He Tells Two Friends, They Tell One Billion…
What is perhaps the greatest driver of consumer choice in business? (should I buy a Toyota or a Buick? Sony or Sanyo?) It is, of course, old-fashioned word of mouth (WOM). Still. Yep, the future of business looks a bit more like the past than you might think.
What’s been happening around us is the application of WOM to the digital medium. It’s not much of a leap from the oral reviews of Shakespeare’s latest to the printed recommendations of Benjamin Franklin to the broadcast voices of amateur tinkerers of the early 20th century – hundreds of personal broadcasters on this new thing later to be called radio. (The earliest podcasts, I might add.)
To help buffet my point, in Margaret Penrose’s 1922 “The Radio Girls of Roselawn” two characters discussed whether they might, pretty soon,”carry receiving and sending sets in our pockets” which would allow them to “send or receive any news we wanted”.*
Send or receive any news we wanted. Hmm.
So the latest method of carrying that news (gossip, advice, pointed suggestions, criticisms, warnings) is of course the online manner. All these avenues opening up to deliver assistance with choice of what to buy, what to sell, where to do it, how to do it, what to charge… are making it both simpler for the savvy and possibly overwhelming for the rest. “I’ve got opinions on that latest film from Spike Lee but how can I choose among the thousands of outlets from which to pass it on?”
Setting aside the profusion of choices – and the dilemma that might be creating – the fact is all this chatter is making its way naturally above the din and creeping into the public consciousness. How this happens has always included a bit of magic (I like to think so), and a lot of common sense.
People pass on passion along the extreme edges: what they deplore and what they love. For anyone running a business of any kind this should be a blessing wrapped in a challenge. The blessing is that it is becoming easier for folks to comment on “Shakespeare’s latest” and know that not just the schlub gnawing on a drumstick next to him will be persuaded, but maybe thousands at once. The challenge for business is simply not to produce crap.
Seems to me the challenge is one of imagination: to be bold and create with the WOMers in mind. It is soon that the masses will allow substandard, overpriced and over-hyped stuff to rot on the shelves. People are being motivated by virtual, temporary acquaintances and it’s all about to meet up on a grand scale.
Businesses need to continue preparing for this not by creating thinly veiled marketing ploys in the form or a wikis, but prepare for it by putting all their energy into pleasing people with their results. Because no longer is John Smith just passing an opinion to Sally Jones on that Buick… He’s passing it on to 10,000 of them.
After his start in newspaper editing and reporting Rick Robinson spent 18 years innovating around online / mobile community, news and socializing at Aol, Clearwire, SonicGleek, Webs.com and other startups. Find him lurking with twits @sonicric