Measuring word of mouth online

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Larry Freed
Larry Freed

Word of mouth (WOM) is one of the most credible ways to get a recom­mendation about a company, product or service, and the practice is growing exponen­tially with the advent of social networking and Web 2.0.

Recent research we've conducted has shown that nearly one fifth of all visitors to the 100 top-grossing retail Web sites came by way of recommendation, and those that came from WOM were more likely to buy, recommend, return to the site and remain loyal.

Over the past six years, we've collected more than 20 million online customer satis­faction surveys that included an assessment of WOM, and there are six truths we've discovered. The first is that WOM can't be bought. Positive comments that appear on Web sites often appear to be rigged. Com­panies should focus on “earned recommen­dations” — recommendations that follow a satisfying interaction with the company.

Second, more questions are better. It isn't enough to ask a single question like “Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Marketers should also ask how likely one is to communicate about their experiences.

Third, measure good and bad comments. If the only question you asked was, “are you likely to recommend?”, you might be making the common mistake of assuming that people unlikely to recommend are passive or even detractors. Consider a third question: “Assum­ing you communicated your experiences with this Web site to others, how favorable would your comments be?” Differentiate customers spreading the “good word” from those spread­ing negative opinions.

Next, use a precise measurement scale. Capture the degree to which customers are likely to recommend by using a 10-point scale. Reducing an indexed scale to detractors, pas­sives and promoters is an oversimplification and makes data significantly less accurate.

The fifth key is to use a holistic approach. If you're asking the right questions, you'll have a very accurate picture of the WOM behavior of your customers. If you also ask questions about what is and isn't satisfying them, you'll be able to act on that data because you'll know what's driving your customers.

Finally, always remember that satisfaction drives WOM every time, and measuring satisfaction can help you better predict WOM behavior.

larry.freed@foreseeresults.com

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