Measuring the grapevine

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Word-of-mouth marketing firm BzzAgent ( typically services consumer brands, but b-to-b companies are starting to take notice. Joe Cordo, VP-marketing at Bullhorn, an on-demand software vendor, is planning a BzzAgent campaign to create incentives for customers to spread the word about Bullhorn's product for the recruiting industry.

"Our customers are fanatical about our product, and they're not shy or reserved about sharing their experiences with other people in the industry," Cordo said. "In our business, word-of-mouth is a game-changer, more so than advertising or trade shows, so it makes sense for us to leverage that."

Bullhorn is not alone. Interest in word-of-mouth marketing-sometimes called consumer-generated media or social media-appears ready to pop in b-to-b as loudly as it has for consumer brands.

Consumer-generated media (CGM) is content that people publish of their own accord on Internet discussion boards, forums, Usenet newsgroups and, most notably, blogs. Fueling interest in CGM is recognition that recommendations are a key driver of purchase behavior. Offline word-of-mouth is hard to measure, but when the talk is online, companies in the forefront of the trend believe they can listen, learn and influence what's being said and spread.

But what exactly are the early adopters trying to accomplish? How are they measuring and valuing what people are hearing through the grapevine? What metrics do they use to gauge impact and justify programs?

It depends whether companies are interested in listening or talking.

Listen and learn

The immediate payoff from measuring CGM is market insight. Customers, clients and influencers on the Internet are sharing their unvarnished opinions for free. Market researchers can simply type their product or company names into Technorati ( or BlogPulse ( to find the latest blog postings on their brands.

"Marketers make the measuring too hard sometimes. The beauty of word-of-mouth is all this stuff is being directly written down by customers," said Andy Sernovitz, CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (

For simple quantitative measures, companies can count the number of company, product or brand mentions over time and compare their numbers to competitors' numbers. Another simple next step is to categorize comments into positive and negative categories, and track those measures over time to provide feedback for product development, marketing and public relations programs.

Companies including Biz360, BuzzMetrics and Cymfony offer more sophisticated (and more expensive) analysis of what's being said. The services collect data and use software and human-based analysis to tailor metrics to clients' needs. The media mix varies. For instance, BuzzMetrics focuses exclusively on CGM. Biz360 measures mainstream media and blogs, and Cymfony measures mainstream media and many types of CGM.

The services' reports offer dozens of metrics, but a simple example is share of voice, or the percentage of times a product, company or brand is mentioned out of the total coverage of an industry or topic. By comparing share of voice with market share, companies can identify risks and opportunities.

"Share of voice should equal share of market," said Jim Nail, chief marketing and strategy officer at Cymfony. "Apple is the poster child [of companies in which] share of market is small but share of voice is huge. That means it has more buzz than revenue. If that's happening, something is wrong."

Talk and influence

Hard metrics for outbound word-of-mouth campaigns are in the early stages of development. The recently published WOMMA Terminology Framework ( suggests common terms and metrics-such as topicality and timeliness-for describing and measuring word-of-mouth marketing, but examples of b-to-b applications are rare. Also, companies apply traditional public relations metrics, such as impressions (the number of people exposed to a message) or prominence (where in an article the company is mentioned) to measuring the effectiveness of campaigns.

Bullhorn is looking to link word-of-mouth programs to more direct, bottom-line impact. In Cordo's planned BzzAgent campaign, customers will receive rewards for sharing their experiences on a company blog or Web site that links to the customer relationship management system. "We can tie what happens on the site with lead tracking, track back to customer record,"Cordo said. "That is how we can measure it."

In the long run, marketing and PR departments will have to tie CGM metrics to bottom-line impact to justify their programs' value. But for now, just getting some quantitative measures in place is a good start. M

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