Same as it ever was… Word of Mouth still rules.

The revolution of Web 2.0 (everyone as a content creator) begot the Social Media revolution (discussion as content)…

Social Media is in the process of birthing a PR/Marketing and Branding revolution (click here for google results if you don’t believe me).

And that is a good thing… but there is a secret buried in there…

The secret, of course, is that word of mouth was always the best PR, Marketing and Branding. What has changed isn’t which mechanism is better – the traditional PR/Marketing megaphone or word of mouth – it is the relative power of the platform.

When word of mouth was limited to the small group of people any individual customer could interact with over a given period of time you knew, with absolute certainty, that the power of the Megaphone would win. Why? Because your message – clear, repetitive, and powerful – would overwhelm the disjointed, contradictory, and often biased word of mouth.

The reality was that it didn’t matter if a large segment of your customers didn’t like your product or service. The reality was that 15% of your customers being dissatisfied wasn’t a big deal – because you had the megaphone… and they didn’t. You were in control of your brand, you decided what your brand was and how it would be messaged.

As an example of the megaphone:

The megaphone gave you the ability to control the conversation and the perception. Your dissatisfied customers could tell friends, co-workers and family, but their reach was limited and the message was disjointed.

Social Media effectively neutralizes the megaphone – simply by providing every dissatisfied customer with access to a megaphone equal in size and capability to yours. Ten years ago, no customer could afford a 30 second TV spot or half page print ad – today they can all create YouTube video, blog or Twitter account from which they can tell everyone what they think of your product or service.

Perhaps most importantly these messages, while lacking in production quality, are 100% authentic. They are not carefully crafted, on message, or chock full of reassuring language – but they are how your customers talk to one another:

This is the new word of mouth. This is Social Media. This is you no longer being able to control the conversation.

The irony of this is that for years companies have yearned to tap into their positive word of mouth. And – to be sure – there are voices evangelizing your company, products and services in Social Media. These are the same customers who provided you testimonials before – the only difference is they no longer need your megaphone to be heard.

The new reality is conversational. Your brand reality is the current state of the conversation. Your PR and Marketing efforts are simply a part of the larger conversation.

The real question you need to be asking yourself is – am I in the conversation in a relevant way? Am I engaged, empathetic, and listening – or am I attempting to shout down my critics?

Any effective Social Media branding/marketing strategy has to include your company engaging in the conversation. You can’t control it, you can only influence it – and the only way to do that is to engage in a meaningful way.

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