Remember this commercial?

The woman in this commercial is pretty impressed with herself that she told TWO friends about how great Faberge Organic Shampoo with Wheat Germ Oil and Honey is. She’s hoping that her TWO friends will then tell their TWO friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. She’s hoping that YOU will tell two friends too, and the shampoo company hopes that word of mouth will sell shampoo. 

Watching a commercial like this today seems just silly. TWO friends? For those of you involved in online communities – when was the last time you had only TWO friends?? Word of mouth ain’t what it used to be. 

I have ridiculously thick, coarse hair. Seriously, it’s out of control. If I don’t take serious efforts to tame my mane on a daily basis, I absolutely run the risk of taking someone’s eye out. So, if I try a new shampoo, that makes my locks silky, soft, shiny and smooth, you’re darn right I’m going to tell someone about it. But I’m not just going to tell two friends. I’m on the Internet! I’m going to tell 1000 friends. And that is precisely the kind of word of mouth marketing that companies are scambling for these days. 

The issue is that word of mouth marketing can’t be forced. If the shampoo company called me up, or sent me an email saying, “Try our shampoo for the ridiculously thick-haired! If you like it, then get on Twitter and tell all your friends!”, I would be much less inclined to spread the word. Why? Because I KNOW I’m being marketed to. And I might lose credibility if someone were to find out that the shampoo company had contacted me, telling me to pass on the good word about their product. (I guess that’s why disclosure is important – but I digress.)

My point is, it’s no secret that companies should be thinking about ways to get their products in front of the eyeballs of people online. But they need to be more subtle about it. Perhaps they just need to send me a free sample when I order beauty supplies online. Perhaps I can go to their site and enter a coupon code for a free bottle. Perhaps they can buy and then put up blog posts about how people with ridiculously thick hair can learn to manage it, and earn my trust that way. 

If I try a product and it solves a big problem for me, then I will shout it from the rooftops. I WILL tell 1000 people. And maybe they’ll tell 1000 people too. And so on, and so on, and so on….

Online communities hold tremendous power in their hands. Companies who don’t see the power of the new word of mouth are missing the boat in a big way.