With SXSW just having finished in Austin, TX now is a great time to see what kinds of trends might be emerging from this uber cool conference that has launched the likes of Twitter and Foursquare in the past few years. While there are lots of new shiny things to get excited about, one that caught my eye this past week was the growth and maturity of platforms designed to allow consumers to trade in their value as word of mouth agents for products or brands they purchase and enjoy. Leading the way in this category is a start-up called Curebit, that has found a nifty way to monetize word of mouth, in a similar way to a new social brand advocacy platform called 500friends
We’ve Been Waiting for This”¦
LSB CEO Marsha Lindsay and Jason Weaver CEO of Shoutlet talked about this at our 2009 Brandworks University. Then at our 2010 Brandworks Annsi Vanjoki, former EVP of Nokia, suggested that software designers will begin thinking about a way to allow consumers to gain value by exchanging their information as currency. Nielsen research has show the effectiveness of word of mouth in relation to all other forms of advertising, marketing and pr, but actually getting people to talk about your product, inspiring others to share their experience all seem outside the influence of some marketing plans. Do you target key influencers with loads of Twitter followers and high Klout scores? Do you just spend time perfecting the product and hope it will inspire its own word of mouth organically?
In the end, every marketer just wants to know if there is a way to take so much guess work out of gathering word of mouth?
The Shiny New Object in Social Commerce
The latest social e-commerce add-on, Curebit, sets an actual monetary value to the word of mouth status update that someone posts to their social network. It works like this, when a purchase is made an automatic message is populated with a link, a discount code for a special offer, and an empty status update box for you to fill in and post to whatever social network (e.g. Facebook, twitter, linkedin) you choose. The post message is not auto-generated, so you can write whatever you want, and anyone who clicks on the link will get a special discount. At the same time, if someone does act on your word of mouth social post you get a $5 credit to that store.
Curebit has 4 distinct features. It is an opt-in message not automated, which is what makes it more authentic like true word of mouth. It’s pay for performance, so if people are not inspired to act, nobody gets the discount. It also has great metrics to see how well these word of mouth advocates are performing. It makes no distinction between social media influencers and regular Jane and Joes. Everyone is equally capable of being influential.
Early results, according to Curebit, show a pretty good response rate to these offers for a simple add-on to any brand’s ecommerce platform.
Automating Word of Mouth
The entire premise of this system rests on Duncan Watts‘ theories of network effects. Rather than spend time looking for influencers to spread the word about your brand, Watts’ experiments with virality showed that by adding certain features to ads (a pass-along game that showed where the ad has gone) one could automatically enhance word of mouth.
The takeaway from this is pretty clear; with more and more options coming to the e-commerce world, brands can implement some pretty simple technologies on their e-commerce platform to enhance their social word of mouth, but that is not the same thing as making your product the next Silly Bandz, Vibram Five Fingers shoes, or Pogs. So beyond automating word of mouth and social share options into your ecommerce and online presence, what else can you do?
Understanding Influence and its Role in Launches
Reaching out to major blogs with strong followers, heavy users of twitter, etc. still gets your brand or product visibility to a larger audience, and it is an essential practice to get your product the kind of PR it needs to have a successful launch. We recommend bringing those influential people who write/blog about things related to your category into the mix before you launch. Give those folks insider access to help you improve the product. Getting feedback from them and acting on it not only is great for market research and it will also show those influencers you care about their opinion, and respect their relationship with their followers.
We know from our own experience that outreach like this goes a long way in helping you successfully launch a new product and garnering good earned media mentions with the right people. But the jury is still out on whether that outreach will be the “Tipping point” to making your brand/product or service go big.
Lost in many discussions over how ideas/products become trends and the role of key influencers in this process is the fact that increasing the number of people who hear about your product/service online via word of mouth can be accomplished with some pretty easy steps. Automate social share and word of mouth options where you can and do the hard work of reaching out to key influencers to build a relationship and get feedback early before you launch. Doing both ensures you will be reaching more people in more ways, which is essential in building a broad awareness.
The thing Watts couldn’t predict and that Malcolm Gladwell could only describe after the fact, was why one particular thing went viral. To do that, it’s still about reading the culture, doing the arbitrage, distilling those observations into an insight, and delivering a compelling product, message and experience that people can’t resist. As of right now, there isn’t a way to automate that.