Get your customers to spread the word – if you can.

I’ve just finished The Word of Mouth Manual Vol. II (that’s two, not eleven) by Dave Balter. It’s a fascinating read. Balter is the founder of BzzAgent.com, the site that gets people to test out products for companies and spread the word. Remember the last time you couldn’t wait to tell a friend about the new shop you’d found, the great book you’d read, or the wonderful holiday destination you’d discovered? That’s the power of word of mouth. Balter says studies show it’s 1,000 times more powerful than an ad impression. And he’s developed a network of people who are willing to try out new products, distribute them to their friends, and write detailed reports about the whole experience. If you’re an old cynic like me, you might think it’s a perfect opportunity for freeloaders to score some freebies. Well sometimes, they do. But on the whole, the report-writing task is enough to put time-wasters off.

And the word was made fresh

The Word of Mouth Manual Vol.  II is a little over 100 pages, and is packed full of facts, insights and I-didn’t-know-that moments. Best of all, it’s free (link at end). Here were some of the highlights for me. (WOM = word of mouth, by the way):
  • Viral marketing is a 50-yard sprint. WOM is a 26-mile marathon. You can’t predict, control or harness something that goes viral. It happens fast, and comes to an end even faster – that’s the downside. WOM takes longer, but is more reliable, controllable and measurable.
  • Collective shared experience is the key – even if it’s a bad one. Balter cites an advert for HeadOn headache remedy that got people talking because it was so annoying.
  • The average length of a WOM conversation is eight minutes. Compare that with the average advert.
  • 76% of all purchase decisions are impacted by WOM, according to research firm McKinsey.
  • There are 3.4bn WOM conversations a day, of which 2.3bn are about brand.
  • Companies are predicted to spend more on ‘conversational media’ (=WOM) by 2012 than on traditional media.

Your word against theirs

So what are people saying about your brand, your products or your service? And how could you influence that discussion? Yes, you could buzz on over to BzzAgent.com and get them to launch a campaign for you. Or you could do some simple things to get people talking right now:
  • Ask for feedback. Encourage people to give you honest, open responses to your service. Publish the good and the bad.
  • Start a company blog. Or if you have one, make sure you enable comments – and don’t moderate it excessively.
  • Add a forum to your website. Get people talking, and encourage them to share. Have you seen Skype’s forums recently? They’re no-holds-barred and refreshingly frank (check out the toe-curlingly honest post New Skype sucks for proof).
Word of mouth can make or break a product. So what’s it doing to yours? If you start a discussion, you’ll find out. If you don’t, you’ll find out anyway – but it’ll be too late. Better start now. Discover more: