Sunday, December 11, 2005

How Much We Do Word-of-Mouth Marketing As Part of Our Everyday Interactions

What percentage of all our conversations include talk about an organization, brand, product, or service?

Based on my research with college students (18-29 years of age) the answer is about 17.5%, on average. This is a little higher than the 13.5% I found in an earlier study (see "March 2005" results in the chart and below for details).

I arrived at these numbers by asking people to record all of the interactions they have over a 7-day period with people of different relationship types (strangers, acquaintances, friends, best friends, family members, romantic partners or spouses, or co-workers) as well as those interactions that include brand-related talk (what I call a "word-of-mouth episode"). The percentage of all interactions that include a WOM episode is called the E/I ratio. Learn more about the Total Interactions & WOM Episodes Woksheet and definitions of interactions and episodes (link opens PDF file in new window).

The chart above shows the results. "E" stands for WOM episodes, "I" for interactions, "E/I" for Episode to Interaction ratio (see NOTE 1 below), and "N" for the number of participants in each sub-set.

It's not clear why the "March 2005" numbers (collected during weeks in February and March 2005) are lower than the other months, which may suggest seasonal variation. The winter months may explain lower numbers of interactions but it wouldn't explain why there would be a lower percentage of those interactions involving a WOM episode. Another explanation could be the small sample sizes. Although outliers have been removed, a few individuals in each sub-set could skew the results.

If you want to see how your numbers stack up, I encourage you to count the number of your interactions and WOM episodes. Start with a day and see how it goes. If you want to try for the full 7-days feel free to download the TIWOME worksheet. To learn how these numbers compare to those people affiliated with a buzz marketing agency, see my Management Communication Quarterly article (link opens to my download page where you can access a pre-press version of the article).

Thank you to all of the students who have agreed to participate in this research!

NOTE 1: The E/I ratio is the average of all the relationship type x day of week calculations rather than simply the result of dividing the total Es by the total Is. Taking the average of the reltype x dayweek calculations is a more precise metric because it takes into account the variations across different relationship types and days of the week. See my Management Communication Quarterly article for more details.

NOTE 2: Please note that "WOM" is defined here as talk about an organization, brand, product, or service, but WOM can also be understood as a medium of informal, peer-to-peer communication which could be about a range of topics. For example, gossip about other people or work could also be considered WOM, but is not counted in the "WOM Episode" numbers (interactions involving gossip would be included as part of total interactions however).


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Clarification in ClickZ's Story "BzzAgent to Agents: Spill the Beans, Or Else"

Pamela Parker covered BzzAgent's latest change in disclosure policy in a ClickZ article entitled "BzzAgent to Agents: Spill the Beans, Or Else."

I just want to clarify a statement she made in the article:

BzzAgent says its new stance stems from a study conducted by Walter Carl, a professor at Northeastern University. The report found that disclosure created trust, combated a stigma about "stealth" marketing, and increased the depth of product-related discussions. Carl came to his conclusions by examining 270,000 word-of-mouth reports submitted by BzzAgent volunteers.

While BzzAgent's white paper did reference findings from a collaborative study we conducted (details forthcoming in the weeks ahead as I write up the findings for academic publication), it was BzzAgent who conducted their own internal analysis of the 270,000 word-of-mouth reports.

Reference to preliminary findings from our collaborative study are specifically called-out in the white paper. Otherwise, the results stem from BzzAgent's internal research or other third-party sources.

Thanks to Pete Blackshaw's post for raising my awareness of the ClickZ story.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Special Topics Course On Word-of-Mouth, Buzz, and Viral Marketing Communication

I am excited to announce that I will be teaching a special topics course entitled "Word-of-Mouth, Buzz, and Viral Marketing Communication" at Northeastern University in the Department of Communication Studies, first summer session (May and June 2006).

To support the teaching of this course, and learning about WOM, buzz, and viral marketing more generally, I have created a new blog. The "Word-of-Mouth Communication Study" blog will still be my primary blog on WOM, but posts related to that class specifically, and educational efforts regarding WOM, more broadly, will be on the new blog.

Here is the course description:

CMNU914 -- Special Topics in Organizational Communication: Word-of-Mouth, Buzz, and Viral Marketing Communication

Have you ever loved a company, product, or idea so much that you couldn’t wait to tell others about it? Seen a horrible movie lately and told your friends not to go? Tried a new type of food because a friend suggested it? Heard a story about a town that named themselves after a start-up internet company? Passed along an e-mail about a funky chicken you can command at your will? Posted or read an online review to a consumer website? If you answered yes to any of these questions you engaged in word-of-mouth communication and may have also wittingly or unwittingly participated in an organized word-of-mouth, buzz, or viral marketing campaign.

Word-of-mouth, buzz, and viral marketing is a hot topic now as organizations of all kinds – for-profits, not-for-profits, academic institutions, you name it – struggle to break through a mediascape cluttered with advertisements, deal with a growing distrust of corporate-affiliated messages, figure out a consumer market that demands greater control and engagement, and try to understand how new communication technologies amplify peer-to-peer communication and influence, both in the online and offline worlds.

The purpose of this course is to introduce advanced undergraduate students to the word-of-mouth, buzz, and viral marketing industry. Students will learn about the theories and practices that inform this industry through readings of popular press books and academic journal articles, guest lectures from leading industry figures, analysis of existing word-of-mouth, buzz, and viral marketing campaigns, analysis of key companies operating in the word-of-mouth space, and learning industry best practices in designing, executing, and measuring organizationally-facilitated attempts to manage word-of-mouth and consumer generated media.

Specific topics include:

· Terminology issues: distinguishing word-of-mouth, buzz, and viral from other marketing and advertising practices
· Similarities and differences between organic (everyday) and amplified (institutionally-facilitated or sponsored) word-of-mouth.
· Historical overview of academic research on word-of-mouth
· How peer influence works. Are there really a small, select group of people who lead the rest of the population’s opinions? What is the role of relationship networks?
· Tracking online and offline word-of-mouth
· Metrics used to measure word-of-mouth and determine ROI
· How to build principles of effective word-of-mouth into business practices
· Emergence of the word-of-mouth industry associations
· Ethical controversies surrounding the industry: commercialization of chit-chat, undercover and stealth marketing, shilling

Pre-Requisites: Middler-year and above


Monday, December 05, 2005

The Practical Value of Disclosure in Word-of-Mouth Marketing Campaigns

Today BzzAgent has released a white paper (link opens PDF in new window) arguing for the practical value of disclosure in word-of-mouth marketing campaigns.

Their report is based on analysis of more than 270,000 reports filed by their WOM volunteers (BzzAgents) over three years, preliminary findings from our collaborative research project investigating dyadic (two person) or multi-party perspectives on the same WOM episode, and other third-party sources.

In short, BzzAgent concluded that "disclosure increases the validity of WOM interactions without reducing the breadth of campaign reach" (p. 2). More specifically they found that:

- Disclosure does not reduce WOM activity.
- Disclosure creates peer trust.
- Disclosure combats “stealth” stigma.
- Disclosure supports perceived product value.
- Disclosure increases depth and reach of product-related discussions.

I am currently in the process of writing up the results of our collaborative study for academic publication and will be releasing additional findings over the coming weeks and months. I will also be sharing some of these findings in my presentation at WOMMA's WOM Basic Training conference in January 2006.

It should also be noted that the findings from their white paper also led to changes in their disclosure policy. Here's a comment from BzzAgent's PR person that elaborates on their new policy:

BzzAgent also issued a press release today announcing the impact the conclusions in the whitepaper had on the company's business.

Specifically, the positive relationship between agent transparency and campaign performance has inspired us to strengthen our disclosure policy. Here are the changes BzzAgent volunteers can expect to see:

1.) New volunteers will be required to accept a Terms of Service prior to completing their registration.
2.) Agents that complete a report will be given the option of clicking a "disclosure check box" prior to submitting their WOM report. This box verifies that the conversational partner was aware of the agent's participation in the WOM campaign.

Please be sure to disclose. It's the right think to do from an ethical standpoint ... and now we know that it's also vital from a performance standpoint. Agents that do not disclose their affiliation will be required to participate in an online disclosure training -- similar to the BzzAgent "boot camps" -- prior to being offered access to future campaigns.

Keep in mind that the primary benefit to transparency is agent credibility. Revealing you are part of a BzzCampaign contributes to the legitimacy of everything you say and it underscores the validity of your opinions.


Monday, November 28, 2005

WOMMA Basic Training Conference in Orlando

The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) will host their next conference -- Word of Mouth Basic Training -- in Orlando, FL, January 19-20, 2006.

I'll be speaking on Day 1. Here's the title and blurb for the panel, along with my fellow panelists:

Measurement 2: Why People Talk: Consumer Behavior and Word of Mouth

Walter Carl, Professor, Northeastern University
Kerry Stranman, Partner, Chief Strategist, MotiveQuest
David Fletcher, MD MediaLab, Mediaedge:cia UK

Learn how consumers interact in a word of mouth world. Discover what gets them talking, why they get active in discussions -- and why they don’t. Learn how to understand their motivations and how to measure them.

You can get a $100 discount by using the following code when you register: "speakerdeal"

Disclosure: I am an Advisory Board member for WOMMA and received an e-mail asking me to mention the conference on my blog, which I am happy to do :-)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Rumor, Gossip, and WOM: Response to Jeremy Depauw's Query

Jeremy Depauw posted the following query as a comment on my blog:

Am I correct if I think that WoM could also be risky as a rumors creator?

I'm really interrested in the ways organisations are able to make WoM a force instead of a weakness. I have to admit that during my Communication studies, most of the teachers used to focus on the negative way rumors and legends may interact with an organisation réputation and image.

It's really surprising to see that few information sources about Information Management (my resaerch fiel actually), as KM for example, don't consider WoM as you do. Maybe I'm wrong, but as far as I know (not so far by the way)it does not seem to be a major interest as a positive field of improvement in organisation IM.

I would be glad to have your opinion about that.

Thanks anymway.

Here's my response:
Hi Jeremy,

It might be helpful to differentiate rumour, gossip, and WOM.

I define a rumour as unverified information that is spread within and across informal, or emergent, networks. By emergent I mean those networks that are not prescribed by the organization chart but emerge organically. It sometimes takes a formal network or a formal source to authorize the information as legitimate. However, the grapevine communication is often faster, richer, and accurate, more often than not.

Gossip refers to evaluative, moral talk about an absent other. It tends to categorize others as a certain type of person, belonging to social categories such as jerks, studs, saints, etc.

In my research on WOM marketing, I define WOM as informal, evaluative communication about an organization, brand, product, or service, which may or may not include a recommendation. I further differentiate this between institutional (consciously managed by an organization) and everyday WOM. This obviously shows a bias towards "marketing" or "brand"-related content.

All three can be "risky" to the organization depending on how each is managed.

To the rest of your question, I think there IS a lot of interest for WOM and internal information management.

One of the foundational articles on informal, emergent networks is Keith Davis' article in Harvard Business Review from the 1950s ("Management Communication and the Grapevine"). But there are much more recent examples, such as the work of David Krackhardt (see his co-authored article in HBR from 1993 entitled "Informal Networks: The Company"). You may also be interested in the work of Rob Cross for his 2003 book entitled The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations. You may also want to read the work of Noshir Contractor who also is very active in this space.

Hope that helps!


Monday, November 14, 2005

How Much Can You Trust Buzz?

Scott Kirsner wrote an article that appeared in today's Boston Globe entitled "How much can you trust buzz?"

The article contributes to the ongoing discussion about social and ethical concerns surrounding buzz marketing and issues of disclosure. (See my previous posts on this: 10/24/2005 Part 1, 10/24/2005 Part 2, 10/25/2005, 10/28/2005, and 11/4/2005).

This article focuses on BzzAgent, and a book ("Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing") recently authored by its founder and president, Dave Balter.

Apparently a number of volunteers affiliated with the agency, or BzzAgents, posted reviews on Amazon's website about the book, most identifying their affiliation with BzzAgent, but a small few who did not. According to the article, BzzAgent was able to determine that 3 of 4 people who didn't identify their affiliations were indeed part of the BzzAgent network. The article states that BzzAgent considers the activity of these agents "unacceptable" and that these Agents will face some type of disciplinary action.

Kirsner, the article's author, contends that since BzzAgent's business model is built on a word-of-mouth network, "it needs to get more serious about disclosure. It's one thing to ask agents to be honest and open, but BzzAgent would avoid more bad publicity, and do well by its clients, if it gave its disclosure policy some teeth -- kicking agents out of the network when they fail to disclose their connection."

It will be interesting to hear BzzAgent's response to this article. Their policies have developed over the years towards increasing disclosure to the point now that disclosure is required of BzzAgents. They also have a disciplinary program in place, which they call Pest Control.

Kirsner's point goes beyond just BzzAgent, however, because it is calling for something that is not layed out explicitly in WOMMA's Code of Ethics. That code requires disclosure of relationship, opinion, and identity, but does not currently provide guidelines for its member companies on disciplinary behaviors.

Stay tuned to see how these issues develop in the coming weeks and months.

By the way, you can read my review of Grapevine that I sent to Dave Balter, and which he posted on the BzzAgent blog back in September. In the interests of disclosure, I am not a BzzAgent, I have collaborated, and am currently collaborating, with BzzAgent on research projects regarding managed word-of-mouth marketing programs (some of the findings from an earlier project are cited in Grapevine), and I am an Advisory Board member of WOMMA.


Friday, November 11, 2005

What WOM Tells Us About Organizational Decision Making

A reader of my blog recently posted the following comment:

Good morning,

I am a (young)resaercher in the field of Information Management and Mass Media Studies. I have discovered (few days ago)the field of WOM.

My question is: In what way this field could be invovolved in the comprehension of the organisation decision-making process ?

Thank you in advance for your answer.


Jeremy Depauw | Homepage | 11.10.05 - 2:58 am | #

Here's my response (and I invite others to post how they would respond):

Hi Jeremy,

This is an excellent question. I'll just start a response here and invite others to contribute. You ask about how WOM can help us better understand how organizations make decisions (if I captured what you are asking correctly).

I think one way to answer that question is to think of word-of-mouth as a process of consumer-to-consumer communication (or substitute any appropriate term other than consumer, such as user, stakeholder, citizen, constituent, etc.; I'll use stakeholders). Many stakeholders want to be more involved in the decision-making process of organizations, or at the very least, feel "heard" or "listened to" by the organization. Organizations of all flavors should sieze on the opportunity to be responsive to this desire and involve their stakeholders in decisions that affect the stakeholders (such as product design, policies, etc.) and figure out ways to become partners in these conversations among their stakeholders (blogging could be one example, being responsive to any feedback is another, creating educational resources that stakeholders will find relevant to their lives, etc.).

Thus, the organizational decision-making process would potentially become more open and clear to those outside of the organization (what many call transparency), or even to those internal stakeholders as well (such as employees). In this process I think many organizations are realizing the line between internal and external needs to be blurred to facilitate this communication. For example, employees of an organization can often be the organization's best ambassadors.

This is certainly not a comprehensive answer, but just a starting point.

Thanks for your question and I invite you and others to contribute their thoughts!


Monday, November 07, 2005

Measuring WOM: Advocacy Drives Growth in UK Companies

Be sure to check out a study conducted by Paul Marsden and colleagues at the London School of Economics (LSE) on how advocacy drives growth in UK companies (PDF download of report). In their study, they replicated the use of the net promoter score for UK companies as a way of predicting revenue growth (the net promoter score is a measure that indicates how likely people are to recommend to others a brand, product, or service in comparison to those who are neutral or would recommend against the brand; a higher score indicates that more people are spreading positive recommendations than negative recommendations).

Here are some points I found interesting (I've also included some additional comments gleaned from an e-mail conversation with Paul about the findings):

1) The research was able to correlate the net promoter score with revenue growth in the UK companies. This represents an important contribution because it increases confidence in the link between WOM and revenue growth, and the utility of the net promoter score to predict growth in a culture outside of the U.S.

2) The average net promoter score for UK companies was much lower than US companies (3% versus 11%). The study didn't go into details to explain the difference, but speculating, the difference might be explained due to cultural differences in terms of WOM communication practices. For example, Paul brought up the example in US political campaigns where those in the US might be more likely to advocate while those in the UK might be more reserved or express more cynicism or criticism.

3) Negative WOM recommendations (e.g., "Don't buy X"; NWOM), on its own, predicted growth but positive WOM recommendations (PWOM) didn't. These findings are consistent with existing research on social influence that would suggest NWOM has more of an impact than PWOM. Though see some contrary evidence regarding positive and negative WOM from Robert East's work (Kingston University).

4) The study contends that WOM drives growth rather than vice versa. This is a little trickier since the study uses correlational data to infer causation, but the article does provide compelling evidence to support its claim. For example, the net promoter score correlated with growth figures in the same year, but growth from the prior year (2002-2003) didn't correlate with the net promoter score for the following year (from 2003-2004). It seems an even stronger case could be made if we had the growth figures from 2004-2005; the goal would be to see if these numbers are correlated with the net promoter score from the prior year (2003-2004).

5) The LSE researchers hope to extend their research into WOM advocacy as predictors of productivty (the "likelihood that employees would recommend working for their company to friends or colleagues") and share growth (the "likelihood that investors would recommend investing in a company to friends or colleagues"). I'm looking forward to learning more!

By the way, Paul is also an Advisory Board member of WOMMA.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Do You Know of Video Clips about WOM, Buzz, and/or Undercover/Stealth Marketing?

I am compiling a list of video clips about WOM, buzz, and/or undercover/stealth marketing to be used for teaching and illustration purposes. Here are two to get the list started:

1. 60 Minutes segment on "Undercover Marketing" (October 2003)

2. "Triumph of the Shill" segment in The Corporation (2003)

3. "The Merchants of Cool" "Under-the-Radar Marketing", Chapter 2 of Frontline video (2002)

NOTE: These three clips obviously focus on the ethically suspect practices of undercover and stealth marketing, but I'm interested in video clips of all different forms of word-of-mouth marketing.

Please add in ones you know of through a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Psst! How Do You Measure Buzz?

Catharine Taylor of Adweek has written an interesting article on the issue of how to measure word-of-mouth. A subscription is required to read the article though a PDF version can be downloaded at John Moore's Brand Autopsy blog. While you're there be sure to read John's commentary on the article. A key issue he raises is whether we should think of WOM as a marketing method (just another tool in the toolbox) or as part of a larger business practice (by which he means a whole culture that supports engagement with stakeholders, openness and transparency, etc.

A related issue I would have liked to have seen in the Adweek article is not only about measurement but about how to more fully understand WOM. That is, when we hear "measurement" we tend to think of quantitative measures and methods; but equally important is the rich understanding that can be gained from more qualitative approaches such as conversational geography focus groups and relational ethnography (a blend of participant-observation, interviewing, and conversation analysis).

Friday, October 28, 2005

Faked Out By BK?

Seth Stevenson writes a nice piece where he wonders if he's been faked out by an e-mail he received for the Burger King "King" Mask.

Well worth a read, but I'd make a similar comment as I did in an earlier post about use of terminology. Here's a quote from Seth's article:

But let's assume for a moment that Crispin [the agency responsible for the BK "King" account] used "buzz marketing" to fake me out and get my attention (as I'm convinced they did). Is there anything wrong with that?

Should Seth have written "undercover marketing" to imply the practice might be deceptive rather than "buzz marketing"?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Campus Ambassador Programs, Buzz Marketing, and Disclosure

I was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in the Boston Globe yesterday about the use of campus ambassador programs on university campuses. The author, Sarah Schweitzer, writes about how major companies like Microsoft, JetBlue Airways, The Cartoon Network, and Victoria's Secret are attemtpting to reach the "elusive" college market through such word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer programs.

With such programs, Schweitzer writes, niche firms recruit students from a particular university so that they can market products and services on behalf of the company (and sometimes companies may directly recuit and train students themselves). An example she mentions in the article concerns Microsoft's OneNote software program.

The issue of disclosure of affiliation came up again (see my two prior posts, Part 1 and Part 2). The students Schweitzer mentioned said they didn't disclose their identities, but they were wearing "logo-bearing t-shirts," in the case of Microsoft. She also writes that...

"Campus ambassadors generally are not required to state their corporate affiliation, but most companies instruct them not to try to obscure it."

The article went on to say...
"Students they approached said, in interviews after listening to the pitch, they did not understand the students' relationship with Microsoft, but that it mattered little."

In my own class discussions I find that a lot of students view this type of P2P and WOM marketing as acceptable and just "the way things are done now." Some argue the way things "have to be done now." A much smaller number criticize the practice or see it as invasive.

It's an interesting article that's worth checking out. One critique I have is that Schweitzer writes that buzz marketing is when "people talk up a product to friends and family without necessarily revealing corporate affiliation." Should people who write and talk about buzz marketing be encouraged to use the term "undercover marketing" instead when the corporate affiliation isn't disclosed? Or "shill" marketing when they received monetary compensation for their activities?


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Monday, October 24, 2005

On Affiliation with a Buzz Marketing Agency, Disclosure, and Shopping in a Supermarket -- Part 2

This post picks up with the second part of Matt Galloway's comment to my earlier post regarding what policies buzz marketing agencies should have regarding the issue of disclosure:

What we can (and should) expect is for Tremors NOT to discourage disclosure - either directly or indirectly. Since everyone working in the area of WOMM says you can't control the message, I think it is an unrealistic for us to expect agecies to be able to when it comes to disclosure.

So, "You never tell a panelist what to say." is not a cop out AS LONG AS "You ALSO never tell a panelist what NOT to say."

Well said, and I wonder if we're also focusing too much on the actions of the panelist in our discussion.

That is, what if the guiding principle was less on what the panelist does or does not do, and more on the sense-making of the "conversational partner"? The key criterion would be to make sure that the people with whom the panelist is talking do not feel misled, deceived, or manipulated, at the moment of the WOM episode or afterwards. I add the last part "at the moment of the WOM episode or afterwards" because conversational partners might not feel misled if they don't know about the institutional affiliation, but may feel "tricked" after learning about it (see the 60 Minutes episode on "Undercover Marketing" for examples of some people feeling deceived after being "shilled").

Of course, the conversational participant would have to be aware that the person is participating in a buzz marketing campaign; explicit, verbal disclosure is just one way of doing this.

But one might counter: "If you can't control what a panelist will or won't say, how can an agency control what a conversational partner will think or feel?" Yep, that's right, but since you can't control either one (you can seek to influence both), you might as well aim for which is the most important, and I would argue it's how the conversational partner walks away from the WOM episode. The agency's responsibility in all this might be, for example, to host discussions among its panelists/agents/etc. and allow them to come up with ways to ensure that the conversational participants walk away from the episode engaged but without being misled. I think any principled buzz marketing agency would want to adopt the same criterion.


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

On Affiliation with a Buzz Marketing Agency, Disclosure, and Shopping in a Supermarket -- Part 1

John Cass and Matt Galloway made two very interesting comments to my blog post about the issue of buzz marketing and disclosure, especially in light of the Commercial Alert letter to the FTC seeking disclosure requirements for WOM marketing firms like P&G's Tremor. John made the following comment:

I was thinking the P & G example is a little bit like going to a supermarket where someone asks you to test a product, say a dip or a new type of microwave sandwich. If I ate the product, liked it, bought it and went home and told all my friends. Commercial alert is suggesting the company would ask me to inform everyone I spoke with about the new product that I received a free product at the supermarket. Somehow I don't think that type of product testing and promotion is against the FTC rules. What do you think?

Thanks for the comment John! I agree with you that I don't think the the supermarket situation would violate FTC rules about deceptive advertising. Why? The identities and affiliations of all the parties are clear and transparent, and thus the potential for being misled about the affiliation is low. The customer in the store knows that the person giving you the sample is employed by the store (or, in some cases, is from the company making the product) and the purpose of the interaction is to provide the customer with a product sample.

But what you're writing about is whether the person who tries the product at the supermarket through a free sample marketing campaign needs to tell the other person how they learned about it. This is different. In the supermarket example the person talking about the product DOESN'T HAVE an institutional affiliation with the store or with the company making the product. With buzz marketing, the person telling others about the product DOES HAVE an institutional affiliation.

And not only is there an institutional affiliation in buzz marketing, but this affiliation is not marked by the context cues (meaning no one is in uniform, one may not be in a "commercial" setting, etc.). In fact, the context cues often suggest an "everyday" conversation (the scare quotes are used to mark the fact that I'm using the term "everyday" as a contrast term to "institutional" talk where either the product/service/brand being discussed is part of an organized WOM marketing campaign, and/or the person doing the talking is affiliated with a buzz marketing agency). The/an explicit purpose of a buzz marketing campaign is to stimulate discussion about the brand/product/service and the person talking about the product has made a conscious alignment and affiliation with that process. The context cues of everyday interactions would not usually suggest participation in such a process. So with buzz marketing campaigns there is greater opportunity for people to feel like they are being misled (even though there may be no intention to mislead).

Thus, I don't think the free-sample-in-the-supermarket example matches the situation for buzz marketing and disclosure of identity.

Now to the first part of Matt's posting (thank you for your comment as well!). Matt writes:

I've been thinking a lot about disclosure in the BzzAgent/Tremors WOMM model. I'm currently reading Grapevine and I've heard Dave Balter speak on this and I've read some of you stuff from previous WOMMA events. Dave says (usuallu citing some study conducted by you) that the effectiveness of a BzzAgent isn't effect by the disclosure of their association with a WOMM program . This makes sense to me as I think it is more about the trust of the listener and the tone, context, sincerety, etc. of the WOM Unit.

So the question from this first part of Matt's comment is "does it matter?" The "it" meaning how a person learned of a product or service. The free-sample-at-the-supermarket analogy is a useful starting point here: For example, if someone tells me about a great new food item it doesn't matter to me whether that person bought it on their own, tried it, and told me, or if that person got the sample in a supermarket, tried it, and told me. I imagine many people would agree that it doesn't matter in the supermarket scenario.

If we apply this to buzz marketing, does it matter if people learned about something from a participant in a buzz marketing campaign? Would that person's recommendation count just as much? This was a question asked by GfK/NOP World. According to their study, 76% of the people surveyed said it didn't matter to them if a product was recommended as part of a buzz marketing campaign as long as the person, who they knew and trusted, thought the product was good. 19% of the people surveyed said they wouldn't trust the recommendation because they got the product for free. The take-away here is that some people seem to think that receiving the free sample affects the credibility of the recommendation (I wonder if this would also apply to the supermarket situation; this wasn't asked in their survey), while most others either don't worry about the fact the recommendation results from a buzz marketing campaign or feel that any bias is outweighed by the existing level of familiarity and trust they have in the person.

So, based on this survey, participation in a buzz marketing campaign doesn't seem to matter to the credibility of a recommendation. In the near future I'll be reporting data from a study that looks at the effects of institutional affiliation and participation in a buzz marketing campaign in much more detail.

Matt had some additional comments -- about what a buzz marketing agency's policy should be about the issue of disclosure -- which I'll take up in a subsequent post...


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Is Tremor’s Justification – “You Never Tell A Panelist What To Say” – a Cop Out?

USA Today published a story entitled “P&G ‘Buzz Marketing’ Unit Hit With Complaint” (written by Bruce Horowitz). Apparently, a consumer advocacy group – Commercial Alert – recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that charges Tremor targets teens with deceptive advertising.

According to the article, the executive director of Commercial Alert, Gary Ruskin, suggests states that buzz marketing agencies are at fault for “perpetuating large-scale deception upon consumers” when people recruited to promote products via WOM don’t disclose their affiliation with the marketing agency.

Steve Knox, Tremor’s CEO, defended his company’s practices stating that their “panelists” are not paid cash but instead receive free samples or other kinds of materials. He is also quoted as saying “If we’ve done our work correctly, they talk to their friends about it” but Tremor does not tell their members to say they are part of Tremor “because you never tell a (panelist) what to say.”


Of course you shouldn’t tell a panelist what to say or how to say it. People should be sharing their honest opinions (one of those lessons we learned in kindergarten). However, if this quotation is a fair representation of Tremor’s position, it seems like it’s a lame justification for not having panelists be open about their affiliation. Further, their position opens up the perception that Tremor engages in stealth or undercover marketing (see WOMMA’s stance on stealth marketing, recently released in light of news stories about the legality and ethics of WOM and buzz marketing, but consistent with the association’s position from the beginning).

Buzz marketing and firm-facilitated WOM doesn’t need to be undercover to be effective. I am developing a theory of institutional WOM that contends that WOM encouraged by an organization (aka, “amplified” WOM) can be just as effective as “organic” WOM when two conditions are present: 1) sincerity, and 2) relevancy. That is, conversational participants need to trust that the other person is sincere and has their best interests at heart, and also that the information provided is relevant to their daily life and the conversational context (meaning that the WOM is talked about at relevant point in the conversation and in the history of their relationship). I am currently collecting data that will provide evidence for or against this theory. Stay tuned for results!

Two final comments:

1) Be sure to visit Commercial Alert’s website to read the comments posted regarding their complaint filed against P&G. This provides some fascinating insight into arguments for and against buzz marketing in a highly commercialized society.

2) The USA Today article mentions that “several smaller buzz marketing specialists” were also named in the complaint. I invite someone to follow-up with this to see what other companies were named. Please post anything you find in a comment or track back :-)

Content Added (10/20/2005, 7 pm EST):

Commercial Alert's Letter to the FTC The "several smaller buzz marketing specialists" are named in this PDF version of the letter. I think the spirit of the Commercial Alert complaint -- that people who voluntarily affiliate with buzz marketing agencies, or are paid by companies or agencies, should not mislead the people with whom they talk -- is sound and consistent with the WOMMA ethics policy. However their complaint unfairly lumps together companies that abide by the WOMMA ethics code with those that do not.

WOMMA's "WOM 101" Page distinguishing different kinds of word-of-mouth marketing (the Commercial Alert letter conflates "buzz marketing" with "guerrilla" and "stealth" marketing and fails to distinguish it from "shill" marketing).


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Public-Private Intersections in New Media: Is WOM A New Medium?

I attended an interesting panel on Wednesday at Northeastern University. The panel was entitled “Public-Private Intersections in New Media” and hosted some leading academic thinkers talking about the implications of “new media” on our lives.

Craig Robertson pointed out that the media that get defined as “new media” are constantly shifting (the printing press, the telephone, the computer were all “new media” at one point). But he noted how the discourse of new media is actually quite old and can be situated socially, culturally, and historically. The question Craig wants to ask is how the discourse about “new media” is being used? Whose interests are being served? What’s up for grabs? Read Craig’s short essay on a history of new media.

Dan Kennedy argued that new media is not just about the internet, podcasting, and blogs (though it is), but also about how existing media are being used in new ways, such as under-the-radar direct mail targeting, targeted satellite TV (like, and DVDs.

This led me to think if we should include word-of-mouth on a “new media” panel? Interpersonal, face-to-face communication is one of the oldest media forms around but the awareness of WOM as a medium for companies, governments, and celebrity brands to pursue their ends has grown considerably in the past few years, spawning its own industry and associations (see for example, Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association and Viral and Buzz Marketing Association).

A telling point was made at the first International WOM Marketing Conference recently in Hamburg (read my blog posts about the event). The slide was entitled “People Are Media” which suggests how interpersonal conversations and connections (whether transacted offline or online) are being seen as a new media form in the same way we think of more “traditional” mass-media forms. The slide was part of a presentation by Fergus Hampton of the market research firm, Millward Brown Precis.

Fergus’ point about “people are media” also suggests that everyone is, or can now be, a journalist, advertiser, editor and publisher. This relates to a point made by one of the New Media panelists, Axel Bruns, about how we need a new language to characterize these developments. For example, he discussed the term “produsage” to discuss how people are both producing and using content. Axel contends that this term breaks down the tradition consumer/producer dichotomy. It also provides a nice parallel to a widely-used industry phrase – “consumer-generated media” (coined and popularized by Intelliseek).

In short, it’s a great panel and worth checking out. The panel was chaired by David Marshall and also included a student panelist, Meagan Redman (unfortunately Meagan did not get her own web space on the panel website but she made some excellent points – including the point that we need to consider that what is “new” for many is not new for all, especially in those less affluent societies where many of the technologies discussed on the panel don’t yet exist – and held her own quite well on a panel of PhDs).

Friday, October 07, 2005

And That's A Wrap from Hamburg!

That's it! Nils Andres has just wrapped up the conference. Everyone is engaging in their leave-taking behaviors (as we communication people like to say).

Stay tuned for another post in the next couple days about the effectiveness of viral marketing campaigns like the subservient chicken campaign. I've had some great conversations with Steven Erich from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the company that developed the campaign.

I hope readers found these postings helpful. This is my first time blogging at a conference like this. I'd love to hear your feedback and constructive criticism (or even nasty, harsh complaints!).

Why Does Negative WOM on the Internet Hurt? A Case of Consumer Product Reviews

Shahana Sen from Fairleigh Dickinson University is talking about "Why does negative WOM on the internet hurt?: A case of consumer product reviews."

Shahana cites research that shows price is not the key determinant for why people shop online. Instead it's the site experience (which includes whether or not you have register in order to purchase, if it was difficult/easy to compare items, etc.).

Shahana asks: "Since eWOM is from stangers, unlike traditional WOM, do consumers believe and rely on these reviews?" [NOTE: Sometimes WOM can take place between strangers, esp. in point-of-sale situations].

Also, is there a negativity effect? "Are negative product reviews found more credible and more useful than positive reviews?"

For utilitarian products (computer monitors, printers, manuals, PDAs, etc.), people rate negative reviews as more useful more than not useful (61% v. 39%).

For hedonic products (pleasure-providing products: movies, music, etc.), negative reivews are rated useful less often than not useful (28% v. 72%).

She then looked at two different kinds of books -- a computer manual v. a vacation book -- with a controlled experimental design. She found the same results as above.

Readers were more likely to trust the motives of negative reviewers for utilitarian products, but for hedonic prodcuces, readers trusted more positive reviewers.

So, what explains this difference?

Hyptheses: 1) Heterogeneity of tastes (everyone has different tastes for things like movies, restaurants, etc.), and 2) motivated reasoning bias (when looking forward to consuming a hedonic product you are already in an interested state; thus you're pre-disposed towards liking it and thus when you read a negative review you might be more likely to disregard it because you want to support the state that you're already in when seeking the consumption experience).

What's the take-away for marketers?

Websites typically attract more positive than negative reviews. But when you do have negative reviews on your site, don't worry about it, at least for hedonic products. Why? Because readers are likely to discount these negative reviews for hedonic products. Plus, negative reviews on the web site give the site an overall credibility. Of course, you don't want only negative reviews!

Interesting question during Q&A: Are people more likely to seek out reviews for hedonistic v. utilitarian products?

Nice presentation Shahana :-)

Podcasting, Part 2

Bill Flitter from Pheedo is doing his "Part 2" presentation about podcasting.

One of the benefits of podcasting is the time-shifting of information (meaning it's "on demand" and content you can take with you when you go and where you go).

Pheedo does integrated marketing campaigns across RSS, blogs, and podcasts (so podcasts are just one piece of a larger pie).

One case study Bill mentioned is putting product placement in a podcast. The key point that it made the promotion so effective was that is very relevant to the podcaster's audience. The podcaster invited his listeners to become viewers into his show which was ideal because the company wanting advertising has a very visual product that meshed well with what the podcaster was doing for that show: GoToMeeting

Content-added (later Friday night): It seems that this "monetization" of podcasting is similar in themes to traditional media but just with the new medium of podcasting. One difference may be that the audiences, at least for the time being, are smaller and more personalized than traditional "mass media" and so there's more of a sense of personal endorsement and recommendation from the podcast creator. I wonder how long this perception will last...

How To Catch A Murderer, and Learn A Lot About Naturally-Occurring WOM Communities In the Process

Suresh Sood from the University of Technology, Sydney explains how to identify the natural WOM communities in moblie (3G) networks. Specifically, how do you identify the key people in these communities? (For example, if there's a crisis and a message needs to be sent out to key people right away, how would you identify who those well-connected people are?).

They looked at a visualization of A-B video calling data (A = dialing numbers; B = called numbers). Looking at nodes (in this case, callers and called) and links (the calls between A & B) and they call it "train of thought analysis". This method is often used in intelligence and criminal investigations (it was used to catch a murderer in Australia and is now being used for commercial purposes). It is also called "solving the backward problem". Solving the forward problem is creating a hypothesis and testing it. But to solve the backward problem you have the data already and then are working backwards to determine what the networks are.

Suresh explains how it's "resource intensive" meaning that it's expensive but it can also save a company a lot of money. There are also privacy concerns when using database information to identify the nodes.

Suresh seems to be talking about using the tools of social network analysis for commercial marketing purposes.

Online Strikes Back!

So far, presenters have gone back and forth about the importance of studying online VERSUS offline conversations, as well as studying both online AND offline conversations. The last three presentations have been about how to track and understand online conversations. We heard from firms that track online conversations for companies. Right now we're hearing from Kristine de Valck from HEC School of Management, Paris.

She asked what do people online in virtual communities talk about and how do they try to influence each other? Examples of VCs include eBay, iVillage,,, or corporate-sponsored ones like Heineken).

VCs were defined as "Affiliative groups whose online interactions are based upon a shared enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, a specific consumption activity" [missed citation for quote].

She provided some background about "Netspionage" -- monitoring the internet conversations for information.

Kristine does a nice job of discussing the pros and cons of online monitoring of conversations. The pros include it's naturally-occuring interaction, it's unobtrusive, publicly available, archived, inexpensive, etc. The drawbacks are that there is so much information so how does one begin. Durther, some claim that only about 10% of the interaction is truly informative for marketers. And researchers still have to deal with issues of reliability, validity, and generalizability.

She has a nice slide on different Methods of analysis: Web Mining, Signal Detection, Web Page Analysis,
Discourse Analysis, and Netnography (what she'll discuss; online ethnography). The foundational article for netnography is Netnography -- Robert V. Kozinets (2002) in Journal of Marketing Research, 39 (February), 61-72.

Great slide on the ethics of monitoring issues.

She conducted a case study of a Dutch virtual community about culinary matters.

One of the ways they attempt to influence one another is to call on authority. They also provide stories about deviating behavior. Other activities she describes include contextualizing as a way to explain their behavior and confessing secret passions (ironic given the how this information is publicly available!).

Her closing thought is that netnography is immersive, interesting, insightful, incomparable, and indispensable.

Counter-Intuitive Findings About Positive & Negative WOM

Robert East of Kingston University (England) wanted to challenge two traditional assumptions about WOM:

1) Negative WOM (NWOM) is more frequent than positive WOM (PWOM). FALSE
2) NWOM has more impact than PWOM. FALSE

Why is PWOM more frequent than NWOM? Robert claims PWOM episodes are more frequent (3x more than NWOM) because there are 3x as many opportunities to give it (people are more likely to have satisfactory rather than dissatisfying experiences). Also, many people lack negative examples that they could provide (for example, how many people could recommend against a particular dentist when it's more likely you could recommend FOR a dentist).

Does NWOM have more impact than PWOM? Robert says we might think this because NWOM is rarer than PWOM and so we might think rare info is more surprising and informative. But based on survey results, PWOM was reported as having A LITTLE MORE IMPACT than NWOM (but the difference is not statistically significant; 64% reported PWOM impacted their decision on different categories versus 55% claiming the same effect of NWOM).

The most interesting finding, according to Robert, is that PWOM follows market share. For example, Nokia has 40% MS for mobile phones and 40% PWOM. But they also have 24% NWOM. Sony-Ericsson has 24% MS with 21% PWOM and 22% NWOM. NWOM for mobiles relates to market share but is flattened. Check out his presentation for more details.

Some Other Notables from Day 1 in Hamburg

There were some other notable presentations, beyond the ones I've already mentioned, from Day 1 of the Hamburg conference.

Fergus Hampton from Millward Brown had a very interesting talk. Here are some highlights:

- The most successful example of WOM is religion, in its various forms.
- People are media. Everyone is (or can be) a journalist, advertiser, editor and publisher.
- He is interested in why so many people trust customer opinions or reviews on websites (one study cited 61% of people trust these sources as honest and fair.
- One helpful distinction between offline and online WOM is that offline is more powerful (in the sense of higher trust and higher impact to the conversation) while online is more versatile (there will be an expert on something somewhere online). [Online also has more potential reach, esp. in a shorter amount of time. Some would argue that influencers for certain brands and categories are likely to be online and thus their WOM can be more easily tracked].
- Some key take-away points about what engaging WOM means: 1) relinquishing control, 2) recognizing consumers as brand participants, 3) transparent and honest behavior, and 4) abandoning marketing speak (or what Lois Kelly called the "doglish" problem).

Strawberry Frog was very interesting. Their tagline is that they bring "the discipline of brand marketing and the populist power of grassroots movements". The most interesting thing I took away is their sequence for planning communications: 1) start with a powerful idea that can define a culture and is on the rise; 2) create a set of actions or events or communities to draw people in to this idea; 3) use mass communications to amplify the message for broader reach; 4) active WOM with PR and placement of content; 5) create media that people can own in both online and offline formats so people can keep talking; 6) Use direct marketing and promotions for those who are ready to buy. Thus, the point is do the grassroots work first, then go mainstream.

Two other agencies -- Fallon and Crispin Porter + Bogusky -- also spoke. They showed some impressive and entertaining advertisements they used to generate WOM. Both spoke about the need to create content that engages audiences. A high point of Fallon's talk was an ad for a Sony TV set. Crispin Porter + Bogusky showed a lot of their work with the Burger King campaign and how they sequence it (subservient chicken and "The King"). In both instances I thought how cool and innovative the ad agency was to come up with the ad but less about the products or companies the ads were about.

Be sure to check out Scott Foe (Games Group of Nokia) and Alexander Macris' (CEO of Themis Group) presentation on how to achieve WOM in the gaming industry. They have a proven approach that starts with a great product, then targets key influencers in the gaming industry (what they called "Superconductors"), creating ways for them to engage with one another, as well as creating ways for their fan bases to be involved as well. Their idea is to get the hard-core fans involved through the influencers, and then use traditional media to get mainstream audiences interested in the games (esp. print and web-based trade publications that then move to more mainstream magazines). I wondered how they could also use WOM strategies to move the games from the hard-core to the mainstream as well.

Learned a bit more about podcasting from Bill Flitter from Pheedo, Inc. Looking forward to his Part Two later today.

Why Aren't There Many German Companies at the First International WOM Marketing Conference in Hamburg?

There are just a handful of German companies, or companies who have offices in Germany, here at this first event in their own backyard (there are a couple from the beverage industry and shipping services). I've asked around about this and here is what I learned...

Apparently some companies experimented with viral and buzz marketing during the internet boom, got burned, and then soured to the idea. These firms also seem to equate stimulating buzz as the only form of WOM (as distinct from a philosophy of consumer generation, engagement, and involvement with an associated set of strategies and tools to manage and measure WOM).

Rather than being interested in WOM it seems that some German companies may have been more interested in brand extension and management (for example, when a brand has a new model and wanting to make sure consumers see it as an innovation rather than just a copy of the old model).

I don't have much more detail about what the bad experiences were in earlier years, or what German companies were invited and didn't come. And of course there could be a bunch of other reasons, but in the end, it seems like a missed opportunity.

Addendum (14:30 Hamburg time): Others reasons might include that the companies are just used to what they're doing (for example, buying media for a 30-second TV spot) and the situation isn't perceived as bad enough to think in new, innovative ways.

Positive v. Negative WOM: An Exploratory Study

Jill Sweeney from University of Western Australia conducted a study to learn about similarities and differences between positive and negative WOM. They had six focus groups with 54 different participants providing positive and negative experiences with WOM (critical incident technique).

Here's some of her findings:

- Positive WOM was more associated with cognitions, whereas negative WOM was more associated with emotions.

- Positive WOM is driven by service quality (whethere people had a good experience with the quality of the service received).

- Dissatisfaction stimulates negative WOM, but there was a feeling of satisfaction after making the comment.

Negative WOM spread more quickly initially, but also dissipates more quickly than positive WOM. Negative WOM was also seen to be more powerful in shaping other people's views.

This is the first phase of three studies, with a small sample size, but there are two key points to take-away that support findings of earlier research: Have a good product or service to generate positive WOM, and when there's a negative experience, give people outlets to vent their dissatisfaction early on.

Nokia: Lifeblog" and the Moblogging Phenomenon

Ni Jian from Nokia is talking about the moblogging (mobile blogging) phenomenon and their Lifeblog.

He quoted some feedback from another blogger who asked her mom why she doesn't blog or actively maintain a blog:

1) Feels like she has nothing to say.
2) Doesn't want the world to see what she writes.
3) She doesn't have time to keep up with blogs.

Ni Jian argues that Lifeblog helps people to create content because it is like a multimedia diary. Pictures can also be taken very easy, with or without comments, and then posted very quickly and easily.

He feels that mobile blogging is an important channel for WOM marketing.

Sandy Pentland from the MIT Media Lab comments on how mobile blogging can be used also to monitor health issues (for example, in the context of caring for older parents or patients). But other technology that the MIT Media Lab is working on allows a picture to be taken as well as an audio-recording to be made as soon as two people shake hands.

The Gaping Void in Hamburg

Hugh Macleod, creator of the blog and website, The Gaping Void, is now speaking about blogs. His site gets about 15,000 readers a day. He contends that he has a much richer relationship with his readership than when a newspaper audience.

How does Hugh make a living blogging? He described a tailor friend of his who makes suits for the rich and famous. His friend wanted more business in America so they set him up with a blog "English Cut". Based on readers' interest in the deep insights into the intricacies of suits and tailoring that Hugh's friend was able to provide on the blog, his friend was able to triple his business in the States (be sure to check out the September 17th posting about "how to recognise anderson & sheppard: check the pockets" (you'll have to scroll down to see it).

Hugh thinks blogs are important because they have the potential to create a smarter, more engaging, conversation with your audience.

Hugh challenges the statement that the "best advertising is word-of-mouth". Instead he says that best advertising is the kind that "disrupts markets". As an example he contrasts McDonald's and Starbucks. McDonald's makes their seats orange and uncomfortable so that people will eat quick and leave. Starbucks disrupted this pervasive market practice and created a comfortable space for people to sit around, where real conversations can happen.

In his work with a wine shop they gave free bottles of wine to bloggers. This was done by posting a message saying if you're a blogger you can have a bottle of wine. They told the bloggers they don't have to comment on it, they can just enjoy it. A lot of the bloggers voluntarily generated their own peronalized WOM on their blogs. The point is that this was real, authentic contribution (this was contrasted with campaigns where people get "spraypainted in blue" to promote a product; the point is the WOM generated there has nothing to do with the conversations about the product).

One critique Hugh heard about the wine blogging was this: are you trying to turn bloggers into "wine pimps"? Hugh says no, that they're trying to connect with interesting people in authentic ways. (Presumably though there was a hope that people would talk about the wine and that it would lead to more sales of the wine). They also want to host dinners for bloggers. The idea is that it's just a cool thing to do. One effect of this is that this work is getting the internal employees excited about their brand, Stormhoek, which in turns get them excited when they talk about their products with those external to the company.

Hugh's advice for companies who are interested ian blogging is to read Robert Scoble's blog (Microsoft) for a year.

The take-away for me was this point: engaging the market in a more intelligent, meaningful way is a moral decision. Recognizing that there's no way to control consumer conversations, the best way to influence the conversation is to elevate the conversation.

Intel and the Study of Urban Atmospheres

Eric Paulos (and colleagues) of Intel Research is researching how people use and live in urban spaces. Not only do they look at how space is used from a functional, productive approach (for example, we get on public transportation to go from one place to the next) but more so from a social perspective. Specifically they're interested in the social aspects of "urban computing".

One project they are working on is "Jabberwocky" and the idea of "familiar strangers". These are people who are familiar to us but are strangers in the sense that we don't really interact with them. They color our lives where the relationship is an understood agreement to ignore each other, but not with any hostile intent. The idea is that there's so many people in urban environments we can't maintain more active relationship with them. The goal of this project is to find out how technology can facilitate this type of relationship. To study this phenomena they work with artists, urban planners, architects, and anthropologists. They also take advantage of bluetooth-enabled phones, just like the MIT Media Lab.

Intel Research also did some interesting work on public interaction with trashcans as well as the lost postcard technique (where postcards with a friendly message and URL were left around a city to see what people's curiousity would be). A number of the postcards were never heard from. Some people checked out the URL on the postcard but never mailed it back. Some looked at the URL and mailed it back. And some even mailed it back with their own personalized response.

A lot of this research is exploratory, conducted in order to understand the subtle, social dynamics of daily urban life. The take-away point is that technology needs to be designed to take into account such subtle social dynamics. Also, by studying the ways people engage with public spaces organizations can design programs that better engage their stakeholders.

Alex Pentland -- MIT Media Lab

Alex "Sandy" Pentland, from the MIT Media Lab, is now talking about how portable wearable devices can be used to understand social networks and interactions. They use Nokia "smart phones" to track patterns of social interactions.

You can learn more from the Human Dynamics Group at MIT.

The Buzz in Hamburg: Azoomma Marketing Lab

The presentation that seemed to have most everyone talking was presented by Inus Hwang, President of Azoomma Marketing Lab. The root of the Korean word "Azoomma" means housewife and this is the focus of their innovative company co-founded by two sisters, Inus and Sang Yun. Dr. Nils Andres, the organizer of the conference, introduced Azoomma as the "BzzAgent of Asia." They're story is worth sharing.

In 2000 they created an online community for married Korean women. This site created a wonderful opportunity to create interactions with one another. In 2003, they took this 600,000 member community into the WOM marketing arena. One sample campaign was for Hamsville Bacon. Korean culture was not accustomed to bacon and how to prepare it in meals so Azooma created a campaign whose goal was to show how bacon can be integrated into the womens' daily lives.

The campaign worked along these lines: Azoomma recruited 200 women from their online community, called "seeders" and then sent them "experience kits" about the product that included 100 cards to distribute to other people. Through Azoomma, the company provided resources for women to hold "rice and bacon" parties in their homes during a one-month period. The women invited their friends over to the house for these parties (much like a Tupperware party). There were 780 parties that involved a total of 5,955 participants (P1s). The women who participate in the parties are given "Buzz Tracking Cards" which have a number of survey questions, most notably how many other people (P2s) they told about the experience and the product and their purchasing behavior. These postcards, which have a tracking number tied to the woman who hosted the party (the "seeder"), are mailed back to Azoomma to track the WOM that was spread.

In this campaign they were able to have a total reach of just over 60,000 women that resulted in 58% of those women purchasing the product. According to their research, one seeder had an ultimate multiplying effect of 326x (this is based on an estimate of P2 interactions; I'm not clear yet on the formula used to calculate this number but hope to learn more soon).

According to another calculation, they were able to determine that the cost of reaching the number of people they did was 1/13 the cost of a TV ad. This brand now has the top position in terms of market share in Korea.

There are also other aspects of community involvement after the campaign. For example, the women take pictures of the events and post them online.

One challenge they are facing now, which I've also been dealing with in my own research, is how to track the P2 data (that is, the people who were told about the party and product after the party).

There are a number of principles that seem to make their model successful: 1) creating a grassroots community that provides members with a space to interact as well as a sense of connection and belonging; 2) leveraging the power of relational networks and the credibility derived from these relationships; 3) providing a meaningful experience for people to talk about; 4) a concrete method for tracking and measuring the WOM; and 5) creating opportunities for people to make the WOM marketing experience relevant and meaningful to their everyday lives (including the possibility of further consumer-generated-media through the online sharing of photos and discussion).

Right now Azoomma is a small company with a handful of clients, but they are tapping into some sound principles of WOM. Inus had a strong stage presence in her talk and many people found her presentation compelling. Conclusion: they're the buzz from Day 1 in Hamburg.

Live from Hamburg at the 1. International Word-of-Mouth Marketing Conference

Today is Day 2 of the 1. International Word-of-Mouth Marketing conference in Hamburg, Germany. The conference is being held at the swanky Dorint Sofitel Hotel.

My goal is to provide live updates throughout the day and also a review of Day 1 highlights.

The conference is being sponsored by the Brand Sciences Institute as well as WOMMA and Contagious.

The agenda for Day 1 included an introduction to WOM, measurement, WOM and advertising and "mass" media, podcasting, and blogs.

I spoke on Day 1 in the first slot after a presentation by Forrester research on integrating WOM marketing in the mdia mix. The highlight of their presentation was how WOM needs to be integrated through the consumer buying cycle.

The Forrester presentation was followed by Lois Kelly from Foghound, a strategic marketing consultancy firm. Lois expanded the notion of WOM beyond products and services arguing that we live in a "talk world" where companies need to learn how to make their brand conversations real and relevant, where people will say "That's interesting, tell me more..." She provided some helpful strategies to help companies build these "conversation themes".

My presentation built off of my research on the "conversational geography of WOM". My three take-away points were how companies need to understand the conversational and relational contexts of WOM (and I provided some tools on how to do this), how to incorporate WOM into the marketing mix in order to leverage its credibility effect, and how companies can become participants in consumer-to-consumer conversations rather than unwelcome guests. I shared findings from my latest research with BzzAgent and discussed the Volkswagen Alpha Drivers campaign as a case study.

In my next post I'll talk about the presentation from Day 1 that stole the show and had everyone talking...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pre-Press Version of "What's All The Buzz About?" Now Available!

I have recently posted a pre-press version of my manuscript entitled "What's All The Buzz About? Everyday Communication and the Relational Basis of Word-of-Mouth and Buzz Marketing Practices". The official version of the manuscript will be published in Management Communication Quarterly later next year (2006).

You can download the pre-press copy from my Northeastern faculty website download page (please note that you will be greeted with a simple form to fill out that asks for your name, institution, and e-mail address).

This manuscript served as the basis for a BzzAgent white paper entitled "The Value of Managed Word-of-Mouth".

Feel free to post comments to this manuscript here or on your own blog. If you want to comment on your own blog, please provide the link to my download page ( rather than uploading or mirroring the PDF file.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Defining Word-of-Mouth: Nominal, Descriptive, and Evaluative Distinctions

A colleague from the Stockholm School of Economics, Sara Rosengren, recently commented in an e-mail exchange on how I define word-of-mouth in my research.

I am also a bit curious about your definition of WOM. Regarding everyday WOM you use "infomal, evaluative communication (positive or negative) about an organization, brand, product, or service" as a definition. I was wondering whether WOM actually must be evaluative? Couldn't it just as well be only informational (e.g., "there is a sale at Sears")? Russel Belk has written about this a long, long time ago (1971). He then makes a distinction between what he calls "nominal" (just a mention), "informational" (descriptive information), and "evaluative" WOM. I kind of agree that all these types are actually WOM, but often only the "evaluative" part is considered in research. It would be very interesting to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Here is my response to her excellent question:

Here's my take: I think the "informational" versus "evaluative" distinction is a tough line to demarcate from an analyst's perspective. That is, the view of interaction I adopt is a rhetorical view which implies that there is no such thing as "informational" talk; that is, talk is always selective and partial (and thus it can't be "just neutral" or "just informational", if not for the very reason that someone chooses to mention one thing rather than something else or not at all). However, we (as participants in conversations) make a practical distinction between talk that "comes across" as more or less informational or more or less persuasive. For the "WOM Communication Log" survey [used in a research study published in my 2006 Management Communication Quarterly article], there is a question about valence which would allow people to indicate for themselves whether the commentary was negative, neutral, or positive (about 20% of the episodes were reported as involving neutral valence).

The "nominal" distinction is a worthwhile distinction and is especially relevant to the "Total Interactions and WOM Episode" worksheet (the 7-day log where people recorded their number of interactions with people and the percentage of those conversations that included brand-related talk). From initial analysis of actual instances of transcribed WOM episodes we learned that "nominal" mentions are quite frequent, for example in the process of storytelling ("we were eating at McDonald’s when I saw..."). This is a nominal reference, but McDonald's features as scenic element of the conversation rather than as an object of the conversation. To help participants determine which "mentions" to count for the study I decided to only count it as a WOM episode if it was more than just a nominal mention. Of course, I suppose I could have had them count it as a WOM episode if the organization, brand, product, or service was an object in the conversation but this seemed like it would be too confusing. By the way, one thing I'm looking at with the transcribed interactions is how do some "nominal" mentions lead into more extended conversation about the WOM object. (I'm just in the early stages of this).

So, in short, I think Belk's category system can be meaningful and useful (given the point about a rhetorical view of talk) and I should have mentioned it in my article. Perhaps I'll do so in a future article. Thanks for raising this issue!

For those interested, the Russell Belk article discussed in this post is:

"Occurrence of Word of Mouth Buyer Behavior as a Function of Situation and Advertising Stimuli," Proceedings of the American Marketing Association, ed. Fred Allvine, 1971, 419-422.


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Remarking on the "Remarkable" Book The Big Moo

I recently received a complimentary copy of The Big Moo which is an edited volume of essays about the importance of being remarkable in a competitive marketing landscape. The book is edited by Seth Godin and has a number of business thinkers as authors of short, motivational essays on how to do things that others would want to comment on.

I am about half-way through the book and so far I've found it to be a mixed bag: some of the essays accomplished their objective and gave some fresh insights and ideas, while other essays seemed a bit trite, and I think I just missed the point of some others. I imagine that most readers will have a similar response in that, like all things, what is insightful to one person appears hackneyed to another. The key thing, though, is that I think any reader will get inspired by at least one of the essays.

A few neat things that I really like about the book iunclude:

1) The philosophy behind the book understands the fundamental principle that individual and organizational activities generate conversations among their stakeholders and organizations need to pay attention to the value of these conversations so that they can be effective and sustainable.

2) The authors of each particular essay are not identified. At first I found this frustrating because I found myself looking first at who wrote the essay before I decided if I was going to read it or not. This way I was forced to read the essays based on the title and then had the added mystery of trying to figure who might have been the author.

3) All of the authors agreed to contribute to the book without any compensation (not uncommon in the academic world but somewhat remarkable in the business world) and all proceeds go to one of three charities listed in the book. The goal is laudable: to spread the word and help light a fire under people to think in ways that help make themselves and their organizations more remarkable. Readers are asked to buy copies of the book and give it to people who they think could benefit from it.

The book was provided compliments of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association to its membership. Those who received the free, advance copy were asked to comment on it.

By the way, the editor, Seth Godin, and some of the authors will be speaking at WOMMA's latest conference -- Word of Mouth v. Advertising: Consumers in Control -- in NYC on Sept. 28th. Those interested can receive $75 off their membership by using "eventalum" when they register online.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Apple-to-Apple Comparisons for WOM White Paper

John Moore recently provided a follow-up post to his comments on my collaborative research project with BzzAgent and the results reported in the white paper entitled "The Value of Managed WOM". In his post he concluded that "the two samples appear too dissimilar to draw any empirical conclusions" regarding frequency data for the number of interactions, WOM episodes, and episode-to-interaction ratio (the percentage of a person's total interactions that include a WOM episode). Below is my comment that justifies why I think it is an apple-to-apple comparison.

Hi John,

I enjoyed reading your follow-up post about my WOM research project with BzzAgent. However I want to clear up a misunderstanding in your post. I did provide the additional demographic information on the BzzAgent sample, which was as you reported (though see next paragraph). However, in order to be able to make apple-to-apple comparisons I matched the BzzAgent sample to the "everyday people" convenience sample by age and education level. That is, from the total BzzAgent sample I created a sub-set of those agents with "Some College" and aged 18-29. This is reported in the white paper on Footnote #1 on page 3.

You are right in pointing out that there is a higher representation of females in the BzzAgent sub-set that I used to compare with the convenience sample (it's actually 88% [BzzAgent sub-set] to 74% [convenience sample] for the variables under consideration; let me know if you want more details about how these perecentages were determined). However, among both the BzzAgent sub-set and the everyday people convenience sample there were no statistically significant differences for the number of interactions, number of WOM episodes, and the episode-to-interaction ratio (the percentage of total interactions that included a WOM episode) based on sex of the respondent.

Therefore, I think one can safely conclude that the BzzAgent sub-set and the everyday people convenience sample is an apple-to-apple comparison based on education level, age, and sex.

Thanks again for your interest in this research!

Walter Carl

I would also note to John, and other interested readers, that a larger sample of "everyday people" (that is, those not affiliated with a word-of-mouth marketing agency) is warranted and anyone interested in helping to fund that study should contact me... everything is ready to go :-)

Friday, August 05, 2005

Response to John Moore's (BrandAutopsy) Comments

Hi John,

Thank you for your comment and questions regarding my "What's All The Buzz About?" article! I thought I'd reply as a new post so that I can provide a more detailed response. I'll intersperse my comments within yours...


Your report says managed word-of-mouth (WOM) programs, like those from BzzAgent, generate more WOM than happens from everyday people. Interesting, but not a surprising finding especially considering BzzAgents are most likely more skillful at recognizing and reporting WOM activity than their peers in your convenience sample. What are your thoughts about BzzAgents potentially being more skillful at knowing when and where WOM happens and thus being able to report such activity for your study?

This is an interesting point. First, I agree with you, it shouldn't be a surprising finding that BzzAgents report more WOM episodes than non-Agents. The amount of the difference was what surprised me (for example, Agents having twice as many of their total interactions include a WOM episode). Second, I don't have any direct measurement of whether or not BzzAgents are more or less skillful at recognizing WOM opportunities. My sense is, however, and like yours, that they probably are better able to recognize WOM opportunities. The point I think you're getting at, though, is were they this way "naturally" or does it have something to do with BzzAgent. I don't know, but here are my thoughts:

First, at the very least, I think Agents are more conscious of, and attuned to, the WOM process. I think the more a person's awareness of WOM is raised, and the more a person is encouraged to spread WOM, then the greater likelihood that person will see opportunities to do so (it's kind of like the social-psychological process of buying a certain kind of car and then "suddenly" noticing how many other cars like yours are on the road).

But more importantly, another reason why BzzAgents might develop better acuity in seeing WOM opportunities is that there is a social system in place that a) provides positive feedback about the WOM activity and b) creates a community where this activity is supported. As Dave Balter and Matt McGlinn have talked about at WOMMA conferences, when BzzAgents submit reports, they receive personalized responses from company representatives about their WOM activity. This interaction between the Agent in the field, and the person at the "Central Hive", makes their Agents' own WOM activity part of a larger social process of participation in a community, which creates more identification with the values of that community, and one of those values is to share your feelings about ideas, brands, products, and services with other people (that is, engaging in WOM).

So, whether the BzzAgent system helps people to be better at recognizing opportunities for WOM, or the Agents were like that already (which may have attracted them to BzzAgent) is an open question. Either way, I would wager that any WOM program that makes engaging WOM part of a larger social and relational process, whether it's BzzAgent or some other model, will lead to increased levels of WOM activity. The non-Agents in the study don't have that added sense of being part of a larger community of passionate people spreading WOM.

And of course, BzzAgents have more opportunity for participating in WOM when they do so as part of a buzz marketing campaign. But very interestingly, and I think this is one of the more fascinating results, the majority of the BzzAgents' reported WOM episodes were not related to buzz marketing campaigns. But instead they were "everyday" WOM unrelated to specific products with BzzAgent. I have a whole section on the implications of this finding in my paper and why clients of word-of-mouth marketing agencies shouldn't want Agents to buzz about their product 24-7 (see my last comment at the end of the post for more details).


And ... help me to understand how similar, in demographics and psychographics, your two sample sets are/were. The white paper only outlines the everyday, non-BzzAgent sample as being college educated adults ranging in age from 18 to 29. Since the paper empirically states the BzzAgent sample set is more socially active, I’d like to know if BzzAgents are potentially more socially inclined than are the people in the everyday, convenience sample.

Another interesting question. I didn't have access to specific psychographic data on the BzzAgents, or the non-Agents, so I can't provide that detail for you. Additional demographic data was available for the Agent sample, and it's reported in my article. Here's an excerpt from the methods section:

"The participant sample was representative of the larger Agent population on all available demographic variables: sex, age, ethnicity, education level and income levels. 83% of the sample was female; ages ranged from 13-72 with 45% being 18-29; approximately 90% self-identified as white or European-American; 54% had some college or a 4-year college degree; and approximately 65% reported incomes within the range of $20,000 - $80,000 per year (26% reporting over $80K and 9% reporting under $20K)" (from Carl, in press).

For the convenience sample, the only demographic information collected was sex, age, and education level. 67% of the sample was female and the average age was right around 20. All were pursuing a 4-year college degree.

Now, the bit about if they are more socially inclined. Do you mean are they more introverted or extroverted, to use trait-based psychological terms? I don't have measurements of that, but Agents certainly reported engaging in more interactions on average. Specifically, about 140 interactions over a 7-day period for Agents versus 108 for non-Agents. (An interaction was defined as any conversation that a person considered meaningful and that was more than just a "hi and bye" made in passing). Thus, the white paper reports engaging in more interactions as an indication of being more "socially active," but we don't have data on whether or not they are more socially "inclined." I wouldn't want to speculate much more beyond that., though I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that point.

I'll have new data coming in shortly for non-Agents about frequency of interactions, WOM episodes, and the E/I ratio (that is, the percentage of one's total interactions that include a WOM episode). I'll report those statistics when I get the data cleaned and analyzed.

I'd also like to respond to "Paughnee" who posted this comment to your blog:


Most BzzAgents are probably in the habit of making a mental note of WOM in a conversation whether they are reporting it or not.


Perhaps, but both Agents and non-Agents had similar instructions and a similar log sheet about what to record and what not to record. So I don't think this would be a big factor in how they reported it on the "Total Interactions and Word-of-Mouth Episode Worksheet" (the original log sheet I designed for this study; e-mail me and I can send you a copy if you're interested).

Thanks in advance for helping this WOM evangelist become more enlightened.
johnmoore (from Brand Autopsy) Homepage 08.04.05 - 12:28 pm #

My pleasure! Thank you for your interest in my research. I'd love to continue this conversation further! :-) I can send you a pre-press version of the full article if you're interested (just e-mail me). I would just ask that it not be posted or distributed as there are copyright issues based on the contract with the publisher for the academic journal.

Cheers :-)


--- Relevant Links ---

- BzzAgent Blog Post: "The Value of Managed Word-of-Mouth"
- BzzAgent White Paper: "The Value of Managed Word-of-Mouth" (PDF)
- Brand Autopsy's Blog Post: "Thoughts on a WOM White Paper"
- Church of the Customer Blog Post: "The Science of Word-of-Mouth"


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.