. It was two or more people talking to each other, sharing their stories, building rapport and building a network together. It’s about a two-way street of “how can I help you?”

The Detractors

Over time I have gone back and forth on whether I personally think into social media marketing is even a form of word-of-mouth. I mean, can it really be if there is no mouth involved? True, one can share opinions and testimonials with a broader audience – but word-of-mouth is not necessarily about reaching the broadest audience, it’s about reaching the right audience with the right message.

I am not saying I am on either side at the moment. But I do suggest you take control of the words that are used about your business, and then use every opportunity to share those words with the people you need to know to expand your network. What ultimately makes you successful using word-of-mouth can be applied both online and offline, or with any media in which you choose to engage. Just remember that picking up the phone or chatting over coffee can be the best place to start any social, word-of-mouth campaign.