Experts Speak on Using Word-of-Mouth Marketing

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NEW YORK -- Viral marketing is not word of mouth marketing. Neither is buzz marketing. Both have their place, and both can be powerful, Dave Balter, founder/president of BzzAgent, said at yesterday's Search Engine Strategies 2006 Conference & Expo.

In a session on blogs, consumer-generated media and buzz, Balter said most word-of-mouth interactions happen in the offline world. And most of them are done not by the trendsetters, the mavens or the influentials, but by everyday people.

Balter offered four steps to organize honest word-of-mouth marketing:

· Enlist volunteers.

· Provide experiences. Let them have their own opinions even if they're negative, he said.

· Educate them.

· Continue to educate. It's important to engage with customers and communicate with them.

He also warned against shill marketing -- when a company hires actors to pretend they're real people and get consumers to interact with a brand.

"You can't control your customers," he said. "Get out of the way and let them do what they do."

Also during the session, Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek, pointed out just how much influence blogs are having on brands, especially when bad things happen to a company's brand because those blogs show up first in the search results. With that said, less than 1 percent of search engine optimization is on brand negatives, he said.

"You can get these term buys cheap because no one else is bidding on them," he said. "It can be another zone to protect your brand."

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