Word of mouth is a bigger influence on what people share than advertising and marketing.
It’s no secret that a well-planned advertising campaign can help create a buzz about a product. But advertising alone won’t guarantee that product will become contagious.
Rather, there’s a tried-and-true way to make large numbers of people aware of your product: word of mouth.
In our society, word of mouth is a massively influential form of communication, and we’re constantly sharing things with others – especially online. In fact, people share about 16,000 words per day online, where there are over 100 million conversations involving brands every hour.
While we might believe our online sharing is fairly insignificant, what we share actually influences the actions of others. Indeed, research reveals that word of mouth is the main reason behind up to one-quarter of all the purchases we make.
Although traditional advertising can reach millions of people, potentially attracting many of
them to a product, consumers are influenced more by a friend’s or coworker’s recommendation via word of mouth simply because they value their opinions above the assertions of advertisements.
Another reason word of mouth is more effective than advertising is that it targets potential consumers more precisely. We recommend products and other goods to others, especially our friends, based on what we know about their tastes and preferences. You probably wouldn’t tell your teetotal friend all about your new favorite beer, for instance.
Still, we shouldn’t overestimate the power of social media. Although we certainly share a lot using social media, it amounts to only 7 percent of our total word-of-mouth communication. So remember: while social media has proven a powerful medium for making certain products contagious, it’s best not to rely on it as a strategy in and of itself. For instance, tweeting about your product or posting information about it on Facebook – regardless of how many people are reading it – isn’t necessarily enough to make it contagious.
Sharing certain things makes us look good to others – which means we’re more likely to share them.
Think about the last time you impressed someone. What did you talk about? Did you try to impress them with an interesting fact or by showing off some “insider” knowledge.
If so, you wouldn’t be alone. It appears that we gain a lot of pleasure from sharing, even if what we share are just our personal opinions. As one study showed, sharing our opinions activates the same area of the brain that’s activated by things like food or money. But sharing can also cause us to feel good indirectly – by making us look good.
This is because sharing is a form of social currency, with which we “buy” the favor and interest of others. For this reason, people are simply more likely to share something if they think it will impress their peers.
Many businesses exploit social currency to their advantage. Take, for example, New York’s prestigious, exclusive bar Please Don’t Tell. To enter the bar, customers have to use a secret entrance. This makes its patrons feel like insiders, which means they’re more likely to share their experience to impress others.
Other ways that companies make use of social currency include releasing unusual, or remarkable, content that will stimulate a discussion among consumers and using “game mechanics.” For example, each bottle of Snapple iced tea contains an interesting fact underneath its bottle cap – like, “Honey is the only food that doesn’t spoil.” Consumers share these “remarkable” facts with others to appear more interesting themselves. Conveniently, when people do share them, they’re also sharing the brand name.
People also like to share when they’ve won something and to display the badges and trophies they’ve collected. To that end, many companies offer rewards to customers for using their products or services. For example, many airlines have “frequent flyer” programs that make customers feel accomplished for flying a certain benchmark number of miles. Whether it’s through winning prizes or impressing others with a remarkable fact, we’re more likely to share things that make us look good.