Posted on December 29, 2008 by Roxanne Darling
This post is a promised follow-up to my recent post Why are Advertisers Embarrassed by Advertising?. Recently KGMB9 implemented the WOMF service. To me, an outside observer, they have treated it as a sales platform though positioned it as a community forum. I actually think it has the potential to be quite useful as both, if they are willing to address a few flaws in this social web business tool.
First, let’s clear up the acronyms:
WOMF stands for Word of Mouth Forum ™. It is a company that has developed a type of web software that allows local communities to have an advertiser-sponsored, consumer reviews and discussion web site. This is a standard web formula: build it once and re-use it as much as possible. The parent company is from Australia, though their corporate site has zero information. You must choose your country and then be directed to the local affiliate site.
WOMMA stands for Word of Mouth Marketing Association. This is a professional marketers association, dedicated to building and promoting best practices in, you guessed it, word of mouth marketing. It is becoming increasingly powerful, and there is not only confusion but a swarm of con artists who are riding the wave of word of mouth marketing.
On the surface they sound very similar, but in practice they function differently. Together they represent an opportunity to shed light on the style and the substance of using social media to grow your business.
Let’s look at two bricks in the social web foundation – Transparency and User Interactions, and compare what WOMMA recommends with the execution of WOMF-affiliated sites.
Here are some of the recommended actions from WOMMA, the professional association (link has expired):
On the other hand, WOMMA cautions against various unethical strategies, including “Stealth Marketing: Any practice designed to deceive people about the involvement of marketers in a communication.”
The WOMF affiliate sites are built around the software platform, creating a place for people to talk about things they like or dislike. But the fact that each affiliate site is managed by a media company, who remains un-named, sold by a parent company who operates in complete stealth mode, for the express purpose of selling ads to small business, casts a pall on these potentially useful community-based sites.
How Does WOMF Rate?
Here is how WOMF USA defines their service, when talking to target customers (media outlets) on the corporate site – a mere four pages:
WOMF(tm) is a client acquisition program for Local Media to generate online revenue. This is a collaborative effort between programming, promotions and sales helping to deepen the relationship between your medium, your audience and your advertisers. Additionally you gain market prominence, heightened brand awareness and thought leadership for providing internet advertising solutions for your local businesses.
Yet here is how the local affiliate site defines its service on the community site, when talking to the users:
WOMF is about you. Your experiences, your opinions and your expertise. We want to hear what you have to say. Go ahead…Register and WOMF. It’s easy!!
Actually, both statements are true. But to have different definitions of who you are across the public web, runs the risk of being labeled “two-faced” and worse.
WOMMA values honesty in word-of-mouth marketing (link has expired):
Only honest marketers with confidence in their products dare engage in word of mouth marketing — because it will backfire if the promise of your marketing message isn’t backed up by reality. Once you give people a voice, they will tell the true story of your company, good or bad.
From the public side of things, I would say low average. There is some activity on the site, though very little compared to the long-running Hawaii Threads discussion forum (which does not advertise at all and which is actually a forum). WOMF confuses itself and its audience in a number of ways:
Seth Godin has written several books explaining why sites like WOMF are the wrong approach for businesses to take. The disruption taking place in the market requires a change of culture – not simply slapping a new bandage on a problem that, once you understand it, is not at all like the ones you have faced in the past.
That doesn’t mean you toss the baby out just yet though. It does mean you put in place a lot more transparency. I know it is the opposite of business as usual, but it truly is your best friend in this environment and time. The WOMF software itself does a lot of cool things. Unfortunately, as I have learned too, the power of the social web is more about the users, than the platform.
I know this post is long but can you believe I have only scratched the surface of analyzing WOMF sites? It just goes to show this stuff is not as easy as it looks (most things rarely are) but getting the conversation started is well worth the effort. I hope to hear from some of the businesses who have advertised on WOMF as well as some of my friends over at KGMB9 and fellow media junkies both here in Hawaii as well as beyond.