Word-of-mouth marketing: how it’s connected with social media

Word of mouth marketing and social media marketing Earlier this week I posted a brief on Focus.com, titled “Word-of-Mouth Marketing in the Social Media Age”. It’s basically a relatively long look at the phenomenon of word-of-mouth, what it is, why people engage in it, when it becomes marketing and how it can benefit your business. The brief is supposed to become a relatively easy – IMHO at least – starting point for a more thorough analysis and overview of word-of-mouth marketing. So I would like to ask you to read it and add your thoughts. You can also contact me via my website if you would like to collaborate or share input. 

Don’t worry: this is not just an invitation to comment on the brief. In this post you find quite some takeaways if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing. So, how is word-of-mouth marketing connected with social media?

Word-of-mouth is an old and human phenomenon

Word-of-mouth is not something new. People have always talked about their experiences, emotions, needs and also products, services and brands. With the arrival of interactive and social media the patterns, role and impact of word-of-mouth have changed. These changes affected the ways businesses can leverage the power of word-of-mouth for marketing purposes and, vice versa, the impact of word-of-mouth on businesses. However, the rules of word-of-mouth marketing have changed and evolved and they continue to evolve.

Word-of-mouth marketing: when a human phenomenon goes business

So, word-of-mouth is a natural phenomenon that occurs and is as old as human communication and trade. Period. But when do we talk about word-of-mouth marketing (WOM)?

In the broadest sense, word-of-mouth marketing encompasses among others:

  • Monitoring what is being said for marketing purposes
  • Engaging in brand- and product-related discussions
  • Setting up communication strategies whereby the natural word-of-mouth phenomenon is being “used” and “enhanced”
  • Identifying influencers and people who can be involved in sharing our stories
  • Viral marketing and activities to generate “buzz”  
  • Involving people and their social networks for all possible marketing goals

In practice, most marketers talk about viral marketing, influencer marketing and referrals when thinking word-of-mouth marketing. They see communities, people like you and me, influencers, loyal customers and social network users as extensions of their sales and marketing force. However, this should not be the main focus. The key elements of successful word-of-mouth marketing are about value, relevance, excellent customer service, content and stories.

And listening to stories is just as important as having them shared. Word-of-mouth marketing requires a customer-centric mindset of sharing and focusing on what is valuable for the people and networks we hope to involve. It’s certainly not about paying people to “get the word out” nor about simply “joining the conversation”. It’s about perceived and real value, both for our business and our customer and prospects.

Conversations as such have no business value if they don’t focus on mutual benefits and are not monitored, measured and used to improve the overall customer experience and efficiency of our cross-channel marketing strategy.

Word-of-mouth marketing in a connected world: the link with social media

Word-of-mouth marketing, which encompasses a variety of subcategories, including buzz marketing, blog marketing, viral marketing, referral marketing, influencer marketing, etc., works and integrates well with all channels, media and forms of online marketing, including “more traditional ones” such as email marketing.

Word-of-mouth marketing is very much a connected and cross-channel phenomenon, that also includes offline marketing. This is natural, give the fact that people increasingly use various channels as well and their sharing, information and even buying behavior is very complex and integrated.

Marketers find out every day that combining word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer programs and activities such as customer reviews, social media related WOM activities, referral marketing etc. leverage the global impact of their marketing efforts. The same goes for having an integrated and holistic view on the customer and interactions with him in any case.

People are easier influenced by family members, friends and people that they know and trust. In this social media age they even rely upon the advice of complete strangers! This also applies to pre-purchase advice and brand information.

WOM is and remains an offline matter but it is clear that the rising success and the increasing attention from marketers has a lot to do with the emergence of the digital media, and in particular social media. They are the carriers of people’s voices, brand and product messages and viral marketing efforts. To get “carried”, all you need are the right stories.

Word-of-mouth marketing does not only involve products, brands and companies. Firstly it involves experiences and interactions, including with companies: experiences with businesses and products are talked about. And, whether they are ‘justified’ or not: there is nothing you can do to get around this. Every individual contact with a company, and therefore with every employee of that company, influences brand experience and perception and thus plays an important role in WOM marketing.

Valuable contact moments, customer service excellence and offering a customer-centric experience are more important than ever. Word-of-mouth leads to new customers, shortened sales cycles, improved branding and much more. Implementing a client-oriented business philosophy across all divisions is key.

With the emergence of social media, which gives the stories and opinions of people a faster and larger reach, WOM has become a more complex matter for marketers. Communication is much more fragmented and appears to be more uncontrollable than ever before.

But at the same time the revolution in communication between people and people (businesses are composed of people) has opened many doors for marketers who tactically exploit new media to efficiently use WOM with unseen and exponential results.

On top of this they will also see that WOM can be better influenced, measured and even controlled than before, despite the fact that people and therefore also clients increasingly control communication and the buying process.  

One of the components of a word -of-mouth marketing action is often identifying people with an influential voice on a specific topic, including for example bloggers. It is also important to know who is positive about your brand and could be a potential brand advocate. Through analyzing what happens on social media you can also see which users your should best aim your campaign at and also who has the most influence.
Through ‘social media listening’ you can identify existing fans of your brand whose opinion people seem to trust. You can reach these people as a brand via social media.

In other words: although WOM happens everywhere, there is a clear link between social media and word-of-mouth.

Notice: social media marketing is not a replacement for WOM in the digital age, as some people claim.

Want more? Read the full brief here or contact me (see below).

J-P De Clerck

JP3 J-P De Clerck is a 360 degrees interactive marketing consultant and serial bloggers, specialized in the cross-fertilization of online channels and interactions. His areas of expertise include email marketing, social media marketing, search engine marketing, content marketing, web analytics and conversion optimization. He manages several blogs and online communities regarding various interactive marketing and media topics.

You can connect with him via Twitter or visit his personal blog here.


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