Word-of-mouth communications can be conversations or just one-way testimonials. The essential element is that testimonials are from or among people who are perceived to have little commercial vested interest in persuading someone else to use the product or service and therefore no particular incentive to distort the truth in favor of the product. In contrast, advertising is the communication of a message that is chosen, designed, and worded by the seller of the product, in a medium that is owned or rented. A sales message is a ‘company line’ delivered by a representative of the company. On the other hand, word of mouth is originated by a third party and transmitted spontaneously in a way that is independent of the producer or seller, and can therefore have a high level of credibility.
In his recent book, The Anatomy of Buzz, Emanuel Rosen takes a substantive look at creating word-of- mouth excitement about a product. Rosen suggests that the best starting points are ‘hubs’, also known as influencers and opinion leaders. Some hubs are obvious, such as regional and national media outlets. For instance, if a local talk-show host discusses a restaurant on Monday, it will probably be full on Tuesday.
Oprah Winfrey’s ‘book club’ was a great example of this phenomenon. Film stars, directors or producers waxing lyrical about regions and locations in the press are high profile hubs for the film industry. Other hubs are less obvious. They include fashion leaders in junior high schools (social leaders who made skinny scooters popular), gurus on college campuses (technical leaders who spread the word via the Internet), and people on the boards of local charities (community leaders who attend many social functions). The best hubs also span networks, in addition to influencing people in their own network.
The leapfrogging of word of mouth from one network to another accelerates the rate of beneficial buzz.
Often generated within the hive of the Internet, ‘buzz’ has become essential to a product’s success in today’s fast-paced business environment. As Rosen (a former marketing executive for Niles Software) explains, in pre-Internet days a new product would appear in stores, consumers would buy it or not, and the company would then take however long it wished to evaluate the launch. Today, however, consumers immediately voice their views—on blogs, message boards, review sites, company sites, complaint sites, via e-mail, or on their own web sites—and so have a strong and immediate influence on whether a launch succeeds. Chapter 4 discusses social network marketing in more detail.