Word of mouth has been with us forever. But word of mouth marketing is a new marketing specialty that is as actionable, trackable, and plannable as any other form of marketing.

Word of mouth marketing (WOM) is an umbrella term for dozens of techniques that can be used to engage and energize customers. WOM includes viral marketing, blogs, communities, loyalty programs, and other techniques that get customers talking about your products.

In many cases, WOM isn't actually "marketing" at all. It's great customer service that earns customer respect. And it's fantastic products that get customers talking about you.

Just as important, WOM is never about deception. Stealth marketing, shilling, or anything that hides the marketer's involvement is strictly forbidden by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Code of Ethics. Honest word of mouth marketers live by earning the respect of their customers, and anything that breaks that trust will backfire.

With that said, there are five basic steps that all word of mouth marketing campaigns share—the Five Ts of word of mouth marketing: Talkers, Topics, Tools, Taking Part, and Tracking. Learn to identify these, and you'll be able to implement WOM in all of your marketing programs.

The Five Steps
in Word of Mouth Marketing

Step Easy Advanced
1. Talkers Volunteers, customers, bloggers Influencer, agent, evangelism programs
2. Topic Special offer, great service, new product Viral campaign, buzz stunt, new feature
3. Tools Tell-A-Friend form, forwardable email, coupon Message board, online communities, blogs
4. Take Part Join blog & message board conversation Outreach teams, campaigns by PR and customer service
5. Track Blogpulse, Feedster, Technorati, Google Advanced metrics program, trend analysis

1. Talkers: People who are more likely to relay your word of mouth message

Talkers are often referred to as "influentials," but they can be any group of people who have the enthusiasm and connections to relay your message to target audience. They may be part of a formal evangelism program, or they can be bloggers who happen to cover your topic. Sometimes they are new customers bubbling with enthusiasm; sometimes they are rabid fans willing to spread your message.

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image of Andy Sernovitz

Andy Sernovitz is the CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (www.womma.org), a non-profit organization that represents 240 companies.