The 2008 PRSA International Conference got off to a swinging start today—literally—with a gospel choir (befitting a Sunday) energizing the attendees before Craig Newmark’s keynote session began. Yes, “that” Craig, i.e. Craig of Craig’s List. Suitably revved up, I then moved on to Jeffrey Graham’s Word-of-Mouth Online and Off session this afternoon. It was packed—no surprise, given the resurgence that WOM is enjoying, and the increasing attention being paid to results-based, influential communications.

In fact, there seemed to be a common thread running through many of the sessions I attended today: from Craig Newmark’s emphasis on “continuous engagement,” to Katie Paine’s emphasis on measuring relationships in the session I co-presented with her. As a discipline, we seem to be remembering the importance of the “relations” part of “public relations.” You might say attending Jeff’s session was a natural progression for me.

Jeff had enough data to satisfy the biggest quant-geeks among us, beginning his presentation with a brief history of WOM (no, it’s not new) and the fact that it is the single-most influential contact point one can incorporate in communications planning. So why is it, then, that it receives the least investment when putting a marketing plan together?

True to the title of his presentation, Jeff went through the differences between On- and Offline WOM Marketing, illustrating that most WOM occurs offline (about 73%). Online WOM occurs most among the young, and is most important for the entertainment, sports, telecom and technology sectors. In addition, most online WOM is fueled by marketing; 70% of online chatter comprises bloggers reacting to what they have read or seen in the media and marketing. At the end of the day, offline WOM tends to be more positive than online, and it’s also offline WOM that is perceived as more credible, leading to a purchase intent (and that, at the end of the day, is what marketers are concerned with, right?).

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