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Word-of-Mouth Marketing Boom Is a Gift for the PR Industry

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A new PQ Media study reports spending on word-of-mouth marketing in 2006 was nearly $1 billion, up from $76 million in 2001, and is expected to grow to approximately $3.7 billion by 2011. The findings validate word-of-mouth marketing as an industry and should make PR practitioners take notice.

Evidence of the boom is in the coverage. A search yields 1,786 articles on the subject in the last two years alone. With publishers seeding galleys to book groups, Broadway show promoters using text messages to engage younger audiences, and Martha Stewart launching a blogging network, it seems there’s nothing hotter.

Because word of mouth is about dialogue, it’s a natural fit with PR. It’s centered on listening and participating, which has always been our focus. Many in the paid/controlled media arenas need to shift their mindsets entirely. The implication: PR should take a proactive leadership role in the WOMM movement.

That said, the landscape is changing quickly. The timing on the PQ Media study is interesting since the new year is traditionally about reflecting and planning. As an industry, let’s resolve to:

Re-Frame Our Thinking

What it’s not about: controlling the message, broadcasting out. What it is about: open give and take, sharing the stage.

In July I wrote an op-ed about Whole Foods’ online communications snafu — CEO John Mackey disguised his identity when posting about his company online. The organic grocer was lambasted for Mackey’s actions and recently responded by banning its executives from posting on third-party sites altogether. Many leaders, including former Word of Mouth Marketing Association CEO Andy Sernovitz (disclosure: a former client of ours), question the wisdom of the action and suggest training employees on how to do it correctly instead.

This raises a critical question every organization must answer: how can we set boundaries without squelching an important pipeline of exchange, innovation, and potentially positive publicity? Admittedly it’s tricky, but it must be done in a purposeful, balanced way.

Play the Role of Creator But Also Embrace the Role of Shepherd

Sometimes breakout word of mouth is about creating something out of nothing with an idea that captures the zeitgeist, is well packaged, and is provocative: witness the “4-Hour Work Week” phenomenon. Other times, though, buzz building is more about looking, listening, and further cultivating what’s been planted. When Victoria Beckham was photographed toting Skinny Bitch, the vegan diet guide, smart, aggressive management of the buzz turned it into a bestseller.

Educate Ourselves on Best Practices

We need to commit to sharing case studies early and often. Word of mouth is dynamic, so what worked three months ago is not necessarily going to work three months from now. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association understands this, as do universities integrating WOMM into their curricula.

Find Strong, Ethical Partners

Ethical behavior and authenticity are critical components of any WOMM campaign. Partners must be held to the same standards as internal employees.

Seize the Opportunity

To create effective word-of-mouth campaigns, we need to be creative and tuned in. If we get bogged down in bureaucracy or try to control information in a heavy-handed way, it won’t work. Let’s take the reins on word of mouth, but let’s do so intelligently.

About the Author

Victoria Grantham is the managing director of Rose Communications (
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Popular tags:

 listening  publishing  Blogging  word of mouth  public relations  leadership  industry  evidence  Broadway  spending

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