Unless it’s the right kind!
In the social media age our connections are no longer restricted to family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Now we are all part of several different and village-like online communities. These online communities are formed on a common set of interests, and like old fashioned villages, they too consist of leaders, influencers, followers, rebels, pleasers, gossipers and even one or two crazy cat ladies.
This means that we as individuals are more connected than ever, but it also means that we are more exposed than ever to the opinions and judgments made by the other community members and even by the neighboring and potentially rival communities. Everybody’s watching you, they all know what you are doing and they gossip.
When there’s a village-like community there’s gossip. We gossip about each other, of course we do, we are human and this is what we do! Whoever said “talk is cheap” surely missed the point. Talk is valuable! So valuable in fact, that many companies spend much of their revenue trying to construct certain conversations about themselves by buying expensive ads and trying to push a certain attitude about them.
Unfortunately for them, humans are basically flock animals, and most of us won’t buy something just because we saw it in an ad. We need the approval of the village. In any buying process we seek out advice from our interest-based community members. This is why social gossip and co-branding are extremely valuable.
Gossip as co-branding
It is clear to me that in the near future we will see even more co-branding by companies that realize that gatekeepers are more important now than ever before. However, the perfect gatekeeper is not always the blogger with the largest number of followers or the person that on paper seems to be the most influential.
What makes these gatekeepers stand out is the gap between them and the rest of us, a gap that could also minimize the impact of the message (depending on the brand, of course). Top influencers, although part of the village, might be considered outsiders if the gap is too wide. We know that they may have (ulterior) motives for speaking positively about a brand, and therefore we are likely to judge their opinions differently.
A recommendation from a friend, however, has massive impact and so will the positive (or negative) gossip of the same level and like-minded persons in the community. What kind of experiences have my like-minded community members had with your brand? How were they treated by you? Did you listen? Did you help? Is their overall attitude positive or negative?
Making an entire online village gossip about you in a positive matter may seem like an impossible task, but it is not. It is difficult and it takes both time and insight. For most companies positive gossip doesn’t happen by itself, you have to do something to facilitate it.
This requires that you have to know the community very well and if you’re not already a natural member, you’ll have to make a strategy on how to think like one or even become one. Without in-depth knowledge of the characteristics of and the culture within the community you’ll have no idea what makes the members gossip. If you can join the community and still be you that is great! If you can’t, then don’t. Everybody can spot if you’re faking and that might very well backfire.
Top-down or Bottom-up?
Gossip is the fastest form of word of mouth simply because we tell stories when we gossip and stories evoke our feelings. We can’t always remember exactly what was said, but we remember the feeling we got from that story. This is also what makes gossip dangerous, because unlike recommendations that are fact-based, gossip is mostly based on feelings, and feelings are hard to control.
So how do you get someone to gossip positively about you?
First: Getting to know the unspoken rules of your target community is crucial. You have to know the culture, the tone of voice, the characteristics of the conversations and the hierarchy within the community. And you have to know that “it”, that makes the members tick.
Second: You need to figure out what kind of stories you would like to spread. Should they come in form of personal stories? – Or maybe as first hand secret knowledge about new products being launched?
Third: You need to consider the entry point of your story. Are you focusing on the right gatekeepers? We are so used to targeting the people that are placed in the top of the hierarchy, that we don’t question it. However in my experience most gossip seems to spread bottom-up. So how will you get the buzz going in your targeted community? And what would the effect be if:
- The message is spread from outside the community?
- The message is spread top-down, using a top influencer?
- The message is spread bottom-up, talking to (targeting) the “ordinary” members?
Finally: You have to be authentic and genuine. People will gossip about you no matter what you do, and a fake or fabricated story can very well lead to negative and destructive gossip. So! What do you want to talk about?
aEdited by Mark Salke