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Word of Mouth: What’s the Value to PR?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the concept of word of mouth marketing (WoM). Although it has become the term du jour, this concept is nothing new. However, with the emergence of social media and blogging, WoM has made it easier for brands to witness it, putting it front and center of the PR industry’s consciousness.

Despite its prominence in the public relations discussion, does word of mouth marketing have value and can we calculate its worth?

During the 2014 WOMMA Summit in sunny Hollywood, California, attendees were exposed not only to the power of WoM, but its value as well.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the conference:

WoM’s Value

Perhaps due to the recession, negative experiences or documentaries about corporate greed, people are skeptical of brands. For example, no one is inclined to believe you sell the best pizza in town just because a brand tweets or blogs it. However, if a respected food blogger endorses your pizza, that gives credibility to your brand.

It’s essential that PR professionals have influencer relations in their PR toolkit.

How essential?

According to WOMMA’s study Return on Word of Mouth, there’s a $6 trillion pie at stake.

When you stack up WoM against other initiatives, it proves to be a strong contender for high-value PR initiatives. According to research presented at the conference, one WoM impression is five times more effective than a paid ad alone.

And when the product price is higher, so is the return.

A WoM impression can be 100 times more effective than an online ad if the product is more expensive.

I know you’re probably thinking, that’s great, but how can I measure WoM?

Although it can be difficult, it isn’t impossible. A great way to look at success is to pair it with other traditional methods and compare campaigns that were integrated with WoM vs. those that weren’t.

“WoM is not a replacement for a certain type of media, it’s an amplifier of all media,” says PepsiCo’s Senior Director of Analytics at Pepsi Cola Ed Wild.

Not All WoM Is Equal

Word of mouth is great, but not all types have equal impact on the bottom line.

According to the study presented during the conference, WoM had a significant impact on consumer decisions and drives 13 percent of sales on average.

This number gets even higher when there’s more money at stake. The larger the purchase, the more important getting an opinion from outside the brand was to consumers.

A great way to harness the power of WoM is to have an event for influencers or allow them to test an early release of your product. Make it easy for folks to talk about you and, most importantly, listen.

A person praising a brand to their networks is music to a PR pro’s ear. However, whether their praises are online or offline matter. Among brands that participated in the study presented at the conference, they found that offline WoM had two times more business impact than online WoM.

WoM Operates Outside a Vacuum

Just like other PR initiatives, WoM success is sweeter if you integrate it into your campaigns.  Lee Hurley, VP of Digital and Social at Weight Watchers, emphasizes that traditional media tends to be very silo-ed and WoM only works when efforts are holistic.

A key way to do this is to look at how WoM relates to your website, TV ads, emails and other tactics so you can maximize your results.

The WOMMA study found that when word-of-mouth initiatives were paired with other PR and marketing efforts, the returns were greater. For example if you were to pair a WoM initiative with a paid ad campaign, PR professionals would see their message amplified on average by 15 percent.

Also don’t forget to listen.

At Weight Watchers, for example, their team follows conversations and knows from data which conversations are the right ones to engage in. They identify the convo themes that are most likely to drive ROI and change perceptions, and then harness them by building an army of advocates around them.

What are your thoughts on the value of word of mouth to public relations?

About Adrienne Sheares

Adrienne Sheares is an enthusiast for all things social media. On the rare times she’s not on social media, she loves watching any cooking show and frequently pretends she’s a “Top Chef” contestant in her kitchen. You can find her on Twitter at @SocialMediaDC.

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