Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Does Facebook Do?

Facebook has a new way of describing itself.

It used to be: "Facebook is a social utility that connects you to the people around you."

Now it's: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life."

Rather than describing what it is AND what it does, it now just describes what it does. In this case, I think it's a better move because most people never really understood what a "social utility" is. Plus, it shifts the locus of agency from Facebook to you, the user.

If anyone knows of any other self-descriptions Facebook had throughout its history please mention in the comments.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mapping the Social Networks of a Small Town

There's a fascinating article in the New York Times about how Unilver is attempting to map the spread of conversations about their Vaseline lotion, Clinical Therapy, in an Alaskan town. 

Through mapping the conversations Unilever was able to identify a network hub, Petal Ruch, who was apparently the most well-connected town resident. Unilever's advertising  agency and production company then built a marketing campaign around her story.

The network map is supposed to make its way onto a branded website called Prescribe the Nation.

Given my research on mapping the conversational geography of word of mouth and my work with ChatThreads I'm especially interested in this endeavor and will watch with interest how this develops.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why iPhone Didn't Get Me (Yet)

(Cross-posted from ChatterBox blog)

I have used a Palm for a number of years: Palm IIIe, Zire 71, Treo 600, Treo 650, and currently my Treo 700p -- and love smartphones.

But I have used Apple computers for even longer -- Apple IIe, IIGS, Mac Powerbook G3 and most recently my 24" iMac -- so I was naturally intrigued by the iPhone.

Three factors made this a relevant time for me to consider switching to the iPhone: 1) the new iPhone 3G release, 2) my wife's mobile phone was falling slowly towards its demise and my Treo 700p is on the older side, and 3) we have both fulfilled our contract so there's no penalty fee for switching.

And if you know your research on word of mouth you know that conditions of higher risk and uncertainty are fertile grounds for WOM and information-seeking behavior. This was true for me. Everyone I see who has an iPhone I've talked to and I've asked about their experiences with it. I watched the Steve Jobs keynote when the new iPhone was released, and have read a number of online ratings and reviews from lay and professional reviewers.

So, why haven't I switched?

First of all, let's pause for a second because most research on persuasion and influence focuses on change, not maintenance, of existing behaviors.(A point I learned especially well in grad school with my advisor, Dr. Steve Duck, who often noted that research on personal relationship tended to focus more on relationship change rather than sustaining or maintaining relationships).

But there's a lot of insight we can learn by focusing on why things DON'T change, just as much as why things DO change (and perhaps more so).

Why I'm tempted to switch to the iPhone:

1) Sleek interface

2) The promise (but not necessarily reality) of a seamless experience with my Mac via MobileMe

3) App Store

4) Larger screen

5) Better music, video, and photo experience

But why didn't I switch?

1) Mobile phone network. I don't like being forced to switch from Verizon to AT&T.

2) I have a lot of money invested in software and peripherals for my Treo. Dictionaries, eReader Pro, Agendus, Clock Wireless, Docs to Go, PDA Net, Volume Care, Missing Sync, and games like Scrabble and Monopoly, expansion cards, sync cables, chargers, extra battery, etc.

3) Replaceable battery. It bothers me that you can't replace the battery in the iPhone.

4) I can use my Treo to tether to my laptop to get an internet connection (using PDA Net).

5) Developers are still programming for Treo, such as the TypePad and Facebook apps, so I feel I'm still current.

6) I use iTunes but I don't like being bound to it. I like that I can load my own MP3s (I still buy old school CDs so I can rip them and use them in both iTunes and on my Treo).

7) Identity reasons. I like to think I make autonomous decisions (though I know this is often a pleasant fiction I tell myself) and am not interested in switching just because something is shiny and new. Plus, my Treo 700p still works great and there's some pride in using it until it dies (though note this is near last on my list and didn't stop me in anyway from switching from the 600 and 650, both of which I sold on eBay in order to upgrade).

8) It seemed a lot of money for both me and my wife to switch to new iPhones. We save money being on the same network so our decision is going to be a mutual one.

So my wife and I decided to stay put -- for relational reasons having to do with the fact that we are in it together, functional reasons, identity, and financial reasons. And she just ended up buying a Palm Centro.

More reason to stay put, for now!


Sunday, August 03, 2008

It's Not How Much You Know, It's What You Do: Reflections on the Habit of Continuous Curiosity

This post is about a topic I've been thinking about a lot recently, and have throughout my life, especially in a professional context. It's about continuous curiosity and the dangers of expertise and thinking that how much you know about a topic is what's most important.

One of the things I love to do is go to a bookstore, like a Barnes & Noble or Borders, and just browse books in various sections. I typically go to books on communication and other social sciences, followed by business books, then on to history, and then wherever else my interest takes me. 

But I'm often confronted with two sets of strong feelings when I do this.

On the one hand is a rush of wonder, interest, and curiosity. You realize there's so much you can learn and you get to take a lot of it in in a short amount of time.

On the other hand is a feeling of anxiety, being overwhelmed, and inundated. You realize there's so much to learn and you feel like you have to take it all in in a short amount of time.

Generally I experience the first set of positive feelings when I go on these visits. But there are times when I feel the second set and I get anxious. The worst is when you come across something new in an area that you thought you knew a lot about. Where did that come from? Who is this person writing about this? How could I have missed it all this time? (Well, probably what's even worse is that you thought you had a truly original idea that was "yours" and then you find somebody else who has just written a whole book on it). 

I think these sets of feelings are especially prevalent in academics, researchers, analysts or any category where a person is seen as an "expert" of some kind in an area. You are judged on how much you know and how well you can articulate that to others. When you come across something you don't know it's easy to see it as a threat to an identity others have constructed and that you perform.

Thinking that to be an expert you have to know everything about a topic is dangerous. Why? Because it leads people to get myopic in their thinking. In order to sustain the belief that they know everything they focus on a smaller, more narrow set of topics. It works to the extent that at some point you do end up knowing everything about the area. It's just that the area is so small that much of the meaning and relevance to the rest of the world is lost.

What's the antidote to all of this? How do you maintain the more pleasurable set of feelings -- the wonder, the interest, the curiosity (but still thrive in a professional context that requires you to be on top of it all)?

First, recognize that nobody knows it all and that if they do, it's probably about a pretty narrow set of topics (and take comfort in the fact that they're probably boring at parties). 

Second,  recognize that the anxiety doesn't have to be perceived as negative. Redirect and channel that energy into something more productive, such as...

Third, what's more important than how much you know are your habits towards new information and ideas. Develop a habit of inquiry that leads you to always look for new ideas and discuss them with others (talking with others forces you to stay relevant and meaningful). You know you can never know everything but what you can do is take actions in the present that keep you knowledgeable and informed.

By following these three steps you can liberate yourself from feeling like you have to know everything and you can embrace the practice of continuous curiosity. It still keeps you at the top of your game and you can have fun playing it!

(By the way, all of this applies to reading blogs just as much to visiting bookstores).


Sunday, July 20, 2008

WOM and Academic Textbooks

Just as there has been a resurgence of interest in WOM over the past few years by those in industry circles and popular press books we can also see a similar effect for academic textbooks. In the past few months I've received a number of inquiries from faculty at other universities who are interested in syllabi and textbooks for classes on WOM and social media. I also just formally reviewed a book for a publishing company who was attempting to determine if they should work with the authors on publishing their manuscript.

Even more recently a co-authored book on consumer behavior from a colleauge (Robert East at Kingston University in the UK) has been released. It's called Consumer Behaviour: Applications in Marketing and is published by Sage (here's the link at Amazon). As you can surmise by the title it's broader than just WOM, but Chapter 11 is exclusively devoted to the topic, and it is sprinkled throughout the rest of the text as well (most other academic textbooks have sections of specific chapters about WOM, rather than a full chapter, so this is worth remarking on).

Below is a list of the learning objectives in the chapter and then a few specific things I think people will be interested in knowing about. The learning objectives are phrased, like in most textbooks, as "When you have completed this chapter, you should be able to:"

  1. Discuss the difficulty of conducting research on WOM;
  2. Describe how product decisions in different categories are affected by WOM;
  3. Report on the relative occurence and impact of positive and negative WOM in familiar categories;
  4. Describe variations in WOM that affect its impact: solicited or volunteered; strongly or mildly expressed; from people who are close or distant from the receiver;
  5. Report how WOm relates to the current and past usage of brands and to market share;
  6. Suggest how marketers might apply knowledge about WOM.
And I think people will be especially interested that the authors present evidence that clears up some popular misconceptions about WOM. The authors contend the following:
  1. It is not true that negative WOM is more common or more powerful than positive WOM;
  2. It is not true that most WOM is driven primarily by satisfaction or dissatisfaction (though these are often involved);
  3. It is not true that long-term customers usually recommend more than short-term customers.
To see the evidence for these and other insights you'll have to read the chapter... I definitely recommend it!


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

NPR and the Bryant Park Project

If you like WOM and public radio then tune into the Bryant Park Project Thursday morning. I've been invited to speak about word of mouth marketing, measurement, and ethics. 

It will be a live show and I'll be interviewed by, er, I mean, have a conversation with, Mike Pesca (my last interview on NPR was taped so it should be fun to do a live show). 

The show promotes "conversations" rather than "interviews" as part of its more edgy style (interestingly, it's the only NPR show that I know of that is supported by PBR!). Not familiar with the program, learn more here.

I'm told the segment will air about 8:20 am ET or so, so tune in on your morning commute, or catch it online after it airs. 

UPDATE (7/3/2008): Here's the link to the podcast!


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What's The Difference Between Conversation Cost and Conversation Value?

What's the difference between the cost of a conversation and the value of a conversation? And why do you need to know?

Find out in my latest post on the ChatterBox blog ...


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Catch Me If You Can! Sneak Peek at ARF Presentation

The Advertising Research Foundation is hosting its Audience Measurement 3.0 conference this week in New York City. The theme they are using to promote the conference is "Catch Me If You Can."

The tagline reminds me of a toy we have for our 9-month old baby called the "Move and Crawl Ball" by vtech. You set it down on the floor and it rolls around while the baby tries to catch it, almost taunting the unsuspecting infant with "Wee! Catch me if you can!". Allyn got it as a gift from her great-grandparents and she loves it.

It's an apt parallel to how increasingly active and agile audiences go about their lives while advertisers try to "catch" their attention with their advertising initiatives.

Given this "Catch Me If You Can!" dynamic it's not a coincidence that I'll be speaking on a panel on consumer-to-consumer conversations at a conference devoted to advertising. The title of the panel is "Putting a Ruler on Buzz."

If you want to download the paper I'll be presenting you can do so from the ChatThreads ChatterBox blog.

Catch me in New York... if you can! :-)


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New Blog and Book Review of Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World

I'm contributing to a new blog as part of my work with ChatThreads. It's called the ChatThreads ChatterBox and my first post there reviews Pete Blackshaw's new book titled Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World. Readers of my blog will definitely be interested in the review and will also want to check out Pete's new book.

To help raise awareness of the ChatterBox blog I'll be pointing people there from this blog when I think there's a relevant post. If you want to subscribe to the ChatterBox feed directly you can do so here.


Monday, May 19, 2008

New Academic Research on WOM: The Role of Disclosure in Organized Word-of-Mouth Marketing Programs

As a follow-up to my earlier post, I am excited to announce the release of my latest journal publication on word-of-mouth marketing communication. This piece was published in the Journal of Marketing Communications titled "The Role of Disclosure in Organized Word-of-Mouth Marketing Programs". If this title sounds like a familiar topic for me you'd be right as it is the the academic version of my industry research report "To Tell Or Not To Tell?: Assessing the Practical Benefits of Disclosure for Word-of-Mouth Marketing Agents and Their Conversational Partners”" published in January 2006. At the time the research received a lot of attention in mainstream and social media being cited in Advertising Age, The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, and Business Week, among others.

The publication of the academic journal article also comes out at a fortuitous time and venue. By timing, I'm speaking of the latest legal and public policies coming out of the UK concerning the issues of transparency and disclosure in advertising and marketing practices By venue, I mean that the editorial board of the journal has a heavy contingent of UK and European-based scholars.

(By the way, see the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's position on this important topic. It turns out this new UK legislation was not targeted at organized word of mouth marketing programs in particular but it cast a much wider net in terms of unfair marketing and advertising practices in an effort to protect consumers from deception and other unethical practices).

OK, so to the content of the article. Here's the abstract:

Prevailing views of organized word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing programs suggest that disclosing corporate affiliation reduces perceived credibility and hampers campaign effectiveness. To test this view we surveyed WOM marketing agents and their conversational partners (CP) after a WOM marketing episode. Results indicate that when disclosure occurred – defined as when the CP was aware they were talking with a person participating in an organized WOM marketing program – agents were rated as more credible, CPs had fewer negative feelings about the agent’s corporate affiliation, and CPs told more people about the brand being discussed. These counter-intuitive results can be explained in part by the existing personal relationship between the agent and CP and invite us to consider how personal relationships may moderate the impact and potential business advantages of disclosure in organized WOM marketing programs.
If you read the To Tell or Not To Tell? report I STRONGLY encourage you to read the academic version of the article because it goes into a lot more detail and nuance about the research, the results, and the limitations.

The main difference is that the academic venue afforded more of an opportunity to underscore the importance that the underlying relationship plays in explaining the counter-intuitive results of the research. In fact the results that support the business case for disclosure -- higher perception of source credibility, higher relay rates when disclosure occurs (meaning more people were subsequently told about the product), and minimizing the potential for "backlash" if a person doesn't disclose but then the person they're talking with later finds out they were part of an organized marketing program) -- can be explained in large part by the pre-existing relationship between the people talking. The act of disclosure played a role in explaining the phenomena but not as much as the type of relationship between the people talking.

This implies that the same results may not be as salient when you're talking with someone you don't know very well, or at all, and disclose that you're participating in a marketing program. In these situations, because people may not know anything else about you as a person and your motives, then this disclosure may indeed diminish the program participant's credibility and diminish the perceived sincerity and effectiveness of the recommendation. And this is precisely the reason why there are consumer protections in place, and that's because non-disclosure may indeed make a difference in how people perceive the brand-related communication, even if there aren't any spurious motives (as in many things, perception is the reality).

But if you have an existing relationship (for example, friend, family member, co-worker) the act of disclosure is welcomed or a non-issue because this bit of information is contextualized by the history of all the other interactions the people have shared.

I believe there are a lot of significant implications to this research and underscores the importance of understanding the many contextual features that affect how people interpret each others' communication.

If you think you'd find this article interesting you can download it from the publisher's website here or a pre-press version from my download page (but if you're going to cite the paper be sure to cite the published version).


New Academic Research on WOM: The Conversational Geography of Word-of-Mouth Communication and Marketing Practices

We've all heard about the tortoise and the hare and how the tortoise eventually, slowly but surely, arrives at the finish line, before the speedy hare. Well, two tortoises have finally crossed the finish line representing academic publication for some of my research on word of mouth marketing communication practices. It was a long journey but they have finally arrived.

These two pieces represent a significant milestone in my academic publication record because they are the first two pieces where I did not use a colon in the title. :-)

Actually they are important for other reasons which I'll explain briefly below. Actually, I'm going to split these into two posts and discuss each article separately.

The first piece that was just published appears in Communication Quarterly and is titled "The Conversational Geography of Word-of-Mouth Communication and Marketing Practices". Here's the abstract:

This study was a test of the utility of a diary-based methodology for revealing how word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing agents perceive their campaign and non-campaign-related WOM communication episodes. A modified version of the Iowa Communication Record, originally designed for presenting the “geography of everyday conversation,” was the base for the collection of 2,088 self-reports of the agents' WOM episodes. Data were subjected to a principal components factor analysis. The resulting factors—communication quality, value, impact, relational change, and conversational control—served to gauge differences attributable to the institutional nature of the WOM, sex of respondent and conversational partner, relationship type, and day of week.
This piece is actually "Part 2" of my "What's All the Buzz About?" research published in Management Communication Quarterly. There are (at least) three really interesting results in this article.

The first interesting result was that agents perceived a higher amount of change in their relationship after a campaign-related word of mouth conversation when compared to their non-campaign conversation. Subsequent analysis revealed that the direction of this relational change was positive; that is, participants in the agent-based programs reported feeling closer to their conversational partner after the conversation where they were discussing a campaign-related product. Since agents generally perceived the WOM episodes to be of high quality and of some value to their life it is not surprising to see some levels of greater relational closeness occurring after the brand-related conversation. But another possible explanation is that agents felt like they were helping their conversational partner by providing them with relevant information which led them to feel closer to the other person. But more research needs to be done to explain this finding.

The second interesting result was how participants in the agent-based marketing program perceived that they were more likely than their conversational partners to initiate interaction, to decide topics, and to end the conversation for products that they were talking about as part of the organized program when compared to brand discussions that weren't part of a marketing campaign. This makes a lot of sense since it's the program participant who has access to information about the latest and greatest products, but it could also be problematic because a hallmark of everyday conversation is a sense of "mutual conversational control"; that is, where the parties perceive they are contributing equally to the conversation. I have unpublished research (an even slower tortoise!) that shows that their conversational partners also perceive that the program participants exercise more "conversational control" during campaign-based conversations, but the jury is still out the implications of this (for example, if their partners perceive the agents exercise more "conversational control" during the interaction does this negatively affect perceptions of credibility or is this an understood norm in relationships when one person may have greater knowledge or experience about a topic than the other).

The third finding I wanted to highlight concerned the relationship between the program participant and their conversational partner(s). In comparison to weak-tie or acquaintance relationships, program participants perceived their WOM conversations with strong-tie relationships (best friends, romantic partners/spouses, and relatives) to have higher conversational quality, more value to their present and future life, and more of an impact on their attitudes, feelings, and/or behavior. This is important for two reasons: 1) the higher perceptions of quality, value, and impact might partially explain existing findings showing that people are more likely to engage in WOM conversations with strong-tie relationships. Second, the results pose a challenge for organized attempts to stimulate WOM in social networks. Existing research by Dr. David Godes and Dr. Dina Mayzlin has shown how firms need to stimulate WOM in weak-tie relationships to generate incremental WOM that spreads beyond the WOM that has already occurred within a social network. But it is these weak-tie interactions that agents perceive as having less communication quality and value, which as stated above, may be one reason why they occur less frequently. If one goal of a WOM campaign is to get the word out about a brand, product, or service to as many people as possible (or at least as many people who will find it relevant), and if weak-tie relationships are important to that process, then it will be necessary to create opportunities where people find the interactions with weak-ties more rewarding.

If you think you'd find this article interesting you can download it from the publisher's website here or a pre-press version from my download page (but if you're going to cite the paper be sure to cite the published version).

And stay tuned for my other article that was just published!


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Introducing the Conversation Value™ Model and Preview of WOMM-U Sessions

As mentioned in an earlier post I'm speaking at WOMM-U today and tomorrow about WOM measurement and how to scale WOM programs. On the WOMM-U website WOMMA bills my session as "Your CMO says: 'If I gave you X dollars more for WOM, what would I get?'"*

The purpose of this post is to give a preview of how I plan to address this topic and it coincides with some exciting news with ChatThreads regarding the announcement of a new WOM ROI metric. We call it "Conversation Value™" and it's a measure of the revenue impact of consumer conversations.

I've been working on this model with Dr. Barak Libai, who has been a visiting professor of marketing at MIT and a professor at Tel Aviv's Faculty of Mangement (and also a fellow member of WOMMA's Academic Advisory Board).

The Conversation Value™ Model incorporates consumers' WOM behavior into a life-time value (LTV) model, which allows companies to quantify the bottom-line value of each conversation about a brand.

The two categories of inputs are LTV-related and WOM-related. (We feel that if you calculate the value of a customer just based on a LTV model that you actually underestimate the value a customer brings to the firm because it doesn't take into account their WOM.)

For LTV inputs we calculate the average value a customer brings to the firm through their own purchase behavior, adjusted based on a discount rate that takes into account the time value of money (money now is worth more than money later).

The WOM inputs are collected via ChatThreads' analytics platform. The inputs include generational relay rates (the number of people told from Generation 0 to Generation 1, Generation 1 to Generation 2, etc.), which is a measure of reach, as well as generational purchase rates (the percentage of people who report purchasing the product or service at each generation).

The value of each conversation, or "conversation value", is calculated by combining the life time value and WOM referral value and dividing this by the number of conversations with unique people. The "net present conversation value" is computed by subtracting the costs for the marketing initiative from the conversation value figure.

You end up with a dollar amount, like $1.20, for example, and this number means that each time a person had a conversation with a new person as part of a marketing initiative (whether it's an advocacy or influencer WOM program, or a more traditional event marketing or sampling program) the company made $1.20. The value could be a negative number as well which means the initiative failed to generate a positive ROI. Companies can track this number over time and work to optimize their initiatives in order to increase their conversation value.

Interestingly, conversation values can range dramatically by cateogry and by each of the inputs to the model, such as the profitability of each unit sold and generational relay and purchase rates.

Something else that's really cool is how you can run simulations to understand what happens if, for example, each program participant reached just one more person at each generation, or purchased X% more. Or what happens if you decided to scale the program larger (for example, by engaging additional program participants). Additionally, you can use the model to look at cost per conversion so that you can compare an initiative designed to generate WOM to other media channels. This will give media planners, buyers, and marketers a clearer sense of how to allocate their resources.

We are developing Conversation Value™ Models for ChatThreads' clients and will be releasing some research reports and white papers in the near future. For the time being you can come to my interactive sessions in Miami. Hope to see you here!

* BTW, the hypothetical CMO's statement above may make it seem like you can just buy WOM or have a successful WOM program by just throwing around some additional money. I don't think this is what the conference organizers intended when they wrote their short blurb, but I'll certainly dispel this notion when I discuss it today. What they were getting at, I think, is understanding the impact of resource allocation and how to go about it in thoughtful and strategic ways (or, this is how CMOs probably should be talking about it anyway!).


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What I've Learned from Being Mr. Mom: E.A.S.Y. Does It

I work from home two days each week while taking care of our baby (who is now 7 months young)! It's truly a privilege to have the flexibility to do this, even though it means a lot of late nights and working on the weekend to try keep up with everything.

A couple things I learned in the process are 1) E.A.S.Y. does it when it comes to baby care, and 2) care for your baby like the little *person* that they are. Incidentally, both of these points can be aptly applied to an organizational context.

First, E.A.S.Y. is an acronym that I got from the book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. The letters stand for Eating, Activity, Sleeping, and You and it refers to the four segments of a structured, yet flexible, routine for you and your baby. Feed the baby (an obvious one, I know), then you do an Activity like changing the diaper, a walk outside, reading, tummy or blanket time, etc. Then the baby goes to Sleep, and then while they are sleeping You get some time for yourself (typically these are conference calls for me or writing). Each of the four-segment cycle lasts about 3 hours (or at least it did when Allyn was younger).

I'm a structured person so it definitely helps me out, but Allyn has responded really well to it as well as it provides the structure and predictability that little babies seem to thrive on.

Second, interacting with the baby respectfully as a person. I know this sounds really obvious and probably makes you wonder how else you should treat a baby, but Tracy Hogg, the author of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, uses the example of how it would be pretty shocking if someone came up to you and all of the sudden, put you on your back and threw your legs up in the air (a reference to what many do when changing a baby's diaper). Instead she suggests to talk with your baby about what you're going to do before you do it, as you would with another person to show respect for their space and autonomy.

I've noticed a huge difference in how Allyn responds when I do this versus when I don't. She is much more receptive to changing her clothes or her diapers, for example. Feeding times also got a lot more smoothly. By taking the time to talk with her about things that impact her I notice I focus on her own space and autonomy, and as a result I notice that I listen much better to her cues and know what types of activities are appropriate and when.

The applications to the organizational setting are easy to see as well. For example, respect and take care of your customers' (or other stakeholders) needs first and then your needs. Doing the former can actually make the latter much easier to achieve over the long-term, as a result of all the positive word of mouth and customer-driven feedback and innovations you'll receive. You'll also be much more nimble in how you adapt to marketplace changes because you are really focused on the needs of your most valuable assets.

Sounds like it's time to move from the "Y" to the "E" and start the cycle again!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

WOMM-U: Bienvenidos a Miami!

With all due respect to Will Smith, I am looking forward to receiving this greeting while at WOMMA's WOMM-U event.

I'll be a faculty member (a tough stretch for me, I know) facilitating one of the highly interactive sessions on "How Does WOM Scale?" where we'll discuss issues of scalability, measurement, and optimization for WOM initiatives.

These are small group discussions of 10-12 people and will be driven by questions and comments from the group members. I will bring some talking points, however, based on exciting new research I've been doing with ChatThreads as it relates to these issues.

Dr. Kate Niederhoffer, VP of Measurement Science at Nielsen Online, will be the other faculty member/facilitator on the same topic.

It all goes down May 8-9, 2008.

Hope to see you there!

PS -- Don't worry. There won't be any grades and I won't bring my red pen with me. :-)


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Calling all advanced Twitter users: Can one Twitter account mirror "tweets" that includes a reference to another account?

Still working on my @openwom experiment with Twitter and I need some help.

Here's what I want to do: when people pass-along or receive some type of word-of-mouth communication about an organization, brand, product, or service (especially those communication episodes that are not otherwise digitally trackable) I want them to be able to tweet about it by including "@openWOM" in their tweet (see my last blog post for details). This would be a way to make their offline and non-publicly available online WOM easily trackable by using a tool like Tweet Scan.

Tweet Scan allows people to create an RSS feed of a search query that would include @openWOM in it (like this). But the problem for Twitter users is that people using Twitter can't follow an RSS feed (to my knowledge); they can only follow other Twitter user accounts.

I was hoping that people could just "follow" @openWOM and get all the tweets from people who have included "@openWOM" in the tweet they made.

So, my question is, can one Twitter account (i.e., @openWOM) "mirror" tweets made by other Twitter users if the other user includes "@openWOM" in their Tweet?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

@OpenWOM -- Join Me In Experimenting with Twitter for WOM Research

I love to try new things to better understand how people talk, form relationships, organize, make sense of their lives, engage in WOM... pretty much all things related to communication. And part of what I get to do at Northeastern and for ChatThreads is experimenting with new ways of research (literally, searching or looking again in a new way).

Off and on since last October (more off than on, I have to admit) I've been experimenting with using Twitter as a way of keeping a publicly-available diary of my WOM communication practices. When I have a WOM communication episode (either I'm receiving a recommendation, giving one, or just talking about an interesting organization, brand, product, or service) I post ("tweet") to an account set up at Twitter: @OpenWOM

I called it "OpenWOM" to highlight that it would be an open resource to anyone who wants to use it as another means to find out what people are talking about especially for communication that would otherwise not have a public record (for example, if it's one-to-one or few-to-few communication like face-to-face, phone, IM, e-mail, etc., where there currently isn't a publicly available record).

Here's an example of what I've done with it so far (you only have 140 characters with Twitter so you have to be brief and I've developed some codes which I've explained below).

The following WOM episode took place with four colleagues after a recent trip I had through the Orlando airport. I was telling them about Clear, which is a new security system where you pay an annual fee, get a fingerprint and retina scan, and then can breeze through all the long security lines. We discussed the pros and cons of it, and it was mostly cons. Here's how I represented it to OpenWOM:

@openwom Clear ** 4 cow talked abt new security system I saw at ORD airport - fingerprint and retina scan to breeze thru security
Right now all my tweets to OpenWOM have had six components:

1) The OpenWOM twitter code ("@openwom"): this just needs to appear somewhere in the post so that it gets associated with the OpenWOM project.

2) OBPS ("Clear"): this is the organization, brand, product, or service that is being discussed

3) Valence or Polarity ("**"): this is a measure of valence, whether it was positive, negative, or mixed. It's a five-point scale with "*" meaning it was really negative, "***" mixed, and "*****" really positive

4) Number of people present ("4"): this is simply the number of people, including yourself, that were participating in the conversation

5) Relationship Type of Others Present ("cow"): this stands for coworkers, colleagues, or business associates. There are seven relationship-type codes so far: str (stranger), acq (acquaintance), fri (friend), bfr (best friend), rps (romantic partner or spouse or significant other), rel (relative/family member), and cow (co-worker, business colleague, boss, etc.).

6) Brief Summary of Conversation: i just try to give enough detail for people to get the gist, or for something that I want to remember about it and retrieve later.

At this point I'd like to open it up to others in the spirit of seeing what people do with it. You can check out new tweets by typing "track openwom" in your Twitter account.

I use it for research. Others may use it to show others what they're talking about or to learn what others are talking about. You can also use it as a memory device in case someone gives you a good recommendation.

So, if you are so inclined, send a tweet to @openwom and start sharing your conversations. (You need a Twitter account if you don't have one yet.) Discover new uses for it, propose new codes, offer suggestions for improving it, trash it (constructively, please), etc. You can leave feedback as comments to this post.

Reminder: if you want to track what other people are posting to OpenWOM then type "track openwom" in your Twitter window. Or you can use Tweetscan and enter "@openwom"



Monday, March 03, 2008

WOM as Empowered Involvement

There's an interesting line of research out of the European School of Management (Berlin) about WOM. Researchers Dr Frank Jacob and doctoral candidate Martin Oetting are working with the notion of "empowered involvement" as a way to explain managed word of mouth.

They start with the research on involvement and WOM, which dates back to at least the 1960s. Research has documented the important role of ongoing involvement in a category to explain opinion leadership and also elevated levels of WOM behavior. Other research has shown how involvement levels can be raised by providing opportunities for customers to be actively participating in the marketing process.

This research leads them to the notion of "empowered involvement." Can deliberately yielding control of the marketing process to consumers stimulate WOM by creating greater levels of involvement?

The idea of empowerment has historically been studied in human resources management. Thus, these researchers look at how empowerment works with employees as a way to see how it may apply to consumer behavior.

Specifically they cite work by Spreitzer, who defined psychological empowerment as intrinsic motivation. In order to achieve this sense of intrinsic motivation, Spreitzer's research suggests, workers need to feel meaning, competence, self-determination and impact.

This leads the research to define their theory of Empowered Involvement: "When companies allow consumers to experience meaning, self-determination, impact and a sense of personal competence through certain aspects of a marketing process, they can increase these consumers’ situational involvement" [situational involvement is a temporary state of involvement as distinct from enduring involvement, which other research suggests is integral to opinion leadership].

Through two stages of empirical research, the researchers find preliminary support for their model. The results suggest the importance of better understanding how to build relationships with consumers and also how to provide them with sufficient levels of decision-making powers so they feel the four components of empowered involvement: meaning, competence, self-determination and impact.

I'd like to see this research explore, qualitatively, how people come to feel meaning, competence, self-determination and impact in marketing contexts. How is it similar or different to empowerment in the employment context?

Also, how important are the notions of trust and authenticity (that is, it seems reasonable to think that a pre-condition for empowered involvement is that people trust that the company is being sincere and authentic in their desire to listen and involve the consumers)?

Finally, I would also encourage those interested to read the chapter "Loyalty Myths Regarding Employees" in the book Loyalty Myths. The parallels between the empowerment-loyalty relationship and the empowerment-WOM relationship might be instructive.

To learn more about this research on empowered involvement you can visit At the site you can download the full working paper.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Why I Don't Do Karaoke

Tonight I spoke in Dr. Felicia Lassk's MBA-level Marketing Research class at Northeastern. Dr. Lassk is a colleague in the business school and I've had the chance to speak in a few of her classes over the past couple years and I'm honored she keeps inviting me back :-)

The topic tonight was how to measure WOM online and offline. The students, who were very receptive and participatory (especially for a night class when the day after a disappointing loss by the Patriots in the SuperBowl), will be reading the Harvard Business Review case study on Intelliseek next week, so I was sure to talk about some of the work their company does (now part of Nielsen BuzzMetrics/Nielsen Online). I also discussed the diary-based syndicated research from the Keller Fay Group. And she also asked me to talk about my own research on the generational spread of WOM and the new company ChatThreads. All of which I was happy to do.

Owing to the fact that it was a night class I wanted to provide a little bit of relevant entertainment early on and so I showed the "A Comcast Technician Sleeping On My Couch" YouTube video as a segue into discussions about social media monitoring and analysis. Unfortunately, though, the audio in the room wasn't working. The Brian Finkelstein video is set to "I Need Some Sleep" by the Eels, and missing the audio is a bit of a bummer. I tried to sing it, but after the first few notes I employed my well-honed skills in audience adaptation and decided I should stop abruptly (the look of horror on their faces was the give-away).

So, I told them I'd pass along the links to Dr. Lassk so they can watch the video, and one of my favorite spin-offs ("Cancelling Comcast") that illustrates a humorous take on how companies are training their call center employees in the age of social media.

Thanks to Dr. Lassk and her class for a great evening!


Yikes! How To Write A Pay-Per-Post Blog!?!

While I was doing some research online yesterday I came across a "How To" website ( about how to write a Pay Per Post blog post.

As background, Pay Per Post's business model is to match bloggers and advertisers together: advertisers who want people to write about their products on their blog with bloggers who want to make money doing so. The blogger's deliverable is the post with a brand mention that conforms to any guidelines that the advertiser sets up.

This has been quite a controversial practice since its inception, as it represents a form of shilling. Further, Pay Per Post's initial policy was not to require, or even encourage, disclosure that the person was getting paid to write about the product. Pay Per Post's policy has since changed, coincidentally timed, it seems, with discussions by the FTC and disclosure.

Anyhow, the author sets up the article by saying "This article will help you learn how to rise above the competition and produce higher quality paid posts that your sponsors and readers will love."

Point #1 is to think long term and write a quality post since the advertiser will rate the quality of the post behind-the-scenes: "So while it may be easy to write a quick post for $5, it's better to invest a bit of extra time to understand what your advertiser wants out of the deal." This is concerning because then your endorsement is more for the advertiser than for the other people you are talking with (though the author suggests that you can still write a post your readers will enjoy).

Point #2 is to "Be Honest" about your opinion with the product ("If you lie, they are paying for a false testimonial. This can hurt their company, ruin your reputation as a writer and can get you banned."). OK, fine, honesty of opinion (which is WOMMA's second point in their Honesty ROI guidelines). But nothing about honesty being the ethical thing to do. The author adds the point about being relevant: "Instead, think about reasons why you might use their service or product. How would it help you? How can it help your visitors?"

But then the really strange part is point #3. The blogger says that writing a Pay Per Post blog is "secret" and that "If you want future work, don't tell your readers that you are writing paid posts. This includes filtering the posts into a "paid post" category, or tagging them as such. You are basically telling your sponsor that you are embarrassed to write about them."

I was shocked to read this. I'm not sure if my surprise has more to do with the logical inconsistency between point #2 (be honest) and #3 (don't tell people you are getting paid), or because just point #3 on its own being unethical.

I thought maybe this post was written a few years ago because people don't still think that hiding their identity is the way to go. But no, the post date is January 14, 2008.

Anyhow, folks if you are thinking about participating in the Pay Per Post or similar programs please check out the WOMMA Ethics Code as part of your decision to participate. And if writing a post about how to do it, please consider this.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Journal of Advertising Research -- Special Issue on WOM

JAR, or the Journal of Advertising Research, has put out a special issue exclusively devoted to word of mouth, social media, and social networks. It's actually from the December 2007 issue so I'm still a little behind, but I hope to review some of these articles in upcoming posts, especially since not everyone may have easy access to the journal without a subscription (a benefit of having access to a university library).

People familiar with WOMMA will recognize some of the names, including Ed Keller (Keller Fay Group), Jim Nail (TNS/Cymfony), and Kate Niederhoffer (Nielsen Online).

The opening segment is written by Joseph Plummer, co-editor of the journal. He sets up the special issue by broaching whether or not WOM represents a new advertising discipline or if it's just a fad -- it may be neither -- but leaves it up for the reader to decide.

He also ends with a call for folks to consider JAR as a publication venue for the latest and greatest (and they have a history for publishing WOM-related research, including an excellent piece in 2004 titled "Quantifying the Ripple: Word-of-Mouth and Advertising Effectiveness", JAR, 44: 271-280 by John Hogan, Katherine Lemon, and Barak Libai).

Be sure to give it a look and stay tuned for more!


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Missing In Action, But Wouldn't Have Changed A Thing!

Trying to get tenure and blog. No problem. Trying to get tenure, starting a new company, and blogging. Difficult, but manageable. Trying to get tenure, starting a new company, AND having a baby... yeah, well, that's why my last blog post was November 5, 2007, a full 66 days ago!

And I wouldn't, er, couldn't, have done it differently (except maybe announce that I wouldn't be posting for a while). But I needed a break to enjoy some of life's finer moments.

Our baby is the best (especially now that her smiles mean more than just gas and she's sleeping through the night; and as if it wasn't clear, Allyn Marie is pictured above in what I call her "peek-a-boo" photo), the company is off the ground with repeat clients (always a good thing in business), and tenure, well, the tenure process is decidedly not one of the finer things in life -- it's about as much fun as watching late-night talk shows without any writers (long, drawn out, and no fun for anyone).

First, I want to apologize to all the people who wrote me with questions about WOM research, especially the undergraduate and graduate students from universities around the globe. I'm going back through my inbox now and plan to reply to everyone (there's a lot of interest from students in WOM research and it's a privilege to have the chance to talk with some of them in the formative stages of their research).

Second, I missed commenting on a lot of important events in the WOM space over the past two-plus months, namely the release of the WOM Marketing Industry forecast by PQ Media. It's well worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy.

Third, I want to provide an update about the full audio recording for the Net Promoter Discussion at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's Research & Metrics Symposium in November. It will be posted on the WOMMA website, but I'm told there have been some challenges getting this up. I had the pleasure of facilitating this discussion between some key players and I appreciate everyone's patience while WOMMA gets this posted, which should be soon.

Finally, I'll provide a preview of what 2008 holds for this blog:

- coverage of the G2X WOM Tracking Methodology and ChatThreads: I've received a lot of inquiries from different companies in the U.S. and internationally who want to measure the effectiveness of their marketing initiatives using this industry-standard methodology and how ChatThreads is leading the way in this effort. So one of my goals is to post entries that respond to some of the most frequently asked questions. Here's a brief article about the methodology and the new company in Research magazine.

- coverage of my current academic and industry research projects and social experiments involving WOM, as well as others' research that I come across or gets sent to me;

- commentary on the state of the WOM industry, both from a research practitioner's and educator's perspective;

- commentary on returning to a Macintosh: I grew up on an Apple IIe, IIGS, and a Mac PowerBook through college and most of grad school, but had to use a PC for part of my doctoral dissertation and for some other work and so I've been away for 7 years -- now I have an iMac running Leopard and VMWare Fusion virtualization, and it's like coming "home" again!;

- perhaps a switch off the Blogger platform?;

- and probably some scattered posts about the joys (and challenges) of being a new dad.
If you stayed subscribed to my feed during my long absence, and it looks like most of you have, I appreciate your patience and look forward to your attention and any comments and discussions in this new year. It's good to be back!