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, Wikipedia.com 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.
Tags: WOM word of mouth Word-of-Mouth Marketing buzz marketing viral marketing marketing communication Northeastern University