Word of mouth is the stuff of nightmares for the marketing profession. It has an enormous impact on the pubic’s opinions of products and organisations but it is very difficult to measure and even harder to influence.
To exert some control on this intangible medium, some organisations, such as British Airways, have even gone to the extreme of paying stooges to loudly recommend their brands in built-up areas.
But now that the Internet has become a popular medium for even the most trivial of conversations, word of mouth is beginning to leave a measurable record.
Public relations company Kaizo has begun to track online public opinion – or ‘word of mouse’ – and has compiled its findings into an Advocacy Index. Web pages, blog posts, news stories and forum entries returned in the first ten pages of Google’s online search results following a search on a particular brand (other than those from the company’s own website) are assessed for a negative, positive or passive aspect. A company’s score is calculated by subtracting the number of negative pages from its positive tally.
Kaizo’s managing director, Rhodri Harries, explains that the popularity of the Google search engine means the pages it links to will have the greatest influence over online opinion.
A random selection of software companies was included in the Advocacy Index. Out of that arbitrarily chosen group, software giant Microsoft fared worst, with an Advocacy Index score of -32.5 (45% of pages were considered negative, compared to 12.5% positive).
Oracle was slightly ahead, with -18, but, according to Kaizo, it “particularly suffered in blogs and groups, and needs to include these influential channels in its communications strategy to manage its online reputation”.
However, not all software manufacturers received negative scores. Top of the software selection was mobile operating system maker Symbian, whose Index value was 30, while German applications maker SAP managed a respectable score of 13.