I changed my Facebook profile picture recently to this pic.  It was shared by 8 of my Facebook friends. As of today, it’s been shared overall 55 times (did you get that, Klout score?). This is a great example as to how quickly and easily people will share something that resonates, and illustrates the kind of exponential word of mouth marketing you can earn with the social share.

My Dad just emailed me a pretty cute video of a Beneful ad that was posted on YouTube 2 months ago.  The video has 3.4M views, which would indicate that my Dad wasn’t alone in liking this ad.

Now, 2 things struck me about getting this email (other than the fact that it reminded me of my favorite OK Go video):

1)    This is a really good example of how advertising becomes social marketing: it paid off with word of mouth on social channels (of which email is one).

2)    My Dad is one of the few people I know still using email to share this sort of content.  Cute.

That last is because my Dad isn’t on Facebook or Twitter.  (But be forewarned, teenage niece and nephew: it’s only a matter of time.)  Nonetheless, he took the time to Fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: me this dog video, and that is evidence that technology is what primarily enables social word of mouth these days, even for retired Baby Boomers.

However, not every click is created equal.  As social media marketers, we must go into our programs understanding why inciting word of mouth is the primary goal.

Insofar as the job function of a social media marketing manager, shares (active, trackable engagement) that lead to impressions (passive and hard-to-track engagement) are what differentiate social media marketing from advertising.  This is to say that, once my Dad started emailing that ad around, it emerged from its contained advertising cocoon and became a beautiful social marketing butterfly.

However, focusing on shares doesn’t mean that social media marketers don’t have direct, measurable marketing goals.

  click to tweet!

The social media marketing discipline is still new enough that the social media marketer is typically going to be running any program that’s happening on that channel, which makes plenty of sense given that social media marketing channel strategy looks a lot like field marketing.

This is to say that we social media marketers are probably going to be running certain efforts that are designed for goals like lead capture or sales conversion, both of which lead to measurable social marketing ROI.  Any content put on your channel specifically designed for someone to take direct action back at you (rather than sharing out to their people) is a direct marketing effort despite being on a social channel, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a social media marketing effort.

What it does mean is that you have more work to do if you want to incite 2 separate actions from your community, i.e. the response and then share.  And when you combine them both, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Now, which click is the more important from your core community on a direct marketing initiative?  The response, or the share?

If you picked “response,” I’m going to disagree with you.  I know, it sounds counterintuitive.  But realistically, the share (which is another term for word of mouth marketing) does more for you for several reasons.

Social media word of mouth gives you the impressions that lead to awareness.  No matter how you slice it, the more people become aware of your brand, the more people are likely to head down the happy path of conversion.

Social Media Word of Mouth: Why it Matters

1)    The number of people your content is going to be exposed to is now exponential.  When things go viral, there really is no limit to the amount of earned media you’re getting.

2)    People are more likely to pay attention to content from a person they’re following intentionally.  Their communities are now open to you, and even if you’re just making an impression, you make a better impression when you’re introduced by a friend than when you barge in on the party.

3)    It’s very likely that a lot of the folks in your social communities are also on your email lists.  You probably have other, more direct ways to contact them.

4)    As much as “impressions” are a soft metric, they are a real one.  We marketers say it takes up to 6 times for someone to remember you.  When your community members go to the effort of introducing you to a friend, they’re dumping a bunch more folks into the sales funnel for you.  And they themselves are probably moving farther down the happy path towards advocacy.

5)    You have no way of knowing where your audience is on the conversion funnel.  What you do know is that the more people you shepherd into the top of it (awareness), the more will make the happy trip down to the bottom (purchase).

6)    The more people see your offer, the more people are going to click on it.  Yes, fine, I am acknowledging that the ultimate business goal is clicks to conversion… but I’m also saying that you’re more likely to get more of those if your content is shared by your core community.  Sales is a numbers game, after all.

So, if you just put out an offer on your Facebook page, I am actually more interested in resulting word of mouth than I am in whether your community took it. That said, when you’re conceiving of your next piece of content, you’re better off thinking of ways to make your content shareable than you are in thinking of ways to spur the reaction. That will come on its own.