People like disclosure. They like to know who they are talking to and why a recommendation is being made.
Confirming this “gut” instinct felt by most communicatiors is a new Word of Mouth Communications study released by Walter Carl, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University in his blog this week.
The study was done in partnership with BzzAgent, Inc., a word-of-mouth marketing organization that recruits people to participate in buzz campaigns for its clients.
Just over 589 agents and 211 conversational partners participated in the study. The participants generated over 1,000 valid surveys that asked them to provide information on when and where the episode occurred, the topic of the conversation, whether or not a recommendation was made and by whom, the valence of the talk (positive, negative, or neutral), as well as perceptions of the quality of the interaction, the person with whom they were speaking, and how long they knew one another.
Interesting findings and conclusions:
- In over 75% of the cases where a person learned about a brand or product from another source of information (such as a print, radio, TV, or web advertisement), talking with the marketing agent increased the believability of that other source of information.
- Participation in an organized, rather than organic, word-of-mouth marketing program does not undermine the effectiveness of word-of-mouth communication.
- Disclosure has practical business benefits. It does not interrupt the “natural” flow of conversation. In fact, it seemed to have an inoculation effect against negative perceptions.
- Word-of-mouth marketing organizations should adopt a clear policy that requires disclosure. This policy should be implemented with a combination of both education about the practical business benefits of disclosure as well as enforcement procedures.
You can download a PDF of the report here.
Also read the conversation going on at Media Orchard about when viral marketing becomes lying.