Collectively well-maintained web directories are increasingly getting the attention of Internet users as well as spurring Web users to express and exchange their opinions online.
Just a few years ago, the first approaches have been to collect customer opinions and to provide reviews of products and services to other participants. However times have changed and it can be said that the aspect of communication as well as social networking in the tightly linked technology world is much more advanced today. Collectively maintained web directories like Weblogs, forums, video blogs or social bookmarking sites are increasingly sparking the interest of Internet users.

But much more interesting for companies is the use of the opinion of other consumers and what they think about the quality of products and services as the basis to influence their clients purchase decisions. Thus, most field reports in the internet are from forums, personal home pages, portals, or even weblogs. Moreover, a number of studies prove that nowadays purchasing decisions are by less than 5% influenced by traditional TV or print advertising, but through a third party by word of mouth in the form of personal recommendations or product recommendations from test reports.

The mechanisms of the so-called word of mouth advertising are from a business point of view really important as it is in general beyond a company’s direct control. In particular, negative opinions which tend to remain sometimes for years documented and commented on the Internet, have a greater impact on purchasing decisions than in the offline world in which emerging rumours or negative messages about products and services quickly fizzle out over time and thus fall into oblivion.

For marketing and sales managers it is therefore more than important to re-question their existing online strategy. In particular, the following questions should be answered by them with a "yes" before they start:

  • Do I know the opinion leaders in important social networks of the Internet, who may have a decisive impact on purchasing decisions for my products or services regarding potential buyers?
  • Which of these opinion leaders influence potential customers in their purchasing decision positively or even negatively?
  • Do I use the identified positive opinions systematically and make them potential customers as a decision support?
  • Did I identify negative expressions of opinions on the Internet systematically and derive from it recommendations and as the case may be, proposals for solutions as well?
  • Do I contact people who express themselves negatively about my products on the Internet and present them the compiled proposals for a solution?

This list can be continued with a number of essential questions, but the truth is that only very few companies can answer the listed questions above with "yes". This is mostly due to the fact that many decision makers from marketing and sales either still don’t know that such analysis on the Internet (and even in mass markets) can be implemented efficiently, or in spite of the knowledge, access to implement it with relevant market partners isn’t in place.

In addition, many managers just don’t welcome the aspect of a need to adapt the existing off-line strategy: haven’t been so far, more or less successfully, all above-the-line or below-the-line activities got implemented routinely and smoothly.

Considering the situation I recommend your company to follow the guidelines below:

  1. Explore the possibilities and potentials of word of mouth marketing
  2. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of this approach for your company
  3. Identify the first quick wins for your company

By Daniela La Marca