Is Social Networking the future of Word-of-Mouth Marketing?

Summary: Question of the week — Is Social Networking the future of Word of Mouth Marketing? — Posted question on LinkedIn Answers — 24 answers in less than 24 hours — sample a few

I hinted at this in an earlier post of mine, where I asked the question whether the future of word of mouth marketing is social networking. I then also cross-posted, a modified version of the same post/question on MarketingProfs, which should be live anytime this week (hopefully today or tomorrow). Since LinkedIn Answers is a tool that also gets me in front of millions of professionals (yes, I work there and am tired of saying it, but for disclosure’s sake I shall continue repeating myself), I decided to post the very same question on LinkedIn and within 24 hours, I received ~24 Answers (most of them from C-level executives and entrepreneurs. Well, I thought I’ll break it down into sheer % of answerers (is that a word?). Among the first 24 answers I received in 24 hours, here’s a breakdown of those who posted a response (interestingly, only 2 of the respondents where bloggers):

C-level executives: ~41%
Senior Marketers: ~33% (of whom 2 are bloggers, my friends Damon and Karl)
Consultants: ~21%
PR Manager: ~4%

Here’s the question: Is Social Networking the future of Word of Mouth Marketing?

Here are some answers from fellow LinkedIn users:

Bob Allistat

“Social networking” is incumbent upon joining or somehow being a part of a technical mechanism *not* a community. And certainly not of the world “at large”. The closer we can approximate real world connections online the more powerful will be our ability for one person to reach any other person. In other words the easier it is to connect the dots – without mediation, membership, being in or out, etc – the more profound the network, social or otherwise.

Currently the problem is barriers which exist at every turn. How we negotiate these barriers and design connections will determine how effective and easily we will be able to communicate with one another.

Karl Garrison:

I don’t think it will replace it, although it will definitely augment it. The nice thing about social networks now is that they don’t market very much – or at least it’s still quite subtle.

I also think snake-oil salesmen will find more subtle and clever ways to use and abuse social networking sites like monitoring the questions so they can answer with their own favorite CRM solution. Much like bloggers, companies will pay popular posters to endorse products without revealing they are paid.

While it could greatly strengthen and reinforce marketing, it could also corrupt the social networks themselves and make recommendations from people more than 1 degree away not really mean anything. This is a particular danger from the huge open networking community who don’t care and don’t know most people in their networks.

Also, I recently answered a question from someone that seemed like they were driving traffic to their blog. My answer was quite polite, but I disagreed with them and, mysteriously, my answer was flagged as inappropriate and disappear from the list – and several other similar postings disappear as well. I think this type of anti-marketing (where you flag answers that disagree with your post or recommend competitors) is evil and very likely to explode. Particularly when you can anonymously flag questions and easily get multiple accounts. (My response: Karl, please send me a link to the question and I’ll look into it. Thanks!)

Curtis Broome:

I think your question is great, but your assessment is inaccurate. There are two forms of WOM marketing, formal and informal. Formal (which is from a known friend, colleague, family member) WOM marketing is the most influential form. Informal is influential, but it’s strength is determined by the behavioral nature of the recipient of the information.

Let’s look at Yelp as an example since the business is built upon WOM recommendations. Clearly, Yelp is a success if measured by audience size and growth. Many Yelpers swear by the value it provides them as a local referral service. Yelp is an informal WOM marketing community. For me personally, Yelp is useless. I am not interested in the opinions of others regarding local businesses as I prefer to experience the business myself and form my own opinions. I am also very likely to try out a local business if I hear of positive experiences from my family and friends. Again, I see value in Yelp, but none for me.

Hence, your question should be whether or not social networking is the future of informal WOM marketing. If that is the question, my answer would be maybe, and it depends on whether or not any of these social networks can maintain a long enough product lifecycle to become true influencers on societal behavior.

Which of the above three is your favorite answer? And, do you’ve any thoughts on the same?

On a similar note, I’ll definitely urge my fellow marketers who dabble in blogging or those who don’t, to check out LinkedIn Answers. Not only will it get you answers from your select circle of friends on LinkedIn you can also have the question posted publicly where others interested in that category will respond (the question above was on Viral Marketing). Also, you can subscribe (RSS) to questions within each category. Check it out here. For e.g. I see my friend Jennifer Jones (Podtech) has a post up on MarketingProfs where she basically asks the question:

Strategic Marketing: Disappearing or just in hibernation?

I’d definitely urge Jennifer to post that question on LinkedIn Answers and see what kind of responses she gets. It’ll definitely surprise you since it opens up the question to an entirely new audience.

Here are some of my peers and friends use LinkedIn Answers in unique ways in the past:

1. Jason Calacanis — Posts on LinkedIn Answers; here and here
2. Chris Pirillo — Posts on LinkedIn Answers from the past; here, here and here

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