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Let's face it—consumers really don't trust advertisers like they used to. In an era when savvy consumers are bombarded with more than 3,000 marketing messages a day, traditional marketing channels become increasingly less effective.

And as new technologies amplify the voice of the consumer, and one-to-one conversations blossom into many dialogues, the allure of a word-of-mouth, or WOM, campaign becomes increasingly compelling.

WOM is the practice of engaging influential users in a given community, creating a positive brand experience for them, and letting them propagate an authentic and unique brand message to their friends.

For example, when Brown-Foreman sought to reinforce the popularity of its Chambord Liqueur, it reached out to influencers such as bartenders through an aggressive, entertaining educational program. These people then went on to build awareness among their audiences.

WOM campaigns can be relatively low-cost, and when successful they can create a memorable and lasting approach to brand marketing.

One problem with a program as unstructured as a typical WOM engagement, however, is that it can be very difficult to measure results. Yet, in the current economic environment, with marketing budgets tightening, it is more important than ever for marketers to be able to show the ROI associated with projects.

It's not impossible to measure a WOM campaign—the process just requires some creative thought and tailoring to a specific campaign. Here are some ways to capture results.

Indexing tools pull valuable data from the blogosphere

The point of a WOM campaign is to generate buzz. By listening carefully to the noise of the Internet, a marketer can measure the lift in frequency and tenor. Sites such as Technorati or Blogpulse help marketers sift through information and understand how often something is said, as well as the frequency with which it comes up.

Blog traffic, according to Technorati, has numbered upwards of a million posts per day, so using indexing tools can help cull the valuable references. But it's important to choose a specific and consistent set to measure.

Select a subset of blogs based on their popularity with the target audience. Don't limit the metrics tracking to blogs; forums such as Chowhound, while not Web 2.0 darlings, are very active and can certainly measure a WOM campaign's success.

Follow the trail of tags

A measurement of discussion share can also be found in user tags, and the nomenclature that users adopt to describe brands or products. On a site like Delicious, users can create and update a list of bookmarks. Others can then search these lists and find out what's popular

The amount and nature of the data returned can be a telling way to quantify the success of a WOM program. It's important to remember that tagging, while useful, is a fairly new technology and not everyone uses it. Combine this approach with other measurement approaches to ensure valid data.

Track viral spread

If the WOM campaign involves the creation of video content, incorporate hooks in the code to see who is playing it, and from where. Doing so can provide insight into geographic penetration, campaign duration, and overall popularity.

If people are playing the content from their site, it's a good possibility that the message resonates with them and they are willing to identify themselves with, and speak on behalf of, the brand.

Automation and analytics shed deep insight

Around 40,000 blogs are created daily, and it's just not possible to track everything manually. Umbria and Nielsen create products that index and analyze a wealth of information and provide quantitative insight.

Natural Language Processing parses text and pulls out correlations and valuable information. Machine Language Process searches through myriad sites and automatically refines its search criteria to unearth better results. At times, the results set can be spotty, but user sentiment, brand associations, demographic data, and a number of other criteria can be analyzed.

The aforementioned firms also offer consulting services, including report generation and analysis of data gleaned off of the Web.

Conclusion: It may seem difficult to measure WOM, but the tools are there if companies take the time and effort to use them

There are a number of ways to measure the success of a WOM campaign on the Web. Start by looking in the right place: where the target audience congregates online.

Strategically select what criteria to measure, and what the information means. Be careful, however: Because the metrics are gathered from a series of disparate resources, sometimes interpretation is required. Also, because WOM moves at the speed of friends chatting, sometimes the sought-after lift takes longer than traditional campaigns. Give it time to mature and track the lift over a period of months, not weeks.

At the end of the day, if a marketing team listens carefully in the right places, they can get the quantitative metrics they need to justify the WOM approach.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Evan Gerber is the principal experience design consultant at Molecular(www.molecular.com), a member of the Isobar network of agencies (www.isobar.net).