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Word of click

June 14, 2013

I heard you on the radio say that “word of mouth today is actually word of click.” Can you elaborate what you mean by that?

Long-time readers of this column know that I don’t much mind sharing stories of my dad, the carpet store entrepreneur, both to illustrate old-school ways that I think are still effective, and to explain how new technologies are changing the very nature of small business. (And, well, I get bonus points for the very Jewish tradition of keeping my dad’s memory alive.)

Anyway, having started with one 800 sq. foot store, dad built it at the rate of about one a year. But 15 years and 15 stores later, he sold out and went back to one owning one giant carpet warehouse. And in the center of that store was a huge banner that I think distilled everything dad learned in his 15 years of being an entrepreneur:

“Our word of mouth advertising starts with You!” it read.

We all love getting word of mouth of course, and dad was even a step ahead of the curve – he asked for it. Smart. But what about today? If my sweet pop were still alive, would he still have that banner, and if he did, would it be as effective as it was then?

I doubt it.

Like everything else in this digital age, word of mouth has changed. Oh sure, people still tell their friends and family when they have had a good (or bad!) experience at a store, but more often than not, and far more likely, they share that opinion online.

Word of mouth today is word of click.

If you don’t realize that, you are not only missing a golden opportunity to grow your business, but you are also, potentially, the victim of that phenomenon.

What do I mean by “word of click”? Namely, this:

  • When someone forwards your newsletter on to their list, that is word of click. They are telling their clan that you offer something valuable that they should know about
  • When someone Likes your Facebook page or post, again, by the very act of clicking, they are telling their world that they like what you do. To quote the late, great Jackie Gleason – “How sweet it is!”
  • When they retweet you, that is word of click gold.
  • When they share your YouTube video, or blog post, or Pinterest page, it is, again, a modern form of word of mouth advertising. It is their stamp of approval of what you are doing.

That’s the good news, and yet, as well know, there is definitely bad news too in this hyper-connected, always-on, lets-share-everything! social media world.

That of course happens when a customer is unhappy with you or your business. Now, instead of using word of mouth to tell five people what a jerk you are, they will use word of click to tell 500, or 5,000.

Is there anything worse than negative Yelp or CitySearch reviews for a business? Well, maybe, but similar posts are all pretty equally rotten: Whether it’s a blog ripping you, or a slew of undesirable tweets, or damaging reviews on industry sites, the fact is, negative word of click can be the death-knell of a business.

A couple of months ago, a restaurant down the street from me got a failing grade from our health department. They fixed the problem within a month or so, but the damage was done. Over the next few months, negative posts about the place popped up all over. Finally, rather than fight the rising tide, the owners did the only thing they could do really . . .

They changed the name of their restaurant.

Presto! Bad reviews be gone.

That of course is a drastic solution to a problem that could likely have been handled had they appreciated that word of click, the “social” in social media, has become one of the most important things to be aware of in business today:

  • Nip those negative reviews in the bud.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Say you are sorry.
  • Thank folks for the great ones.

And understand that the very nature of word of mouth has fundamentally changed.

Today, you live by click and you die by the click.

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