Your advice, please

Give me your word of mouth, please. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association just emailed me to come to a confab they are having in December to question Richard Edelman about his firm’s Wal-Mart blogging fiasco and more. No holds barred, they say. I’m not sure I want to do it. I don’t much like the fact that there is a Word of Mouth Marketing Association; I don’t want them buying our mouths and thinking that they can rent buzz and our opinions with it, corrupting the space. I have avoided the organization in the past. I also don’t want to be seen as a soft-ball pitcher. Nor do I want to be the convenient snarker. Then again, it is a chance to get warn and scold. I told them that I would ask your advice. With one exception (he/she knows who she/he is), I want to hear from many, not only with advice on whether I should do this but if I do, what my goals should be.

: LATER: Here is the WOMMA questionnaire: Are you cricket?

  • It’s easier to rock the boat if you’re in it…I think it’s a chance to, in a respectful manner, speak your mind. If you think that the association is more parasitic than symbiotic, why not let them know…

  • I don’t know… I think you have the gravitas to validate their leadership in this matter, and it sounds like you might not really want to do that. I spent a lot of years in PR and it doesn’t taste right to me either. I wrote something about WOMMA last weekend

  • Hold Edelman’s and Rubel’s feet to the fire.

    While flogging in the U.S., Edelman is here in Tokyo to tell us about the brave new world. Japan in general, and the ACCJ in particular, is a safe bet for softball questions. If he went to the FCCJ (Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan) he might get a few questions of substance. From an email blurb I received the other day:

    The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Presents:
    Global CEO, Edelman Public Relations

    DATE: Tuesday, October 31, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.
    VENUE: Westin Hotel, Kaede Room (BF1)
    COST: Members: 5,400 yen, guests: 6,400 yen
    SPONSOR: Marketing Programs Committee (KN)
    NOTE: This meeting is ON THE RECORD

  • I think you should go and give ’em hell, Jeff.

  • Hi Jeff,

    The question is do you care about them and do you want them to be better? If so, may be you should go and lecture them indeed.

    If you don’t think this organization (based on its past performance) has shown much promise, then I say you have better way to spend your time and reputatioin and should not go.

    Not knowing anything else about this org, (and only by this Wal-Mart thing), I tend to want to skip it. You see, I don’t even have the slight interest to google this organization and read about them to decide. So I am biased, uninformed and I am lazy in this matter.

    Good luck in deciding the best course of action as you see fit. Do tell us what you decided though.


    P.S. I did read your “corrupting blogs” post when you first posted it. And I felt robbed by those &*%^! bloggers that didn’t clearly marked their views as paid-views. (I am surprised I didn’t leave you a comment then. Hmmm …)

  • My experience with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association has been pretty positive so I say do it. In this instance, I think they’re doing exactly the right thing provided they live up to the promises they’re making to you /wrt transparency, not holds barred, etc. Put the screws to Edelman and Rubel and see what they say. As long as you’re transparently skeptical and sufficiently cynical, then what do you have to lose? Put the screws to them and see how they respond. I’d love to be there.

  • Don’t go. You can warn and scold from your blog and countless other events.

    Is there any question that Edelman completely screwed up? Does Edelman get to stand there and argue that what his firm did was OK?

    Don’t negotiate with terrorists, don’t validate completely broken ideas about the marketplace by engaging in a debate with their practitioners.

    Now if Edelman was offering to do mea culpas from the lobby while you gave a talk on authenticity…

  • Go as a reporter and report back to us whether it was worth it and what Edelman said. It’s a good story.

  • First, decide if the Word of Mouth Marketing Association is inherently conflicted, like faking sincerity or contriving spontaneity.

    Then, is it better that there’s an association that’s trying to do the right thing, or should it be caveat emptor for everybody?

    Will transparency mean awkward disclaimers such as: “Not a real friend: This simulated peer-to-peer buzz was produced by the Neighborly Agency, a division of Ogilvy and Smithers LLC, under contract with Megamart.”

  • First, full disclosure: I’m on WOMMA’s Board of Advisors (though I speak as an individual, not for them) and I’m the author of “The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.”

    As an organization, they are strong defenders of truth in marketing. Their ethics (see strongly condemns any kind of deception, such as shilling, not revealing affiliations, etc. All of us in the WOM community realize that, since WOM is thousands of times as powerful as conventional marketing, every sleezeball will try to use it once they realize its power. But, as you have pointed out about the blogosphere, WOM is self-correcting. It is the most honest form of marketing — who wants to mislead their friends?

    Word-of-mouth marketing has to be a philosophy, a mindset, an attitude, NOT another way of manipulating people. If not, it doesn’t work. It basically involves blowing away people with superior products (giving them something to talk about), encouraging them to talk about it, then giving them the means, channels, mechanisms (just as you’ve given me in this blog’s comment section).

    I think that if you go, you will be blown away by the honesty of most of the people there, and revolted by some of the hypemeisters and stuntmeisters that think their forms of viral marketing are significant. You will find that the WOM marketing community is the refuge of huge numbers of people who have left conventional marketing because they know that honest marketing does not have to be an oxymoron.

    I’m sure that you would want to be the last to condemn something without data. I think you need to participate in this part of the phoney blog conversation. I’ll be leading your cheering section, but I won’t be alone.

    Although my blog has been inactive lately, I’m about to post a bunch of things on how some systems, such as the blogoshere and word-of-mouth marketing are self-correcting and self-improving as long as there are feedback loops — such as free speech and long-range profits — that reward progress and punish the poison. It is because of brave people like you that the good guys/gals will continue to win.

    Hope to see you there.

  • 1. Do you like to be deceived?
    2. Do you think anyone likes to be deceived?
    3. There is a lot of deception in the world already, so should we all just lighten up about it?
    4. Isn’t it obvious that you shouldn’t deceive people?

  • Jeff, please don’t do it. Your presence would only serve to legitimize their association. (Isn’t it obvious what they’re doing?? They still don’t get it! Don’t let them use your good name and be their monkey to show-off!) If you want to go, mingle, and observe as a reporter, I think that’s fine but I don’t like the idea of them trying to rent your buzz in front of a room to fix a fuck-up that is inherent with professional marketers and PR companies. As we become more empowered consumers, ugh, I mean, INDIVIDUALS by the Internet, we need to be moving AWAY from these professional hucksters. We the people have the power and we the people will use it to decide who we trust and it sickens me that a group of people sit around and scheme how to create word-of-mouth.

    The very idea of a Word of Mouth Marketing Association is bullshit. Again, blogger praise and buzz are NOT for sale, one must earn them. They wrap their efforts in an “ethics code” to justify a silly association that the blogosphere does not need. There are no “secrets” to word-of-mouth, by definition, it’s organic and any attempt to manufacture it is inevitably exposed as a fraud. You want good word-of-mouth? Let your (or your company’s) actions, words, products, services, ideas, etc speak for themselves. It’s as simple as that. (This is something Nick Denton understands better than anyone. Produce quality content, don’t advertise, and they will still come.) And Strumpette be damned, you were 100% correct when you said an ethics code should simply say: Always tell the truth. Anything more just encourages the distortion (and possible abuse) of a very basic concept. You gave them your advice, what’s left to say?

    OK, let’s say it again (this time with feeling!): Always. Tell. The. Truth.

  • Hi. This is Andy, CEO of WOMMA.

    Reading this thread, I think there are some fundamental misunderstandings about what word of mouth marketing is, who WOMMA is, or what we stand for.

    Some of that might be cleared up if you take a look at our Word of Mouth 101:

    We were created specifically to OPPOSE the negative practices discussed here, and we are the ones who lead the day-to-day fight against stealth marketing.

    We didn’t write an ethics code after the fact — we wrote an ethics code first (2 years ago) — and 300 companies have joined to support it.

    It would be helpful to learn a bit about what we do and the practices we support ( & oppose ( before dismissing our work.

    We stand for organic word of mouth earned through great products, great service, and consumer respect. Many companies out their haven’t learned that yet … and we’re teaching them the right way to do it. If it wasn’t for a group like us, companies would have nowhere to turn to learn the right way to live in a consumer-driven world.

  • Excuse me Andy, with all due respect, it’s quite a condescending insult to Jeff or anyone else here dismissing WOMMA to suggest we made statements without researching first. I’m sorry but I arrived at my conclusions AFTER I read all the feel-good advice, jargon and marketing-speak on your website. I am sure your intentions are in the right place and you personally have the highest ethical standards but I am turned off by an organization that seeks to establish best practices of conducting conversations. You either walk it, or talk it out of the side of your mouth. And statements like this lead to the latter:

    “If it wasn’t for a group like us, companies would have nowhere to turn to learn the right way to live in a consumer-driven world.”

    Wow. That’s incredibly arrogant and second, total bullshit. If one is truly and genuinely engaged in online (and offline) conversations, the rights and wrongs are pretty obvious.

    Also, if your job is to educate the marketing/pr community, how do you grade yourself for failing to get the message to one of your founding member companies, Edelman?

  • Jeff, I think that you should go, and if you feel like raising holy hell and questioning the very existence of WOMMA, that you should do so with all speed.

    The Edelmartgate incident has got a lot of people in the PR blogosphere scratching their collective heads and wondering what’s up with WOMMA. Edelman folk were and are key players there. Why then would their work for Wal-Mart end up in repeated cockups?

    Further, if WOMMA doesn’t have a “stick”, is it only a baby-carrot, feel-good association? A convenient means of giving your 2.0 initiatives a ‘badge of approval’ that doesn’t, in the end, mean much?

    Go. Turn the money-changers out of the temple. Kick ass. Have fun. And report on it. The best treatment for bugs under rocks is to turn over the rocks. They don’t like daylight.

    Debate is good, and if there’s only WOMMA-ites in the house, there won’t be the spirited, diverse debate that these topics need.

  • I know you weren’t specifically asking this, but it does occur to me that simply by asking the question, you risk promoting the event and association. I’m not familiar enough with WOMMA to cheer or jeer it, but if you really don’t much like it, I’d say ignore it. Your very post makes WOMMA worthy of consideration by many who may have remained ignorant (regardless on which side they fall).

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  • As they say, be transparent.

    Maybe the kind of disclaimer that political ads carry should be extended to blogs when they are not clearly a company blog such as the Dell or Southwest blogs are.

    Regarding Word of Mouth Marketing it should be just that, people who are ‘honestly’ passionate about a product or a company sharing their ‘love’ for it and not an operating field for mercenaries.

    Take care


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  • Jeff, thanks for asking us, it’s very thoughtful of you.

    I believe that Richard Edelman wants to move forward with this situation, take some hard-earned lessons and till the soil a little bit to make sure that everyone at Edelman—EdelMartGaters or not—can learn from the mistakes. Lemons to lemonade. That said…

    Is it in your interest to help them move forward? Are they oblivious to where they screwed up? I don’t think so on either count and you’ve already given plenty of free advice on your blog. I think that the kind of good/evil dichotomy being staged here—intentional or not—only sensationalizes the story in a manner unfitting the intelligent discourse you perpetuate through BuzzMachine.

    If you decide to go, my goals for you would be to affirm that blogging is about credibility and transparency and that those who try play against those principles will be found out. My hope is that you would be able to build some bridges and understanding among communication professionals. There’s smart, thoughtful, genuine people on both sides and I would hope that any involvement you have with WOMMA would be to reduce the bloggers vs PR flaks mentality and increase the “ethical communicators who get it” vs “those who don’t” view.

    Can’t we all just get along?

  • Don’t do it – by going you’ll be lending legitimacy to an organization you clearly don’t believe in. If you want to interview Edelman, put together a piece for your blog or record it and post it on Youtube.

  • Shalom Jeff,

    I think your initial thought is the right one.

    For me, debating a flack about flacking in a Journalism world is like debating a creationist/intelligent designist/critical analystist advocate about teaching superstition in a Science world.

    Don’t give Edelman the platform. Let him go endlessly debate other flacks and leave flackery in the Peddling world where it belongs.


    Jeff Hess
    The Writing On The Wal

  • Jennifer

    Do they really believe they can get good feeling by manipulation? Thisa is everything that’s wrong with Walmart. They wonder why theior reputation blows, yet they do nothing to make the improvements in their stores that might improve their true “word of mouth” opportunities. It might just work, for about five minutes, until their victims set foot into another dark, dirty, disorganized, store understaffed with disaffected, unhappy employees.

  • I’m a big supporter of Word of Mouth Marketing. WOMMA included this language in its ethics code: “We stand against marketing practices whereby the consumer is paid cash by the manufacturer, supplier or one of their representatives to make recommendations, reviews or endorsements.”

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