Who Owns Word of Mouth in an Organization?


At this year’s Word of Mouth Marketing Association Summit (WOMMA) on November 14/15 in Las Vegas, one of the topics will be “who owns word of mouth?”

Is it one person in PR or advertising? Product development? Someone on the web team?
In some companies it’s someone in PR, who is responsible for blogger relations. But in my opinion, that’s a tiny fraction of word of mouth on a typical fortune 500 brand.

In some companies, as it was at Dell, the word of mouth ‘owner’ was someone in advertising who created viral / buzz campaigns. Typically what happens is word of mouth tends to be about the advertising or marketing (not the product. Advertising can amplify word of mouth if the product is good (and they do it right), but if the product/service is no good, advertising effectiveness declines over time.

Should word of mouth have an owner? I believe the lack of appreciating and impact for word of mouth is usually because the owner owner is not senior enough and the strategy not broad enough. I believe that word of mouth needs part of many functions’ operational roles….product development, marketing, advertising, PR, and especially customer service. Perhaps having one owner, especially too low, means other people don’t feel the ownership. Perhaps the CEO and CMO needs to own word of mouth, and thread it throughout the entire company as a part of the culture. That’s my vote.

What’s yours?

Join the discussion on this and other Word of Mouth hot issues and great debates at WOMMA’s 2007 Summit, November 13-15 in Las Vegas. Get the agenda now> (www.womma.org/summit3)

3 Responses

  1. Ted Grigg says:

    I agree with you that the CEO is the ultimate spokesman for the organization. But he needs help in disseminating the word. That process needs to be organized with proper allocation of resources and controls.
    Since this is a marketing activity, then the role of spreading the word should go through the CMO.
    With the growth of blogs and other powerful Internet tools, staying on top of the company’s reputation has become a daunting task.

  2. John Bell says:

    Ultimately, the CEO is the right person.Just as s/he is the right person to champion use of the Net Promoter Score as a key business metric. But how likely is it that WOM programs will start at the top? And are they doomed unless they do?
    Given the existing marcom/consumer affairs landscape, I used to say that WOM was more native to enlightened public relations professionals. I still lean in that direction while acknowledging that advertising strategists have a better measurement discipline, very often deeper pockets and the power of paid media to enhance a WOM effort.

  3. Dan Neely says:

    While companies would like to have an owner of word of mouth – optimally, the CEO – the real owner of a company’s WOM is the customer. Try as they might to direct, influence or generate WOM, companies will never truly “own” it. The key way to control WOM as much as they can is to listen and talk to the owners: the customers. Starting a dialogue will help companies hear the WOM that is already occurring, and by listening to the conversations that are going on, a company has more insight into the results of that WOM and what it can do to affect them. This is most effective when companies provide the tools to enable and facilitate WOM. Customers appreciate a company that is encouraging them to speak openly and are more likely to voice honest opinions and sentiments. Having a tool to understand WOM across the entire customer spectrum which informs companies which levers to pull helps them immensely. The company owner of WOM merely controls the levers (marketing programs, email, advertising, support etc), not the actual WOM interactions.

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