Word of Mouth and Social Media Marketing… “Tipping Point”, or “Jumping the Shark”?
By Bob Troia
I recently returned from WOMMA’s Word of Mouth Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. It was a fun (yet sleepless!) few days and it’s always great running into/reconnecting with familiar faces as well as meeting new ones.
Historically, these events have always left me invigorated and full of new ideas. But this time, something felt… “different” (and it wasn’t the shots of Petron that we did at the Wynn just a few hours earlier after an all-night Blackjack marathon )
In the opening “State of WOM Address” given by WOMMA President John Bell, he said something along the lines of the word of mouth marketing industry reaching a “tipping point“. I think what he meant was that WOM is about to transition from a “niche” form of marketing and a tiny part of the overall marketing mix to a more “mainstream” tactic that is on the top-of-minds of any C-level executive.
Yes! I agree 100%! But after two days of panels and networking with people from a variety of backgrounds (brands, agencies, services), I started to wonder, could word of mouth marketing, rather than reaching a “tipping point”, be “jumping the shark“?
Thinking back to the “early” WOMMA events (2005), there was an electricity/excitement in the air. It’s really hard to explain, but everyone was drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid. The excitement wasn’t about what had been done, but about the potential of what could be done. There were far more questions than answers, but that was fine, because it was forcing people to think about things like tactics, metrics, and business models. And for brands, how can they sell WOM to their boss and how do they budget for it?
Flash forward 3.5 years – word of mouth marketing has matured into a multi-billion dollar industry. There are tons of books, blogs, and even awards dedicated to the concept. So although I didn’t find it surprising that audience members (many of whom were new to the industry and first-timers at a WOM-related conference) were asking many of the same questions as back in 2005, the vibe was much less “electric” and more “uncertain”, and what surprised me was the lack of concrete answers being provided, in particular with respect to:
How can that be possible? Are we, as practitioners, really still figuring things out? Or are we hesitant to share too much info with other agencies/potential competitors (since the event was probably 90% vendors/agencies)?
On the agency/vendor front, are folks jumping into the WOM/SM arena out of true passion/belief or are they just trying to latch on the next “big/cool” thing or make a quick buck? Will the industry simply become dominated by a small group of large PR Social Media agencies? If times become tough economy-wise and competition more fierce, will things like ethics be tossed out the window? Please tell me no!
However, I do truly believe that the industry is at a crossroads. The lines are being blurred between PR, marketing, loyalty/CRM, and customer service as these tactics increasingly overlap. Demanding accountability and establishing consistent metrics among both brands and agencies is the only way to ensure things “tip” rather than “jump”. Hopefully this stirs up some healthy dialog – I encourage you to post your thoughts below, or drop me a tweet!
Oh, by the way you can check out all of the live “tweets”/micro-commentary that were posted during the WOMMA Summit by looking for posts tagged #womsum (or just click this link).