Word of mouth and incentives for social media campaigns

Buzz - from Wikimedia CommonsRecently I’ve been approached by a number of people in the digital marketing sector to provide advice or give feedback on social media seeding campaigns for businesses. While each campaign has been different, and needed to address the specific information needs of the business and its audiences, there has been a fairly consistent factor that is overlooked by strategists: the impact of sharing.

While marketers are cognizant of the need for incentives to participate in word of mouth campaigns, they often fail to acknowledge the impact to the participant of the act of sharing content.

When users share links to content, or tweet about a brand/idea/individual, there is an effect on individuals’ perception among their followers and friends. All users are aware of this perception, or certainly become aware, when their networks mass unfollow, protest about, or ignore their posts and content. For non-celebrities in particular, these are trust relationships, and links to content that are regarded as overtly commercial, tediously repetitive or even trite can be deemed a betrayal of that trust.

For this reason it is ultimately dangerous for marketers to seek reward-oriented incentives for participation in word of mouth marketing campaigns via social media. The influence of users and their trusted relationships decline the more that any user engages in sharing links to content in order to win a prize or earn cash.

I’ve long advocated the notion that Word of Mouth marketing needs to be used for ventures where the content being communicated is implicitly valuable. Then the reputation of sharers is enhanced by sharing, and the trust networks of influencers is not compromised.

It’s important to note here that my clients and colleagues have all been open to the idea of creating implicitly valuable content when I point this out to them. But that’s the true challenge of quality Word of Mouth – creating interesting, valuable and collaboratively crafted content.

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