Building “Word Of Mouth” Capabilities Into Online Apps

Andy Sernovitz
Originally uploaded by christophercarfi.

Had a chance to meet Andy Sernovitz in Chicago a few weeks back (along with some other great folks). Andy is the CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, also known as WOMMA.

Have been flipping through his new book on word of mouth marketing, and there are a number of good points and checklists. The one he keeps coming back to: “Put a tell-a-friend form on every page of your website.” (Just checked, and yes, the WOMMA site does this. Excellent consistency!)

Some other things on Andy’s list:

  • Create a blog
  • Put a special offer in an easily forwardable email
  • Come up with one buzzworthy topic — keep it simple
  • Let your talkers sign up for a private newsletter
  • Do something unexpected
  • Be nice

From the “eating our own dogfood” department, here are three examples of ways we’ve built these kinds of tools into Haystack networking.

Number 1: Every network has a “SHARE URL” link

Every network our customers create has a SHARE URL link built in, that allows them — or anyone viewing the network — to send the URL to a colleague easily and quickly. One click, it’s selected, and can be copy-pasted into an email. Simple, fast.

Here’s an example from the Social Media Club haystack.


Number 2: The “Invite” link

Every person registered on the system can also invite others to join the Haystacks to which they belong with two clicks. (We limit the number of invitations to discourage spammers, and only registered users can send invitations.)

Here’s an example from the Speakers Wiki haystack.


Number 3: I can’t tell you about Number 3 yet. It’s in final testing this week prior to the holiday here in the States, but the early feedback is that it’s a big winner, perhaps even game-changing in the business social networking space. If you’re subscribed you’ll know about it as soon as it’s public when we release it into the wild next week.

Hello. My name is Squidy.

My name is Squidy.
Originally uploaded by christophercarfi.

The seduction starts simply enough, as soon as you sit down at the table. It starts with a spiral-bound menu, a roughly-drawn caricature, and a simple statement: “My name is Squidy.”

You look around, and realize there are more pictures on the walls, framed as if they are fine art.

You open the cover, and find the first page of the menu. It says:

Tawan’s menu
Originally uploaded by christophercarfi.

My name is Tawan. That means “The Sun” in Thai, and this is my restaurant. My parents opened the restaurant in 1997, and named it after me. You may see me hanging around at the back table sometimes, studying, playing, drawing, or maybe eating. If you see me at the table, be sure to say hi.

I love drawing and creating my characters for people to see. You will find many of my drawings on the menu and some are available on t-shirts that you can buy. I hope you enjoy my mom’s food, it’s the best, just be sure not to order hot unless you can handle it.

The Tawan’s menu is a fantastic example of “social currency.” Or “ooze,”as Hugh McLeod and Johnnie Moore refer to the concept. (“Ooze” standing for “objects of sociability.”)

Deb thinks the menu is pretty cool, too.

So, why am I writing about Thai food? There are really two things at work here:

  • Thing 1: The product itself.
  • Thing 2: The vector that helps the message about the product propagate.

Now, sometimes the product is so different, or amazing, or visible/portable that the product itself is the vector for the message. The iPod is a great example of this. Since the iPods themselves are everywhere, they provide the vector.

In other cases, there is a second thing that provides the vector for the product. In Tawan’s case, the caricature menu is the vector. It is the thing that carries the Tawan’s message from place to place. Through the menu (the vector), folks learn about the food (the product).

So. You have a great product. What’s the vector that will carry its message?

Added later: There is another important concept at work here as well. The vector in this case is more than a catch phrase, or a tchotchki, or an abstract ideal. It actually is a human introduction that starts to broker a relationship between the customer and Tawan himself. It is almost a calling card, in the Victorian sense of the phrase.

Marketing, From The Customer’s Point Of View

Want to come out and connect with others who are thinking about how social media are changing marketing and customer relationships? You may be interested in attending one of the upcoming sessions of How Consumer Controlled Media Is Re-Shaping Your Online Go-To-Market Strategy.

The program is being hosted by the American Marketing Association, and we’ll start out our 3 city tour in Chicago, IL on October 28th.

Who else will be speaking? Check it out…

Podcasting/Video Blogs
Stowe Boyd, President, Corante, Get Real

Bill Flitter, Chief Marketing Officer, Pheedo, Pheedo Blog

Word of Mouth Marketing
Pete Blackshaw, Chief Marketing and Customer Satisfaction Officer, Intelliseek (New York session)
Andy Sernovitz, CEO, Word of Mouth Marketing Association, WOMMA (Chicago session)

Interactive Social Networking
Randal Moss, Project Specialist, American Cancer Society’s Futuring and Innovation Center

Social Networking
Christopher Carfi, Principal, Cerado, and author of The Social Customer Manifesto. (Chicago and Scottsdale sessions)
David Teten, CEO of Nitron Advisors (New York session)

Power Law Structure
Judith T. Meskill, Principal,, Judith Meskill’s Knowledge Notes

Session dates:

  • October 28 – Chicago
  • November 11 – Scottsdale
  • December 2 – New York

More info here, including how to register.

Hope to see you in Chicago, Scottsdale, or New York!

Creative Commons Hooks Up With…BzzAgent. Weigh In If You Have An Opinion.

Pull the plug, please, Larry.

On April 29, Creative Commons announced they had joined up with BzzAgent. Thankfully, the feedback has been flowing furiously.

Lessig states:

“Creative Commons recently launched a relationship with BzzAgent. The blogs were not amused. See Corante, Corante_II , Corante III, Just a Gwai Lo. BzzAgents has now responded poorly, calling Corante ‘liars.’ As I’m partial to Corante, I’d be willing to ask CC to pull the relationship on the basis of that bad judgment alone. But I’d be really keen for some feedback.”

You really need to read where Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent, calls bloggers liars. Nice. Or, as they say on the southwest side of Chicago…”real clazzy.”

Bloggers as Liars
Saturday, April 30 2005 @ 10:57 AM CDT
Contributed by: Dave Balter

I really wonder.

Whenever I talk to people about BzzAgent, give a speech or work with clients, they invariably ask us about Blogs. They want to know how BzzAgents can influence bloggers. How much of a role blogging has in word-of-mouth.

Let’s get this straight: Over 80% of word of mouth occurs OFFLINE. Blogs are a tool for word-of-mouth interaction, but just because there’s plenty of them out there, it doesn’t mean it’s the best place for distributing an honest opinion.

Which brings me to point two. Bloggers are destroying their own medium.

How? By being more critics and pundits than journalists. The problem is that there are no editors and no fact checkers, so plenty of what you read on blogs is just plain untrue. Check out Suw Charman’s Corante post on BzzAgent’s Partnership with Creative Commons, where she misstates nearly a dozen facts. And much of what she says is also pulled from other blogs. Guess what? Her informants are providing false information, too. A vicious cycle of lies.

With this type of reporting (whining?), it’s no wonder many consumers are going back to reading fact-checked business magazines.

How long until consumers hold bloggers up to the same standards of truth as they’d expect from word-of-mouth interactions?


Larry, add my voice to to the list, requesting the end of this relationship.

And if you want to add yours to it, write about it and trackback here, or comment directly here (there are already dozens of comments; there’ll be hundreds by tomorrow I’m sure).

By the way, from the comments over there, the best.comment.ever, addressed to BzzAgent, from Matthew Skala:

“Hey, guys, 1998 called. They want their business plan back.”

Heh. That’s funny.


Balter apologizes

(I’m going to turn comments off on this particular post, ‘cuz the place they really need to be is over at Lessig’s blog. Add your voice, click here, and weigh in.)

Community Chat (Podcast)

Had the pleasure of a great conversation with Jake McKee ( and Lee LeFever ( this weekend. Jake suggested it a couple of weeks back, it took a little while for us to get it set up, but here it is.

So, I suppose one could think of this as sort of a Gillmor Gang-type discussion, but with two differences:

  • The conversation is more focused around community and conversations, rather than the more IT-related issues; and
  • We’re still doing it (grin)

This is definitely an emerging area, and (based on feedback, natch) this may evolve into a regular gig.

Show topics:

– Intros
– BzzAgent, and its implications for ethics, customer communities and the media
– The Chuch of the Customer podcast
– A few bits on the recent Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) conference in Chicago

Links referenced:
Church of the Customer
The Social Customer Manifesto

Does “Word Of Mouth Marketing” Poison The Well?

So, back in December, the Concord Monitor (Concord, NH) unwittingly broke one of its own ethical guidelines, by publishing two reviews submitted by a BzzAgent.

From the Monitor (8Dec2004), in an article entitled “Feeling The Buzz…New Marketing Tool Is Testing Ethical Limits Of Advertising“:

“Deep in an article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, we learned that the Monitor, and perhaps you, had unwittingly been buzzed by Jason Desjardins of Bradford, one of the company’s [BzzAgent] most successful buzz agents.

Desjardins wrote two brief reviews of books he received from BzzAgent. He submitted them in response to the Monitor’s standing invitation to readers to send us brief comments about books they had read. We published them.

By telephone yesterday, Desjardins said the reviews of [ed. – let’s call them “book one” and “book two”…no sense in rewarding this behavior] reflected his honest opinion and he had no intent to deceive us or our readers. He did not realize that reputable newspapers would not knowingly publish anything that was part of an advertising campaign without saying so.” (emphasis added)

Therein lies the rub.

Something new that inspires interest, spread by word-of-mouth from friend-to-friend => great.
Something new that is spread by word-of-mouth from friend-to-friend as part of a compensated, premeditated strategy => potential ethical dilemma for every party involved.

What are newspapers, broadcast media, bloggers to do? Does every comment that comes in need to be vetted for ulterior motives? Do newspapers, broadcast media, bloggers stop taking unsolicited input altogether? (unlikely) Does every piece of communication need to have a caveat?

No easy answers here.

Offtopic Shiny Thing: “Therein,” as typed in the paragraph above, is only one letter away from “theremin,” the coolest musical instrument, ever.

Who Talks Like This?

Just finished listening to Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba’s podcast, wrapping up last week’s WOMMA (Word Of Mouth Marketing Association) meeting from Chicago. Featured on the show was Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent.

The whole BzzAgent thing. I still just don’t get it.

Here’s a transcript of Balter’s spiel from the ‘cast.

“From a basic description, Light Loyals are really everyday people. In the case of this campaign, the Light Loyals were the individuals who experienced the brand but didn’t meet any of the sort of the criteria that was predefined as making someone really exceptional at creating word-of-mouth. They weren’t an expert, they weren’t an opinion leader, they didn’t write reviews on websites or restaurant sites, they didn’t write for Zagat’s, and they also weren’t the people who we would call the Heavy Loyals who were going once a day, once a week…often enough that most of us would say “that’s a lot of times to go to a restaurant.” These were people who would go to the restaurant once every two months, maybe once every six months.

These are people the way that we measured, and we had loyalty card data. These are people who had a card, and we could know exactly how often they were going, how much they spent every time. So, in the case of what we’ve defined now as Light Loyals, are people who might trickle to the bottom of that segmentation database of how are people acting as they are purchasing, but, on the other side, they’re really valuable at being able to create word of mouth that has an effect. And that’s because, of a few things. One is they haven’t influenced the network around them. We found many Light Loyals have this sort of “a-ha moment” when they say “oh, yeah…wait minute, I do like that restaurant. Wait a second, we have that Friday thing at work where everybody recommends a restaurant, and I’m recommending this Friday. Yeah, that’d be great, I should tell everybody!” And so, it was this consciousness of the opinion that sort of turned them on, and then they hadn’t influenced around them yet and so they could be really effective.”


Dear Dave,

We’re not segments. We’re people. We don’t want to “influence around us.” We want to have meaningful relationships with cool, smart, funny people with whom we like to laugh and drink and tell stories.

We don’t “experience the brand.” Branding is for cows, purple or otherwise.

We don’t wait for “recommend a restaurant day” or “Hawaiian shirt day” or any other kind of contrived office holiday that has been anally extracted by a clueless organization in hopes of creating a distraction from the mind-numbing sameness and bullshit that has been created around us.

“Trickle to the bottom of the segmentation database?” Seriously? Who talks like that?


(added: Looks like Jason Calacanis had some similar thoughts today as well.)