Being Mouthy

Today I want to remind myself that sales and, by extension, advertising, rely on word of mouth referrals. The Internet is the ideal word of mouth (WOM) medium because it is easy to pass on recommendation (or warnings). But the examples that occur to me involve dispersed communities of interest rather than compact communities of locale. Thus I wonder: can small publishers localize WOM to create a tool to woo local advertisers to the Web? A recent Wired News article focused a new trade group, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, provided an overview of the phenomenon in the context of Web media, and related it to kindred concepts like viral marketing.
Another piece in Wired News celebrated the do-yourself campaign to spread Firefox, the freeware browser, citing “users so loyal they devise their own DIY promotion ideas” notably the Funnyfox series of short video clips. More recently, a Media Post article re-emphasized the importance of referrals and suggested there were three levels of reference-makers: “social influentials, who have large networks of connections to other consumers; category influentials, who are well-informed about a certain product category; and brand influentials, who are strong advocates for or against certain brands.” All of this is interesting if you’re a large corporation trying to manage consumer perceptions or a startup trying to create a community of interest around some notion (as in Move On) or product. But can the Web be used to develop word of mouth for local advertisers? Many articles, like this piece from ClickZ or CNet item discuss how difficult it has been to get local advertisers to jump onto the Web. Big Web sites can live without the support of these small, local companies. Small Web publishers may absolutely depend on local advertisers — and the lack of success of the search engines may create an opportunity for publishers and marketers astute enough to make the Web-wide word of mouth magic work in the local context. So what is the sine qua non of the successful viral campaign — creating short, sharp images or thoughts that people want to pass along the item to friends and associates.Word of mouth is about sharing. The Web makes that easy. Small publishers with a local focus merely need look into their communities to find the inside jokes and cute images that help create community — then link some local advertiser to that shared mindset. For example, if the objective is to get the local pet shop to advertise, how about encouraging customers to send in their digital images for a Pooch of the Month contest (be sure to make provisions to scan hard copy prints for customers who take pictures on film; and then there’s the Feline community to consider). If word of mouth is a powerful Web tool, then it should be exceptionally powerful at the local level — and most accessible to small publishers who observe globally then act locally.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media