So you think word-of-mouth is free? So did I until yesterday. That’s when I came across a tweet that got my brain juices flowing.
The tweet was on the topic of what marketing professionals call earned media. Earned media is more or less pitted as the antithesis to paid media, thus it is often used synonymously with free media.
For those not familiar with this marketing jargon, types of earned media include press coverage and word-of-mouth. Earned media also represents the idea of something going viral. The term paid media typically just means advertising.
So back to that tweet that started me down this path of writing about The shocking truth about the cost of a word-of-mouth campaign.
— Christopher Mance II (@ChrisMance) April 22, 2013
Is Word of Mouth Really Free?
When it comes to entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their ventures, paying for advertising is avoided like the plague. Most entrepreneurs only want to grow through word-of-mouth and press coverage, seemingly because they see this as the free alternative to paid media.
However, I think this thinking is outdated and dangerous for entrepreneurs. I actually listed this as one of the three killer mistakes that sabotage a word-of-mouth campaign.
The reality is that in today’s oversaturated media landscape, all media is paid media. The idea that you can spend little to no money and get a word-of-mouth campaign off the ground that has the legs to go viral is foolish thinking.
It can be very expensive to get a word-of-mouth campaign off the ground by relying purely on earned media strategies.
With the press being so accessible these days, any business attempting to get coverage in a major news outlet will have to break through a whole lot of noise. Doing this is not free.
The Cost of Word of Mouth
You may have to pay for a publicist or get represented by a PR agency, pay to get your news release distributed, or pay with the cost of time if you do it yourself.
The alternative to press coverage when focusing on earned media includes relying on social content marketing (i.e. owned media) or remarkable customer service and unique tangible products to tell a viral story. Each of which has the potential to have a substantial price tag associated with it, represented by actual dollars or effort.
So even though earned media is technically free, it will never happen without the press, content marketing, or a viral word-of-mouth story.
Word of Mouth Through Social Media Cost Money Too
Anecdotal evidence shows that we are experiencing a sharp rise in the HR and technology cost for managing and monitoring social media, as well as for creating quality content. For those bootstrappers who choose to DIY it, this increase in cost is represented in the time it takes to generate the quality needed to compete with social media professionals who are getting paid to do just this one thing.
I predict that in the coming years what we now call paid media will be cheaper than what it takes to generate earned media. If not that, then the cost of paid media will skyrocket to account for new demand from those who realize that it’s not worth it to try to break through the earned media barrier.
The Golden Age of Word of Mouth is coming to an End
Either way, I think the golden age of earned media is quickly coming to an end. This means the golden age of word-of-mouth is ending as well.
It will always be fun to fantasize about coming up with some free strategy to get a word-of-mouth campaign to go viral. However, this type of free viral growth will likely be reserved for non-commercial kitten and baby videos. Everyone else will have to pay to play.