Social media, or at least its widespread use, may be relatively new, but certain human behaviors are not. For example, David Aaker, blogging at the Harvard Business Review, points to a study by Ernest Dichter from 1966 on word-of-mouth persuasion.

The report had three key findings, all of which are relevant to social business today.

Secret 1: The 4 Motivations for Spreading the Word About a Brand

  • Product-involvement (33% of the cases): The biggest motivation for recommending a product is, well, actually liking it.
  • Self-involvement (24%): The next biggest motivation is self-benefit - for example, appearing to be an expert.
  • Other-involvement (20%): Helping others is another motivator. Even if someone isn't particularly interested in a product, they may recommend it to others who could benefit from it.
  • Message-involvement (20%): In my experience, this is what it seems most brand managers are concerned with: having entertaining or otherwise involving messages that people repeat. For example, the GroupOn Super Bowl ads certainly generated a lot of word-of-mouth, whether it was positive or not.

Secret 2: The 2 Things Listeners to Word-of-Mouth Recommendations Are Concerned With

  • Credibility of the speaker: Does this person know what they are talking about?
  • Motivations of a speaker: Does this person have my best interests in mind, or are they just trying to sell me something?

Aaker writes, "An implication is that a firm promoting its own brand needs to be aware of its status and emphasize facts instead of opinion, represent the right culture and values, and have a balanced perspective."

Secret 3: Word-of-Mouth Has a Huge Average Impact

According to Aaker, the study found that word-of-mouth has a huge impact, confirming earlier work by sociologist Elihu Katz and Paul Felix Lazerfield.

Conclusion

For all the pontification, and even quantitative analysis, of what "works" in social media, it's interesting how much of it comes down to things that probably sounded like common sense even back in 1966.

I've written before about how often in technology we come back to the same problems again and again.

For a more contemporary look at word-of-mouth marketing, you might want to check out the work of Andy Sernovitz. I've heard good things.

Photo by kioan