In its recent issue, BtoB Online discusses the growing excitement among B2B marketers about the powerful advertising affect inherent in "word of mouth."
It's long been known that word of mouth is a potent force. What dismays me is that once again, marketers are off chasing another trendy fad and trying to turn something natural and spontaneous into something that is mechanical and artificial. It's not that I am a purist; rather I simply don't think it can be done successfully.
Think about your own experience with word of mouth "advertising." Yes, there is some value if a friend or associate alerts you to something new. But the real power of word of mouth is when your friend or associate actually endorses something – putting their good name and reputation behind a product or service. That's why advertising agency campaigns that get people to merely pass around funny videos to their friends falls short. This may qualify as a form of viral advertising, but it fails to deliver an honest, objective endorsement, so as word of mouth advertising it hits far short of the mark.
It's the same thing with buzz, that mysterious point of critical mass when the world seems to be looking at you because enough influential people have chosen to talk about you at roughly the same time. This excitement about the power of buzz has spawned companies that claim they can manufacture buzz for a client on demand. I submit that whatever these companies can deliver in terms of buzz can only be a pale imitation of the real thing.
I have the same issue with the concept of community. All publishers know it's a good thing to create online community because it reflects loyalty and builds traffic. Yet, like buzz and word-of-mouth, I don't believe you can manufacture community. The communities that are real and worthwhile are driven by enthusiasm, deep interest, needs and passions. You can't fake that.
Rather than spending our energies trying to manufacture things whose power lies in the fact they cannot be manufactured, we should simply stick to the knitting. If we are creating information products that our customers really want and need, delivered in a way that is truly useful and valuable, then we've set the stage for buzz, word-of-mouth and community to happen naturally. If they don't, you've still got a viable, profitable product delivering value to its users. And you can't get more real than that.