Word of Mouth Marketing: The Original Employee Advocacy

Jason Brain

Creative Strategist

18 minute read

WOM marketing.

How many of your employees are already on social?

In the beginning, there were, the four-P’s. Then there was the three-R’s. Or maybe those came before the P’s? For sure, the most recent are the three-E’s.

All of these alliterative acronyms speak either directly or indirectly to word of mouth marketing, but how do they pertain to the most prominent form of emerging advertising: employee advocacy?


Word of Mouth Marketing, Or Why WOMM Has Always Been The Bomb Dot Com

As Ambassador Marketing puts it, “For centuries, word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) has influenced purchasing decisions on everything from buying a new car to restaurant recommendations to software vendors.” Because deciding on which car to buy back in the 15th century was just as affected by word of mouth reception as it is today.

Continuing this thought experiment, when was the last time you purchased a restaurant review? I’m just making fun of that tasty word salad now, but the valid point here is that our sense of social contract, personal identity, and even our evolution as a superorganism has depended on word of mouth trust; salads and all.

WOMM has been around since the beginning of mankind, long before the four-P’s no doubt! We’re built for word of mouth referrals, and we’re all still building upon that social framework for the foreseeable centuries to come ????

Anachronistic hyperbole aside, the above Ambassador Marketing statement raises a point worth quickly clarifying — word of mouth marketing is not the same as referral marketing. And if anyone says it’s the same, then they’re presuming referrals are a subset of WOMM, which is fine by me but potentially misleading.

In short, from the perspective of the marketer, word-of-mouth is a process of customer or client reception. Referrals however, are prospects that are either initially spurred or assisted mid-conversation by the marketer.

Knowing the difference is worthwhile, but it seems like most marketing literature on the web conflates the two, unless the text explicitly describe how they are different; just beware.


WOMM Always Takes Home The Gold

There are many surveys that qualify the dominance of WOMM, but for now consider the top-three most trustworthy channels of advertisement, courtesy of Nielsen:

  • Word of mouth is always the most trusted ad format — 83%. WOMM is considered an “earned” form of media, which speaks to the slow-climb of building trust; “charging the trust-batteries” if you will.
  • Official branded sites are the second most trusted ad format — 70%. Official brand monikers are considered an “owned” form of media, in the sense that it is literally trademarked and paid for.
  • Consumer opinions and reviews are the third most trusted ad format — 66%. Again, this is part and parcel of the mysterious centuries-old earned medium, and arguably a type of word-of-mouth media.

The corollary here is simple, but worth spelling out in plain:

When your colleagues (or your employees) are already advocating for their personal brands on social media, giving them the tools to do so from the workplace under their company brand moniker will enable WOMM in full force.


Word of Mouth Marketing and Personal Branding

While WOMM has been repeatedly identified as the most powerful influence on consumer decision making (amongst other decisions), WOMM has remained largely elusive as to how marketers can wrangle it to their strategic ends.

Employee advocacy herds all the proverbial cats, not by force, not by incentive, but by amplifying what they are already doing: building personal brands and trust throughout their greater networks of acquaintances.

In the early days of social media, marketers treated word-of-mouth dynamics in a similar way to how average users engaged on social media: collecting interaction ad infinitum rather than making meaningful connections.

As the current consensus is growing: the early-aughts one-to-many structure of social media is changing, largely due to tectonic shifts in user behaviour toward a one-to-one paradigm. Messaging is here to stay — feed screeds are losing their appeal.

Marketers have taken note (we are users too, after all), acknowledging the gravity of age-old word-of-mouth rapport. The Friend-count ticker and the Like button might exploit our atavistic instincts for social approval, but proving one’s humanity to another has been the requisite for any subsequent dealmaking for time immemorial.


Related: Are you ready to build your reputation, reach an audience, and accelerate your career? Download our personal brand starter kit.


Word of Mouth Marketing and the Employee Advocacy Effect

Because word-of-mouth pervades all aspects of our lives, we should extricate the notion from marketing specifically, suspending the second-M of the acronym “WOMM” for now.

Below are brief explanations of how employee advocacy enables various aspects of your business that already depend upon WOM interaction.


Hiring with Employee Advocacy & Word-of-Mouth

When the best hires are coming from the networks we have all already forged through various experiences, allowing your employees to engage on social during work is one the best investments a company can make.

While social media looks different, feels different (and smells different) than the campfire of our caveman days, the underlying criteria of deciding who joins the hunter-gatherer party remain the same.

Take a moment and contemplate your career trajectory, including the jobs you’ve omitted from LinkedIn, because informal positions (that we might be embarrassed to showcase) are often the most indicative of word of mouth hiring.

How many of your bygone roles culminated through a bewildering slurry of happenstance conversation and serendipity? Just because that first job you got back in high school scooping ice cream wasn’t glorious doesn’t mean it didn’t transpire from an informal confluence of social connections. Sure, applications were filled out, hoops were jumped through, hurdles are expected.

But I’d wager most of our careers began, and are perpetuated through none other than WOM-magic (I guess we can add the second-M back in again).


Just thinking about the employment of my closest friends…

All of my buddies got their current jobs by way of direct-WOM and indirect-WOM: either directly asking another friend for a job, or a 1st/2nd/3rd-degree connection reached out with an offer (usually on social media).

As you may have heard, WOM-hiring has, by a huge margin, the highest applicant-to-hire conversion rate: almost half of all hires are via WOM, but those hires constitute only 7% of all applicants; crazy! (Jobvite)

Not to digress on the holistic value of employee referrals, but when a new hire already shares rapport with someone on the inside, chances are they will exhibit synergy from the get-go.

And the research confirms this: referral hires have greater job satisfaction and feel more motivated — when you’re on a team of people who already mean something to you, we then “make unselfish runs” as coach used to say (speaking of high school memories).

Allow me to indulge a bit more sports metaphor here: when we make unselfish runs for people we trust, we anticipate where the “ball” is going and don’t stall on its current position (to botch a Wayne Gretzky quote). Furthermore, referral hires jump ship less often than other applicants, ultimately saving the company from the expensive risk of having to replace employees. (Jobvite)

Relationships are cultivated through persistent care and let’s be honest: work, however the most rewarding kind of work. It’s no one’s job to use an advocacy platform, but the employees of industry leaders are finding it indispensable to keep their personnel top-flight.


Related: If you want to learn more about how EveryoneSocial can transform your hiring process by leveraging WOM(Magic), request your demo.


Selling with Employee Advocacy & Word-of-Mouth

My apologies for annexing more terminology to the already closely related concepts of social selling and sales enablement, but how employee advocacy utilizes WOM for sales is just different enough that it deserves its own seat at the table.

Real quick, let’s sum up social selling as the best practices for at least sales reps to engage on social media, and sales enablement as how not only sales reps but also marketers and others can converse with prospects thoughtfully (I didn’t use the phrase “add value”).

To reiterate and distinguish at a high level, social selling is a set of heuristics, and sales enablement is arguably an ethos of being thoughtful with oneself and others when aligning value with a prospect (an equilibrium of value, not an asserted addition of value).

So what about employee advocacy’s unique ability to leverage the unparalleled trust that is embodied in word of mouth dynamics, all in the interest of sales?

More indirect than social selling proper (which is already quite gentle in theory), employee advocacy allows reps, or anyone really, to prompt WOM referrals in the channels that prospects and competitors are already engaged in.

As with many of the benefits of employee advocacy that are counterintuitively indirect, and yet undeniably advantageous — utilizing WOM via employee advocacy is not initially an exchange relationship. Rather, as with the people who constitute our WOM inner circles, an unconditional engagement substantiates the word of mouth trust when it comes to sales and employee advocacy.


In simpler terms…

Apropos the notion of sales enablement as a mode of client-focused thoughtfulness and consideration, by offering pointed and genuine content to prospect-competitor channels, conversations can start, and pipelines can emerge.

Along these lines, never underestimate everyone’s basic need to be acknowledged for what we are thinking, not to mention the cultural affinities of a group of people. Appealing to these facets of a prospect is where positive WOM dynamics germinate.

As with any positive review of an establishment (say, on Google Maps for example), WOM trust begins with an unsolicited offering, the so-called “extra mile” which in the context of social selling must come first. When sales reps are using employee advocacy, they are no doubt working with WOM dynamics even if they are not aware of it.

But by knowing that positive referrals are predicated on unconditional thoughtfulness and dare I say a sort of initial gift-economy of content proffering, then good deals will only get better.


Engagement with Employee Advocacy & Word-of-Mouth

How do word of mouth dynamics play into employee advocacy engagement? Without engagement in general, there really is no word of mouth referring or marketing or hiring or sales or lift at all.

When employees engage with their greater social networks via an advocacy platform, they are building a positive word of mouth interaction with all profiles of people. The overall timbre and perception of these conversations on social media from customers, clients, prospects, and competitors alike is increasingly referred to as the brand sentiment.

And go figure, a positive sentiment, which is channel-agnostic (occurring both online and offline to say the least) drives performance and has real ROI. This all begins with employees finding meaningful opportunities to engage on social, prompting the benefits of word-of-mouth.

With an employee advocacy program assisting this endeavor, just a 10% increase in social engagement can result in a 2% increase in profit margins. (Engagement Labs)

There are many misconceptions as to what inspires engagement, what keeps people engrossed in their work, and why it’s important, but there’s no question that WOMM begins with employee’s engaging on social.

Just because WOM occurs on its own does not mean brands can’t take the initiative with fostering the kind of outward facing sentiment they want others to associate with their product or service.

When it comes to word-of-mouth and employee advocacy, perception insufficiently constitutes reality: one-on-one trust and the aggregate audience reception ultimately determine how the final brand sentiment comes to fruition.


Final Thoughts on WOM(M) and Employee Advocacy

Word-of-mouth-(marketing/magic) can at times seem as difficult to master as befriending the most capricious of cats. In full force, word of mouth referrals and dissuasions can make or break a brand, but at its core it’s simply about establishing trust, one-on-one rapport, sincerity, consideration of the audience, and upfront unconditional generosity.

Just timeless human stuff; easy, right? WOM(M) has indeed been around for centuries — it’s in our DNA and deep pan-cultural heritage.

I literally just bought a suit on the recommendation of a coworker (coincidentally from sales); despite all the web ads pointing me to various brands, I chose the one that he recommended. And because I linked to Topman in this blog post, they gave me my suit for free!

I’m joking; there’s no sneaky sponsorship going on here, just WOMM.

I’m consistent with the studies that show millennials rank word-of-mouth as the #1 influencer in their purchasing decisions. (Radius Global) And with 91% of B2B buyers influenced by word of mouth discussion in a social media landscape that is currently changing, I imagine these percentages are only going to increase. (USM)

As a final thought, I’ve noticed that even texts that assume a word of mouth timbre (including both data-analysis and anecdotes) weigh heavier on my decision process than texts or media that are coldly didactic straight out of the index.

An example of a WOM-timbre piece of media that recently compelled me to take action accordingly is John C. Bogle’s Little Book of Common Sense Investing, which I’ve just referred to you too — so we’ll see if my conjecture is sound!

I’ll let you know how the suit fits.


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