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Word of Mouth to Word of Keyboard


Word of Mouth to Word of Keyboard

Jack Chase

Word of mouth (WOM) isn’t new. Advertisers have understood the value of driving conversation among friends, families, and acquaintances for decades. The only problem with word of mouth? You can’t measure it. At least I hope not. (Looking at you, Alexa.)

Over the past couple decades, it’s obvious that our interactions with people have become increasingly digital. For the most part, that allows us to track and analyze these conversations. In this case, “word of keyboard” (WOK) is more appropriate than word of mouth. Since the most trustworthy and potentially influential form of advertising is a friend, colleague, or family member’s word [Nielsen], it is important to measure these conversations, since they have so much influence as a result of this trust.

One lens to unlock value in social listening is to look at it as a giant focus group. Ask your focus group questions which yield unprompted answers. This focus group is always talking, and you can see trends in how their opinions have changed over time.

So what questions should I ask this enormous focus group?

Marketers compare volume of conversation about their own brand to that of each of their competitors’ to understand what is known as share of voice (SOV). This is a common KPI amongst marketers, and it is becoming a more and more common KPI outside the lens of social. Marketing and advertising arms of brands are evaluating the success of their actions offline as well as online with SOV.

This makes so much sense.

If you wanted people to think you’re funny, you wouldn’t go around saying, “I’m funny.” You’d do funny things, and wait for others to form that opinion for themselves. The next time those people find themselves in a conversation about you, they’ll likely share the opinion that they formed as a result of your actions. Who knows, if you’re funny enough, they’ll start a conversation just to tell someone how funny you are.

Wait, what did you say?

“Well I already know how funny I am, because I ask my customers on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they are to recommend my jokes to a friend.”

Now THAT’s funny.

The Net Promoter Score Blindspot

Net promoter score is a valuable KPI to track over time. However, data can be dangerously misleading when you look at it in a vacuum. So many marketers make the fatal mistake of falling in love with data they know and never looking up.

The value of data increases as you add context to it. You can compare your data to a baseline from a previous time period if you collect that data over years and years. Social listening allows you to retroactively collect consumer opinion relative to your brand, your competitors, or a topic (social issue, pain point, purchase potivator, etc). This type of exercise highlights historical increases and decreases in consumer opinion relative to brands and topics. Once marketers identify the rise of volume and/or positive sentiment towards a brand/topic, they can then identify the campaigns and other factors responsible in order to apply these learnings to kick-start future strategy and creative.

Don’t forget to apply this approach to your competitors and brands that you wish to emulate.

Active vs. Passive

Savvy marketers are taking two different approaches. In my experience, one yields higher ROI than the other. As great as the approach described above is, it often takes time for learnings to be applied to future creative and strategy. It is referred to as passive, because you’re not going into the exercise looking to inform a specific decision. The question, “How has consumer opinion of our brand relative to our competitors evolved over the past ten years?” can sometimes lead to so many directives that marketers struggle to eloquently string learnings together to optimize strategy and creative in a measurable way.

When attempting to measure ROI on an analytics exercise, starting with a specific decision you want to inform can be beneficial. This decision should yield a pointed question.

I recommend starting with a passive approach to try to get a feel for what has worked, what hasn’t, and why. From here, kick off strategy and creative with examples of success. Throughout the creative process, there will be forks in the road in which a decision needs to be made. These decisions can be informed relatively quickly with active decision-based exercises. For example, “should our brand take on a X or Y tone with this new campaign?” Look at other comparable brand success/failure using these tones by identifying increases in volume and/or sentiment.


The most trustworthy form of advertising is the word of a friend, colleague, or family member’s word. Marketers now measure WOM as it has evolved into WOK, but don’t look at this or any type of data in a vacuum. Looking at SOV trends over time help spur the “why” question that will inform future strategy and creative, but don’t forget to approach your consumer data with specific questions as opposed to passive use cases.