Friday, May 05, 2006

ALA PR forum to spread the word about WOM

While I try not to recap every press release or listserv post here on LM, this notice from ALA was one I thought I ought to pass along: The ALA Annual Conference will include a PR forum on word-of-mouth marketing to take place Sunday, June 25, 2006, from 8 to 10 a.m. I'm excited to see attention being given to WOM, which is just starting to be considered a formal part of marketing plans. I won't be at ALA this year, but if anyone attends this, I'd be interested to know how it was.

Update: There was a very good comment to this post that brought up some important questions about WOM, which you may want to look over. I took a stab at addressing them, but would be interested in other comments along these lines.

Categories: excellent_events | new_news


steven said...

Jill - perhaps you can comment on whether libraries will ever get into "real" WOM marketing. What I'm talking about is buzz marketing. In real WOM marketing companies either pay individuals to promote their products within their social groups or give them the products. For example, Toyota gives away Scion cars to their targeted age demographic to get the car attention in the community. For a big company it's probably cheaper than buying ad time on network television. Clearly there are some ethical issues involved in WOM marketing, and I don't think librarians are prepared to step over that line the way corporations have. So then, what sort of WOM can libraries really do that will get communities talking about how great libraries are. Will the ALA program be much more than the usually RAH-RAH "get out there and talk up the library stuff" - or is someone willing to step up and say, "I'm willing to pay students to talk about how helpful the librarians are" in the middle of a class discussion or we'll eliminate all of a student's book overdues if they'll promise to start a conversation at the dining hall about using the library's databases instead of google. Is my thinking about WOM marketing wrong? Do you see effective WOM marketing in the business world that doesn't involve some form of consumer manipulation?
Thanks - Steven

Jill said...

Hi, Steven!

What a great comment! Where to begin...To my way of thinking, true WOM is not about paying or bribing people to say things. In fact, the philosophy expressed by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) states, "Word of Mouth is . . .
* The voice of the customer
* A natural, genuine, honest process
* People seeking advice from each other
* Consumers talking about products, services, or brands they have experienced"

I think what WOM does is focuses on 1. giving people something to talk about and 2. giving them mechanisms for spreading the word. I'm actually talking about this and other trends at a conference next week, and the example I'm using of this in the library world is W. Kentucky University's coffee shop programming, which has made the shop so popular that it has the highest sales of Java Cities nationwide. I suspect a lot of that has to do with WOM and creating an experience (like a poetry reading, or game nights in some libraries) that is easy to discribe to other people. Likewise, I think when patrons sign up for library workshops, why not have a "Tell A Friend" mechanism so they can pass the info along to another interested person? Or have a "bring a friend to the library" event? Things of that nature.

Other things libraries can do is ask participants at events and things how they found out about the event, etc. so to better understand how people share library-related information and then use those channels to communicate more effectively.

I don't see anything wrong with recognizing strong library supporters with things like maybe a coffee get-together or an honor of some kind, but I hate the idea of paying people to say certain things. That is very dishonest and also against WOMMA's Code of Ethics.

As far as examples in the business world, I'm pointing out things like the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon where people have drummed up all this hype, on their own before the movie has even been released! I think business are only just begining to explore this, so a lot remains to be seen.

You might also be interested in the different types of WOM there are (you mentioned buzz). I think many of these kinds would be compatible with the work we librarians do, like community marketing.

I can't speak at all to what the ALA program will be like-I'll be as surprised as the next person.

This was an excellent comment, and I'm glad you raised these questions! Clearly, I'll have to write about this some more, because this is such new and unfamiliar territory.

Candi said...

I have to disagree that "real" word of mouth marketing means you have to pay someone to talk about your product or service. That feels like trying to buy people to me. Perhaps it works from time-to-time, but in today's world where people are more connected and able to spread information quicker than ever, old, manipulative tricks like this are sniffed out more than ever and can have the opposite effect.

Now I don't think that giving your product out to early-adopters or influencers and asking them to try it and tell you what they think is the same (or a bad) thing. But you have to expect ot hear the good, the bad and the nitpicky.

I don't think true word of mouth marketing can be engineered. You can put tools out there to make it easier, but it's about the customer and their experience.

Libraries could also encourage word of mouth marketing by being remarkable. What if suddenly libraries became easier to use than Google and still delivered the reliable information they always have? Might people talk about that without being paid?

I think the best way for libraries to generate real word of mouth marketing is to:

*Revamp resources, interfaces and services so that we're easier/more intuitive to use and remarkable (Seth Godin's book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable keeps coming to mind)

*Give users what they want and stop expecting them to to change or learn a totally new way of doing and thinking about things in order to use the library

*Give better than expected customer service

*Go where the users are

*Provide tools that help users spread the word should they desire to.

*Follow a complete and diverse marketing plan

Jill said...

I absolutely agree with you, Candi (as usual), that real WOM derives from remarkable services. The W. Kentucky U. Libraries coffee bar was the example I used, but certainly we can strive to be outstanding with all aspects of service to generate WOM.

steven said...

Thanks for your insights into WOM. I wasn't suggesting that it could only be done by certain kinds of unethical manipulation, but it is a known practice in business. I imagine there are things we could do to create more of a library experience that creates "buzz" on campus without needing to artificially prompt people to talk about the library.