Monday, April 30, 2007

Taslim Sidi's Reflection Essay

Context for this post

Based on my involvement and observation of word of mouth episodes (WOME) over the course of the semester, I determined there were distinct patterns within my communication practices. As I spend the majority of my time during the week in classes, working, and doing homework, I generally don’t get to spend a lot of time with friends or peers. Therefore, a lot of my conversations took place in an online venue, either through email or on a message board. These online conversations tended to be shorter, in both interaction time and in brand conversation time than my face-to-face communications. This was correlated to the fact that my conversation venue determined my level of trust towards my conversation partner. For example, in my WOME #2, I discussed Bare Essentials makeup on a semi private (because you do have to be a member) message board. Of all my recorded episodes, I had the least amount of trust in my conversation partner and also I had the least personal relationship with this person. On the other hand, my last recorded WOME was a face-to-face conversation with one of my best friends. Even though we were in the presence of others (three males), the trust between conversational partners was very high.

If anything, the three male spectators during my last recorded conversation influenced the topic of WOM rather than the quality of the communication. It was interesting to me to consider the nature of gender in regards to WOME over the semester. Though the details of conversational spectators were not in the reports, my online conversation was between females with female spectators. In these instances where I was addressing only women, I talked about makeup and celebrity gossip, two topics that could be gendered female. In my face-to-face conversation, WOMES #3, when we were in the presence of males, we discussed beer, or a topic that could be thought of as more masculine.

Additionally, brands seemed to introduce other brands into a conversation. For example, in the first WOME I recorded, my friend (female) and I were discussing celebrity gossip. Our conversation included the best way to find out about celebrity gossip, via blogger Perez Hilton, and also various celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, that could be considered brands. Similarly, my 3rd WOM conversation started about Edison Light beer, which my friend was conducting market tests on, and diverged into a comparison of that brand with other brands we preferred such as Bud Light, or Coors Light. Each brand became a gateway to talk about other brands, which I think is very telling of how I have conversations.

Throughout the semester I have been assessing how I discuss brands or products with my friends and others. Although the event or meeting in which a WOME took place might have been prearranged, any WOM occurred as a result of casual conversation. Many times the actual conversation was fueled by a brand, evidence of the commercialization of chitchat. Most conversations were not to recommend one brand over another, more so to simply discuss our experiences with a product, as a way of storytelling.


Holly Jackson's Reflection Essay

Context for this post

Word of mouth interactions take place on a daily basis. So much so, that we barely differentiate them from normal, everyday conversations with friends. However, even though we may not realize it, I have learned that we all hold the power to influence our peers through conversations and interactions by simply becoming more aware of the WOM episodes I engage in with others.

I realized that most of my word of mouth episodes took place with my closest friends, those people being the ones I interact with the most and who tend to share my interests. In times when I was receiving a recommendation, it was crucial that I was interacting with someone who I trust to recommend something worth my time to follow-up with. However, I did notice that there were a few times when I found myself urging people, with whom I have just met, to try out something. Though these instances were somewhat rare, I had to be relatively new to the product or service myself and highly enthused by it as well in order to be recommending something to someone I barely know.

Most of my interactions also took place with a single person. Since most of them came up within casual, unplanned conversations, they tended to be one-on-one interactions while having lunch, driving to class, etc. However, I did notice that there were times when I would bring up the same topic in multiple conversations in the same day. This seemed to occur when the product or service was relatively new to me, yet was something I was very excited about and wanted to be the first one to encourage others. I noticed that often times I could chart the lifecycle of the WOM interaction, from the time I heard about and became excited about the product until the time I told others. I noticed that I had often heard about it from someone else, tried it myself, and if it was something worthwhile, I would recommend it quite often within that first week-to-month that I experienced it. While this cycle may only be applicable to those WOM episodes that were unplanned and unsolicited, I think it is something that would be interesting to study as a trend among others.

It was seldom that I gave a recommendation about something I was not passionate about, such as detergent or nightclubs in Boston. Instead, the product had to be something out of the ordinary or exceptional, and something that I truly enjoyed using or being a part of. It seems that most of my word of mouth episodes were ones of referral and, therefore, were about something interesting in my life at the time. Perhaps these were simply the most noticeable of my WOM interactions, but regardless, they were the most prominent and seemed to have the biggest impact on others. I decided to attempt to keep track of whether or not the people I was interacting with decided to inquire further about the product. While it was hard to track those who I was not close with, I found that all of my close friends either tried the product or service of my recommendation or at least followed up with research. Even though this might not always be the case, it was interesting to see how my simple, conversational recommendations actually led to inquiries from my friends and acquaintances.

It was strange to feel a sense of power from simple word of mouth interactions that I didn’t necessarily even realize I was having. I rarely think of myself as an influencer, but this goes to show that everyone, at some point in their lives, has the potential to influence, even if it is just to one other person. If companies can get a decent number of people to act as advocates on their behalf, and if each one of these advocates only serves as an advocate to one other person, their word of mouth reach has the potential to surpass their advertising and marketing reach and still be passed along to others. It is funny that most companies have yet to capitalize on such a market when the benefits seem so obvious.


Anne McGrath's Reflection Essay

Context for this post

In documenting three WOM experiences throughout the semester, I learned a number of things about the way in which we communicate about brands, how I personally make recommendations and the way in which I receive information from my conversational partners, and what forms of word of mouth sparked my interest.

Through this exercise, I now understand that much of what stems conversation about brands are bad experiences with the brand. Originally, I thought a media advertisement would provoke conversation about a brand most of the time, but in my experience, this rarely was the reason. My first recorded WOM communication was done because a friend of mine had a horrible experience with Comcast. I immediately thought of the online viral video we looked at in class showing the Comcast repair man sleeping on the customer’s couch. This reinforced my idea that Comcast had poor customer service and I began to think of other companies to bring my business to in the future. I found that I spread this information to my social networks encouraging them to steer clear of Comcast and providing both the video and my friend’s experience as examples why.

I found throughout the three recorded experiences, that I was the one listening to my conversational partner vent about a bad experience with a company. I found that I kept my bad opinions to myself generally, but listened with interest as others told me their horror stories about Comcast, a local realty company, and Victoria’s Secret. In retrospect, I would consider myself a “generation 2” influencer. I’m not typically the one spreading information from my personal experience out to social networks. Rather, I take into account what I hear from various sources and spread that message onto other people. Therefore, according to much of what we’ve discussed this semester, I am not an influencer. But, I also don’t feel like I should be forgotten by word of mouth marketing companies. The influencer’s message is passed along because of people like me.

It is particularly interesting that the more negative the WOMunit, the higher amount of people I spread it onto. I recall learning about the Comcast blunder and telling many of my friends about it because it made an impact in conversation and I believed they could relate to the experience. As we’re all students at Northeastern, most of us use Comcast because of a student discount. Therefore, many of my friends were interested to hear about this person’s negative experience because it may someday directly affect them. The Victoria’s Secret word of mouth episode was more neutral, and therefore I did not pass it on to many people because it would have made a boring conversation. My last reported word of mouth episode happened just recently. Since it took place, I have told many other people about the situation my roommates and I have dealt with, only to find that other students have encountered the same problem. We were interested to hear their story and compare it with ours.


Andrea Manner's Reflection Essay

Context for this post

Tracking my word of mouth episodes led me to realize the integration of brands and services into my every day communication exchanges. By reflecting on my word of mouth exchanges and the brands on which they are centered, I realized the high degree of commercialization evident in my personal communication exchanges. As a result of the frequency of discourse surrounding brands and services, I was essentially unaware of its pervasiveness in my interactions. In addition to my realizing of the commercialization of my communication exchanges, this assignment allowed me to evaluate whether or not I am a brand advocate and for what specific brands. Historically, I had never identified myself as an influencer for brands of services; however, through tracking my word of mouth exchanges, I was able to further assess my advocacy.

When reflecting on the word of mouth episode surveys I filled out, the over arching theme that continuously reemerged is how the commercialization of my communication exchanges has increasingly become second nature. When deciding on a word of mouth episode to record, I often had difficulty pinpointing one conversation. This lack of awareness leads me to believe that I have become immune to or unaware of the frequency of brands in my dialogue. My inability to recollect my conversations about brands does not imply that they did not exist, but that the brands are so deeply ingrained in my communication that they are difficult to identify.

While the commercialization of my communication has become second nature, documenting specific exchanges has certainly made the types of brands and services I discuss quite apparent. For example, the majority of my talk surrounding brands tended to take place face to face with my friends; this is most likely due to proximity and my less frequent use of the telephone, instant messenger, and other electronic media. In addition to the people with whom I am more likely to discuss brands, I also realized that the topics I tend to discuss more frequently are clothing, food, and music. Many times these conversations ended with a recommendation, as in the case of my word of mouth exchange about the restaurant, Wagamama, where I heavily recommended it to my conversational partner. Reflecting on the elements and topics of my word of mouth episodes help me to identify those products and services about which I am more passionate.

In addition to realizing the types of brands and services I tend to discuss with friends, this assignment also helped me realize the specific brands I advocate more heavily than others. For example, in my word of mouth exchange about Wagamama, a London-based noodle bar restaurant, I essentially tried to convince my conversational partner to go to the grand opening of the Boston restaurant. Because I was more knowledgeable about the brand through dining there in London and researching the restaurant on the Internet, I was able to be more convincing when influencing my friend to try the restaurant. Similarly, there were multiple occasions when I recommended Boloco to my friends, family, and co-workers because of my consistent satisfaction with their food and customer service. Essentially, my positive experiences with the brands have made me a loyal advocate for both restaurants. Therefore, this assignment has allowed me to realize with which brands I identify most, and those brands for which I am more apt to advocate.

When examining my word of mouth episodes, two major themes came to light. First, the commercialization of my dialogue between my friends has become so deeply engrained that I am often unaware of its presence. As a result of this lack of awareness, tracking my word of mouth episodes helped me realize the types of brands I tend to discuss most and those brands I recommend to others.


Kait Falconer's Reflection Essay

Context for this post

The Word-of-Mouth Diary assignment provided me with an interesting opportunity that allowed me to see the effects that Word-of-Mouth communication had on my everyday life. I was able to get a grasp on the practical application of WOM and I was able to witness the degree of influence that individuals give their peers as well as look at how much trust I give to my friends and acquaintances. While the three episodes that I recorded did not provide any shocking results pertaining to what individuals I am more likely to trust or whose opinion I value, the episodes were educational in displaying the prevalence of WOM in my conversations with others.

In the past I would often deem people who were brand-happy or obsessed with the latest trend as somewhat shallow or in desperate need of getting their priorities straight. This assignment was a quick reminder for me to be wary when judging others. My three episodes clearly showed that I was also guilty of such “shallow small-talk,” and more importantly that it was less “shallow small-talk” than necessary discussion. My first survey was especially revealing. While I had a part time job at a retail establishment, the majority of my conversations involved talking about a product or service. Even when I no longer worked in retail, almost half of my daily conversations involved a product or service; I was alarmed to see just how often my conversations revolved around some material object or company.

Throughout the three episodes, the length of the WOM episode never exceeded an hour, and two were under a half hour. I think this is significant in that two of the episodes proved to effectively persuade at least one partner into purchasing or considering a product. I do however believe that the success of the episodes was based considerably on the relationship between my partner and I. Two of the three episodes occurred between my best friend and myself, these were more influential than the WOM conversation that I had with my roommate. While only three WOM episodes were mandatory for the class, the assignment made me significantly more aware of my interactions with others. In judging my everyday WOM interactions I found that I made more recommendations than I received, that my recommendations were often aimed at acquaintances, and that product or service recommendations actually made up a lot of my small talk, arising when searching for common ground on which to relate. I discovered that upon finding out that a person shared an interest of mine, the conversation would quickly turn to us making specific suggestions regarding the topic, perhaps a subconscious attempt to show one another our expertise on the matter.

Overall, I think the assignment reiterated the growing role that Word-of-Mouth is playing in today’s world. Increasingly we are bombarded by companies trying to persuade us that their product or service is better than their numerous competitors, and consistently another company is featured in the news concerning corrupt motives or false advertising. Appropriately, and as emphasized by my WOM Diary, people are seeking an alternative source for opinions, and when looking for reliability and honesty, turning to peers currently seems to be the best option available.


Reflecting on Your Word of Mouth Communication Episodes

Our semester is now complete and I would like to announce that our final blog postings will come from five of our students reflecting on their own word of mouth episodes throughout the term. As part of a class assignment I asked students to record, via a web-based survey, three conversations they had about an organization, brand, product, or service. They then wrote a 500-word essay about any patterns they noticed in their own WOM communication practices.

I have received permission from each of the students to post their brief essays (in alphabetical order):
Kait Falconer
Andrea Manners
Anne McGrath
Holly Jackson
Taslim Sidi
Feel free to comment!


Monday, April 23, 2007

Heroes...Ads or No Ads?

Last week I was watching the TV series Heroes on the internet with my friends. It was the first episode of it and there was a guy named “Hiro.” In the TV series, Hiro is an “anime enthusiast who develops a way to pierce the space-time continuum and move back in time through sheer will power.” So there he goes- Hiro saw a NYC poster in the train and then he inadvertently teleported himself to New York Times Square from Tokyo, Japan.
What really caught my attention was not the scene itself or the superpower that Hiro possesses, but it was the ads and the giant billboards that were flashing behind Hiro. It was so random…but a thought popped into my head - what if there is no more dazzling billboards hanging around? What would a quiet Times Square be like? A Times Square without neon lights? So I randomly brought up these “concerns” to my friend. Then we got into argument because he said that would be a very good idea – he does not like any ads.
Even though money spent on TV ads still take the major share of the media spending in the US (from Jodi Long’s presentation), I still think it is possible to foresee lesser and lesser money would be invested in the traditional mainstream media marketing, as to consider WOMM is gradually becoming so prominent in the upcoming future. Not to mention that WOMM is relatively cheaper than the traditional ads, WOMM is also effective and powerful. So would the mainstream media marketing be progressively replaced by it? Or is there any fraction between these two?
Yes, advertisements are ubiquitous that we almost impossible to avoid them. And I hate the fact that sometimes they are so annoying that I do not even want them to exist. But I feel like ads are so penetrated in my lives that I could not live without them anymore. Think about ads during childhood (even though I do not remember many of them…) and think about those great fantastic ads during prime time on TV. Not that I do not like to see more and more WOMM, but I just thought that a life without ads would be REALLY boring. I am already feeling sad when I imagine all these traditional ads hold the possibility of being taken down…as if it would really happen in near future......=[

Predicting the Future of Blogs

As we wrapped up our last class we discussed the class blog, its trials and triumphs, but we didn't discuss WHY we blog. So, why do we blog? The class blog allowed for an exchange of ideas, making us more involved in the class and also demonstrated the WOM principle of community. Whether it was intended or not, our class used the blog to apply principles and terms learned in class to "outside" examples, emphasizing the experiential education that Northeastern is so famous for.

Additionally, businesses can use their blogs as a marketing tool, promoting new products, asking for consumer feedback so they can continue to build evangelists and establishing themselves as experts in their fields.

So following in Justin Kirby's footsteps as he made predictions on the future of WOM in the final chapter of Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz, and Word of Mouth Revolution, I would like to make a prediction on the future of the blogsphere.

1. Bloggers will move towards expressing themselves in a concise and clear way

The current convenience of "internet speak" in the era of instant messaging and texting has trickled down into the blogsphere. I believe that as this phase wears off, more bloggers will improve on their writing skills to garner increased audience and credibility (and for businesses profitability).

2. Pay for Post Blogs will decrease

Although current “pay per post” bloggers must disclose their associations to avoid schilling or stealth marketing, I believe that people still see these blogs as tainted; not as genuine as a blogger who has no motivation to blog other than the eight motivations for engaging in WOM that we identified on the first day of class.

3. Advertising on blogs will increase

Due to the decrease in pay for post blogs, I believe advertising on blogs will increase in the form of banner ads or links within blog posts. I see this frequently on popular blogs such as Perez Hilton and Dooce. Heather Armstrong, the blogger who runs dooce blogs about her family, her dog, and her life in Utah and advertising on her page is in the form of banner ads, not posts. On Perez Hilton’s blog, this is slightly different (as he does a fair amount of posting about upcoming music, artists etc that are promotions). However, I’ve seen on his blog that the background will become an advertisement and he also uses banner ads.

4. Corporations will want to establish metrics to measure blog ROI

Many businesses both large and small have developed blogs as a marketing and communications tool. In fact, I have attempted this for my own company, Bring to Light Photography, by establishing a blog (though I need to work on updating more often!). Many photographers across the country have started blogs in an effort to keep in contact with their current clients, offering them “sneak peaks” of their session images, and also attracting new potential clients. But how are businesses to measure the effectiveness of their blog? One way in which I am currently doing this is by using a stat program to count hits, returning visits, and locations of people reading my blog. This however doesn’t measure the intentions of blog readers to invest in my services. A metric needs to be established to measure ROI for time and resources spent blogging (perhaps by running a blog reader special offer??)

-->I'd like to preface this by saying that I'm not a fan of the band Nine Inch Nails, BUT I'm fascinated by the way their new album is being marketed and I don't know if I would have paid much attention if I hadn't taken this class and gotten this heightened awareness of these things. 42 Entertainment, a creator of "alternate reality games," has designed an entire world around the just-released album, both online and off, that leverages the interest of their avid fans. It reminds me of a more in-depth extension of the "advergames" that Steven Curran spoke to us about back in January as ways to engage consumers in an entertaining and interactive experience. Actually, 42 Entertainment was behind the 'ilovebees' game for Halo 2 that Curran credited as one of the pioneers of the ARG trend in his chapter in Connected Marketing.

This game started about two months ago, when some of these fans started noticing that their NIN concert t-shirts contained highlighted letters that spelled out the phrase "I am trying to believe," which led them to a website of the same name. From that website are many more websites that seem to belong to this alternate world. People have also found USB drives containing audio tracks planted in bathrooms at NIN concerts.

After hearing about this, I was curious to learn more about 42 Entertainment. Their marketing campaign mission statement reads: "As a standalone agency, we drive brand engagement and ROI by immersing consumers in our clients' brands." The company's co-founder, Jordan Weisman, has come up with 5 principles of alternate reality games and I thought that several of them seemed to apply to things we talked about in class this semester.

Weisman recognizes that people 18-35 have become somewhat immune to traditional marketing messages, which is why 42 Entertainment goes the opposite way and hides, or whispers, their messages: "Finding it becomes an act of discovery--something they can feel proud of and are willing to talk about with their friends." Another principle emphasizes the importance of interacting with the "audience," and not limiting the exposure to computer screens but making it more of an immersion by putting clues on things like billboards, fliers, and fax machines--"every medium we could touch," or really offering people a total experience.

While this kind of marketing still seems highly specialized and probably wouldn't translate across all product categories, 42 Entertainment really seems to understand who their audience is and the best ways to reach out to them by making them feel connected and involved. The principle that I found most relevant is that 42 Entertainment strives to give the audience "a common emotionally charged history or mission" so that they "seek each other out and form into a cooperative to investigate and expose the story." The full text from this article can be found here. Also, at least as far as the Nine Inch Nails creation (I can't speak about any others for certain), they're advocating transparency--it's like they're using all the best elements of stealth marketing, but are open about it, and it's not appearing to hurt them at all.


New Study on Social Networking Sites

As we have discussed in class, there has been a resurgence of word of mouth due to a variety of reasons, one of them being the emergence of communication tools to amplify word of mouth. Some of these tools are social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. These websites allow users to communicate with one another by providing information in individual profiles, while sharing personal information and allowing picture and video posting.

A recent study by The Pew Internet and American Life Project looked at teen use of these social networking sites, and the levels of privacy used by teens when allowing others to access their personal profiles. The study reported that “two-thirds of teens with profiles on blogs or social-networking sites have restricted access to their profiles in some fashion, such as by requiring passwords or making them available only to friends on an approved list.” When we discussed social networking sites in class, nearly everyone mentioned that they restricted access to their personal information, and made their profiles visible to friends only, so this information did not surprise me. What was surprising though, was that the study reported “45 percent of online teens do not have profiles at all, a figure that contradicts widespread perceptions that the nation's youths are continually on MySpace.” The article mentions that this may be caused by failure to meet minimum age requirements posted by the site. However, even sites with age requirements have very loose guidelines which allow users to lie about their age to obtain access. It seems that this resurgence of WOM may not only be caused by the emergence of these tools, but also by the fact that people are starting to use these sites at a very young age, making them part of the everyday communication system. It will be interesting to see how WOM continues to increase in popularity and become a more prominent method of communication.


As we have discussed in class, there has been a resurgence of word of mouth due to a variety of reasons, one of them being the emergence of communication tools to amplify word of mouth. Some of these tools are social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. These websites allow users to communicate with one another by providing information in individual profiles, while sharing personal information and allowing picture and video posting.

A recent study by The Pew Internet and American Life Project looked at teen use of these social networking sites, and the levels of privacy used by teens when allowing others to access their personal profiles. The study reported that “two-thirds of teens with profiles on blogs or social-networking sites have restricted access to their profiles in some fashion, such as by requiring passwords or making them available only to friends on an approved list.” When we discussed social networking sites in class, nearly everyone mentioned that they restricted access to their personal information, and made their profiles visible to friends only, so this information did not surprise me. What was surprising though, was that the study reported “45 percent of online teens do not have profiles at all, a figure that contradicts widespread perceptions that the nation's youths are continually on MySpace.” The article mentions that this may be caused by failure to meet minimum age requirements posted by the site. However, even sites with age requirements have very loose guidelines which allow users to lie about their age to obtain access. It seems that this resurgence of WOM may not only be caused by the emergence of these tools, but also by the fact that people are starting to use these sites at a very young age, making them part of the everyday communication system. It will be interesting to see how WOM continues to increase in popularity and become a more prominent method of communication.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

BostonNow Offers a Progressive Approach to Print Media

Last week BostonNow, a free daily newspaper, debuted a novel approach to print publications. In the first issue, the publisher wrote a note stating that BostonNow "will publish bloggers of all types in every section of the newspaper and on our website, and give readers the ability to comment on every piece". Essentially the progressive newspaper will combine traditional print media with consumer generated media in order to create more of an open discussion around current events. In addition to printing blogposts from their website, the publisher, Michael Schroeder, said the newspaper will maintain transparency by webcasting their meetings and allowing readers to offer their opinions via an online chatroom. Essentially BostonNow is attempting to involve their readers in choosing the content of the newspaper.

While this sounds like an effective way to combine traditional and consumer generated media, it has raised debate among some bloggers . One blogger on mentioned that he heard Sean Bonner from Metroblogging say, "Print versions of blogs - their slogan should be 'Bringing you yesterday's news tomorrow". Therefore, there is some concern that consumer generated media will not trasfer well to the print medium.

Whether the newspaper flops or not, BostonNow is attempting to empower their readers by allowing them to provide the content for their newspaper. It will also raise the awareness of blogs to those who rely on traditional forms of media.


WOM Extending Its Influence

The obvious question I’ve had while studying Word of Mouth is, “where will this all lead?” What areas will word of mouth impact and how will it be implemented? Apparently, one area where WOM will be a major player is on the internet. According to the DM News, (a newspaper for direct, interactive and database marketers) Word of Mouth will play a major role in the future of E-commerce. The article says that a panel of retail executives at’s FirstLook conference. They have taken notice of how powerful user-generated reviews and interactive advertising content. Jacob Hawkins of said, “You have to engage your customer in a dialogue, so that they get used to hearing from you… If customers get used to conversing with you, then they will be likely to write about their positive experiences.” Additionally, he noted that bad reviews help them to avoid bad products.

It seems like, from what they are saying, e-commerce businesses are moving from listening and responding into the final level of involvement with their customers: joining in. I think that, being less established and entrenched in their ways than more traditional brick-and-mortar businesses, e-commerce companies are in a far easier position to do this. Because e-commerce is still relatively new, companies are still quite open to experimentation and testing out new approaches. While traditional companies would have to seriously alter their philosophies to include more customer input, it seems like a more natural step in the evolution of e-commerce.

Having worked for an e-commerce company myself, I can definitely attest to the high positive impact that consumer input can have. Customers often call customer service with concerns, questions, complaints, and suggestions and the company is able to take that input and make immediate changes to individual skus on the website. The impact is already profound and I believe this is only the beginning of word of mouth involvement. It is quite easy to see why the conference dubbed word of mouth as being the future of e-commerce.-->

Friday, April 20, 2007

Looks Like They're Catching On

Throughout the semester, we have been talking about the way word of mouth is changing the industry. For many companies, ignoring the consumer-to-consumer conversations is no longer an option because of the profound effect they can have on the company’s image and sales. While traditional methods of marketing, advertising and public relations are still vital, an increasing amount of companies are looking for a way to manage their image in the word of mouth world.
The result? Some of the top players in the marketing, advertising and PR world are catching on and restructuring their range of services to include the consumer-to-consumer driven information. For example, it was recently announced that one of the biggest PR firms in the world was changing its mission from focusing on transmittance of information to the promotion of advocacy among consumers. They recognize that consumers are no longer being coaxed into purchasing decisions by the conglomerates, and that they are relying heavily on their peers to be honest and open in making recommendations.
In the press release following this decision, the company focuses on the three biggest changes in the market that inspired their decision:

1. The media no longer dictates to the people. Instead, consumers have become aware of the manipulative ways of traditional media sources and, therefore, are turning to their peers online to find out the real story.
2. Pull trumps push. With the amount of information being thrown at us from media sources on a daily basis, it is too risky for a company to rely on consumers to receive their message by simply pushing it at us. Instead, consumers are looking for something more. They want to engage with the company, share their values, and have their voice heard. In return, the consumer feels connected with the company and will act as an advocate.
3. New media technologies have increased consumer interaction. With the establishment of an online community, consumers are more closely connected to each other and, as a result, have a larger social network with which to share thoughts and ideas. No longer are consumers simply living in the business world, but businesses must figure out how they can fit into the consumer world.

It is important for the public relations industry to catch on because they manage the way a company presents itself in the marketplace. If the PR industry focuses on creating advocates among the consumer community instead of selling a pre-packaged image, they are focusing on fostering positive attitudes and connections with the public rather than pushing out messages and hoping that consumers will buy into it. Seems like a better approach all around.

Read the entire statement from the company here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Although we often consider WOM to be one of the most credible sources of information in our daily lives, there are still going to be plenty of instances in which we'll have to tread carefully and really consider the truthfulness of WOM episodes.

A few days ago I was reading the 04-09-07 issue of US Weekly (yes, I really enjoy celebrity gossip) and saw a brief item called "Stars' Death Hoaxes." The item read: "Forget R.I.P.: Winona Ryder, 35, Sinbad, 50, and Todd Bridges, 41, are all still alive - despite recent reports. On March 8, blogs buzzed with "news" that Ryder died from a drug overdose. Two days later, listed a date of death for Sinbad." Wikipedia has since included an "Erroneous Death Report" section to its listing for Sinbad, and the listing for the site has been disabled from editing for new or unregistered users. Whether the incorrect report was listed as a result of false WOM or was just the cause of a lot of false WOM (and grief) is unclear to me, but the point remains the same.

This reminded me of a time in the fall when I read about Stephen Colbert encouraging viewers to go to Wikipedia make ridiculous changes. He suggested they edit entries for elephants to state that the elephant population had tripled in the past six months--he didn't know if this was true, but thanks to "wikiality," if you make something up and get people to agree with or believe you, it becomes true. And a lot of people did it. He went on to claim that he didn't believe George Washington had slaves, and changed the George Washington Wikipedia article to make it a "fact" (Colbert's account has since been blocked).

I know we've all been taught that Wikipedia is not a credible source to use for research, especially academic in nature, and it's unfortunate that it has to be that way. I do sometimes use Wikipedia to look things up quickly, it often shows up at the top of the returns of my Google searches, and I know it can only become more influential. It can be a great source of information and it's cool to think that the information is fluid and can be easily changed--but that's also it's biggest downfall. Changing the format and making it more difficult to change the listings would sort of ruin the entire idea. It will be interesting to see how CGM and WOM will have to evolve to combat errors like these.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Blogger, Journalist, or Activist? Where is the line drawn?

On Friday, April 3rd, Josh Wolf, a video blogger, was released from a prison in California where he was held for a record breaking 7.5 months for refusing to give a federal court his video tape of the protests in San Francisco at the WTO’s G8 conference. This scandal is particularly aligned with word of mouth because Wolf is requesting to be protected by privacy laws granted to journalists. This is causing some controversy among journalists, many of whom do not consider him a journalist simply because he is a blogger. So the question is: what signifies a journalist as opposed to a blogger? Is it because they are paid? Is it because they are employed by a well-known or credited publishing venue? On his own personal blog, Wolf states:
Many have suggested I am not a journalist because I have personal views about my subject matter; others have argued that I don’t qualify for journalistic protections because I am not employed as a journalist by a corporation. How would a “journalist with a press pass” have responded to such a demand by the federal government? (
I think this is an important issue because it deals with transparency, the identity of bloggers, and whether or not the court system in America needs to change its understanding of what journalism is now that we have channels like blogs or video diaries. An interesting point is that the court system did not outright deny Wolf his rights as a journalist, they merely tried to work around it by placing the trial in a federal court, where this protection law does not hold. In his blog, Wolf demands a call to action for Congress to pass a federal shield law comparable to the law in California which protects these journalists. I think it will be interesting to see if Wolf and the contributors to his blog will push for this agenda and if they will succeed. I can’t think of another instance where consumer generated media was the driver behind an amendment to a law or a creation of one. Maybe someone can comment if they do know of an example where this took place.
Another important part of this story is the opinion of one journalist who, along with other journalists, is critical of Wolf. They collectively question whether there needs to be a distinction between a political activist who also runs a personal blog and a professional journalist. Kevin Sites, a journalist from Yahoo! news, asked Wolf to pick which he would consider himself, an activist or a journalist. Wolf’s response was, "My role is to uncover the truth to deliver to the public. That is my number one accountability" ( So, do we take his word for it? Or does this mark the end of the role of a journalist and the beginning of citizen marketer journalists?

Works Cited
Wolf, Josh. “On a Journalist’s Duty to the Public.” Online Posting. 9 April 2007. The Revolution Will Be Televised blog.

Sites, Kevin. “Journalist or Activist.” Yahoo News 3 April 2007.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Everything Advertising

--> The other day, I was assigned a reading in my Theories of Communication class, “Higher Education, Inc.: Training Students to Be Consumers.” (Giroux,H. (2003). The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear. ) The article was a critique on the increased commercialization that is occurring in society. The majority of the article discussed what the author sees as a growing concern, the commercialization of higher education. In creating evidence for his concern, he provided readers with a story that occurred in 2001, involving two college students, Luke and Chris. Some of you may already be familiar with this story. But in 2001, Chris Barrett and Luke McCabe created a website,, offering themselves to companies as “billboards”, hoping that a company would sponsor them and in turn pay their way through college. First USA took them up on their offer, and the students lived and breathed everything First USA. Naturally, this being the first attempt of this sort, First USA and the boys gained massive exposure, and were featured in several magazines. While the author of this article saw this as the epitome of what is wrong with the market culture in the United States, I think it stands as evidence for everything this class preaches. The most basic connection can be made in the success of creating a link between a business and real faces. While Womma is based more on creating success through word of mouth, and thus bases its success on people trusting a person they know over that of a corporate voice, at least in a local sense, these boys acted as a form of word of mouth within the people they interacted with. This also reiterates what Dr.Carl has discussed from day one, that one of the reasons Word-of-mouth is necessary and successful is because of the ever pervasive presence of advertising. Companies are doing anything and everything they can to stand out among all the clutter that advertising has created. Just like Word-of-Mouth, First USA was looking for a novel approach for getting their name out. The author was disturbed by what he deemed a bleak future for higher education, and raised many valid points that displayed that many colleges are taking some presumptuous steps to mold the college experience into one that is based on the corporate world, and leaving little for those with opposing interests. The article is worth looking at, it is definitely written by a man with a strong opinion, and don’t get me wrong in thinking that I agree with everything he had to say, he tends to get carried away at times in painting a depressing future for us. However it was interesting, and served as a great display of the growing pervasiveness of advertising, and the need for a novel approach in order for a company to even crack through the clutter.