Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Ostrich Factor

I had an interesting exchange a few days ago regarding social media and the power of word-of-mouth. I was at my car dealership and one of their senior people was looking at a problem with my car. When he asked what I did for a living we started talking about social media. To set this up right, let me point out that this gent is a vet of the business, has seen a lot of changes and has tons of customer interaction and service experience.

When I mentioned how word-of-mouth has been turbo charged by social media and too many businesses out there aren’t catching on fast enough, his response was one I’ve heard before. While he acknowledged the impact of social media and the reach it provides consumers, he felt that impact was lessened by the fact that most people will take any critical information on these channels with a grain of salt, assuming there are two sides to every story.

This perspective can only be described as the “ostrich syndrome”, but even ostriches don’t actually stick their heads in the sand to evade a threat or something we don’t understand, only we humans do.

The fact is that because of social media and our connected world, word-of-mouth is both your best friend and potentially your fiercest foe.

A survey of 2,800 internet users in 14 countries by InSites Consulting (reported at The Wall), revealed just how much reach word-of-mouth online has today. According to the survey, on average, connected people have about 196 friends each online. The top three countries in terms of the most friends online were Brazil at 360, Portugal at 236 and the USA with 200.

Considering the ripple effect, I’d say there’s some real potential there for someone to exercise influence be it good or bad, regarding their experience with your brand. The weight anyone of these friends might put behind an individual’s opinion really depends on the relationship between them. But overall, who would you be more likely to give credence to?

Last time I checked, generally speaking, corporations didn’t have the best record for credibility with the public. I simply don’t think a corporation stacks up all that well against an average person’s experience if you know them, even just casually.

I do believe that people tend to “average out” negative product reviews on something such as an ecommerce site. I think most of us tend to overlook the extremely negative and the over the top positive reviews and draw more influence from those in the middle. Of course, if the average tone of the reviews is negative, we definitely take that as a bad sign. But of course, the credibility of a critical review of a product or service rises when we know the source, even if that connection is virtual.

So what is this new empowered word-of-mouth via social media going to lead to? Better damage control? Lord, I hope not! How about better products and service right from the start? How about more public scrutiny resulting in improved R&D and Q&A?

Social media and the power it gives word-of-mouth isn’t a threat to be avoided or feared. It’s an opportunity to be embraced and exploited to benefit your customers, your organization and your brand. The worst thing you can do is to stick your head in the sand and rationalize.

What do you think?