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Word of Mouth Media Money Can Buy

  |  May 10, 2012   |  Comments

A digital ad platform gives advertisers the ability to pay only when consumers share a "sponsored" story.

Word of mouth is more effective than paid advertising. Lamentable as this may be to many digital advertisers, it's increasingly true. The extent to which consumer word of mouth affects public awareness, knowledge, and perception of our clients' brands was staggering to start, but social media has made the phenomenon all the more immediate.

Consumers are talking, and those who are listening are eager to use what they learn. Today in America, consumers will produce about 3.3 million brand mentions, and do so within 2.4 million brand-related conversations. Fifty-four percent of their purchase decisions will be made based on word of mouth, because 49 percent of these consumers believe online word of mouth is "highly credible," compared with 59 percent who believe the same of the offline word of mouth that lives inside face-to-face conversations.

This kind of word of mouth is often referred to as "earned media," for obvious reasons: we have to work hard to get it. And as with many things that are earned it's worth the cost. According to research from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), 6 percent of all brand-related word of mouth conversations are "mostly positive." That also makes them highly profitable, particularly for considered purchase products.

Unfortunately, understanding the importance of getting word of mouth mentions for your brand is a far cry from managing to do it. Brands do what they can by inviting their customers to tell their friends about their positive brand experience (surveying them on their likelihood of referring a friend is an excellent way to plant this notion in their minds), but there's no guarantee they'll become the product of word of mouth referrals and reviews. We want to know which consumers are sharing their stories with others, and trust that our combination of advertising, quality products, and good customer service will do the trick. It would be so nice, though, to know for sure.

This week, ad network and digital technology company NetShelter Media launched a product that endeavors to provide media buyers with the assurance that their brands will get people talking. Dubbed "inPowered Stories," this alternative to CPM buys only requires advertisers to pay when consumers share a sponsored story. In other words, instead of buying eyeballs, brands can buy shares that are, in theory, more likely to generate conversions.

The sponsored stories on which the ad platform is based appear within an editorial story on the pages of the properties and blogs within NetShelter's technology-specific network of sites. The stories, which are written and then curated for advertising brands by NetShelter's authors and bloggers, can be shared via the usual social media channels, but can also be shared by way of a "share bar" that suggests related sponsored stories and also offers the opportunity to interact with the advertising brand. In pilot studies, NetShelter reported that inPowered Stories received active consumer engagement of an average of 0.59 percent - "more than 6 times efficacy when accounting for reads and initial shares."

The idea of purchasing online word of mouth has been around for some time, if not in such a neat package. It's what brands have in mind when they pay for social media ads and add comment fields to their online stores. There's trust in online word of mouth, both on the part of consumers and the brands eager to reach them. According to Nielsen's "Global Trust in Advertising Report," "Word-of-mouth recommendations and reviews, either from someone (consumers) know or a stranger’s opinions online, are the most trusted sources of information for buying decisions." But online ads are gaining consumers' trust as well; and although banners are still behind print ads and TV in terms of delivering sponsored messages that evoke trust, 33 percent of those surveyed said they believe online banner ads, while 36 percent believe ads seen on social sites. The objective, then, should be to enhance campaigns by employing units that are easy to share, such that even banner ads are given the means to become a referral to a friend.

Despite what you've heard, money can buy word of mouth. It's just a matter of finding the right way to spend it.

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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