Word of Mouse—Consumer Sharing on Steroids!

It used to be that consumers shared opinions about products and services at the water cooler or over the backyard fence. While their word-of-mouth was (and is) valuable, the reach they could achieve in the “old days” was minimal. Today that’s not the case. Although there is still plenty of old-fashioned word-of-mouth taking place in break rooms and backyards around the country, the power of technology has amped up the ability to spread messages—for good and ill! Marketers need to be taking steps to address both sides of this issue.

The Good

Consumer review sites are common these days from Amazon book reviews to Angie’s List and Yelp! While some of these sites, and the posts they contain, have come under fire based on their veracity (or lack thereof), their power to influence still remains. Arguably more important than these managed review sites, though, are the grassroots comments being shared 24/7 by consumers through email, social media sites and communication channels like Google Hangouts and Skype. There’s ample opportunity these days for consumers to hear about the latest and greatest new technology, new toy or new vacation destination spot. This serves marketers well and they should not be hesitant to suggest to their satisfied customers that they do “spread the word” (just as they might have done in days gone by). And, when they see positive comments, it’s certainly okay to point them out by thanking the person who shared and even passing along the comment to others through their own media channels.

There’s a flip side, of course. Not all comments shared are positive.

The Ill

Sometimes consumers are not satisfied. While common wisdom suggests that dissatisfied consumers have always shared their dissatisfaction with others (to a larger degree, even, than their satisfaction), those numbers have grown significantly in the digital age. Research by TARP back in 1999 suggested that dissatisfied customers would tell 10 people about their bad experiences and that those 10 would each tell another 5, resulting in a total of 50 people getting this message. Consider that, today, each of those 10 people might have several hundred connections across various social media channels, and each of those might also have hundreds…and, exponentially, you can see where this is going.

The sad truth is that we are far more likely to share the bad than the good. Consider your own interactions with merchants and marketers. What’s the last great experience you had? How many people did you tell about it (if any)? What’s the last bad experience you had? Did you share? Chances are the answer is “yes.”

For marketers this very viral nature of consumer word of mouth (or word of mouse) doesn’t really mean anything fundamentally different than it ever did. They should still be focused on:

  • Delivering a positive experience
  • Following up effectively if the situation wasn’t positive and making things right
  • Monitoring and responding to feedback — whether positive or negative

The actions are the same — it’s just the scope that’s different. And it’s that change in scope that can be either a good, or a bad thing. The question is: what are you doing about it?

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