If you wanted to drastically increase the likelihood that someone else talked about your product, spread news of it by word of mouth, and helped you to create more earned media about it, what would be the way to go about it? The answer could be sharing.
In a recent study by Jeremiah Owyang’s Crowd Companies and research firm Vision Critical, more than 80 million people in the US, UK, and Canada participate in the sharing economy, in which people share products and services, from shared cars like Lyft to hourly quiet workspaces like Breather.
At the root of the sharing economy is the network effect, first coined by Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe. In a network effect scenario, any time a new node joins the network, not only is value delivered to the node, but the entire network becomes more valuable. In Metcalfe’s original model, he cited the example of the fax machine. A fax machine by itself is a copier that’s plugged into a phone line for no good reason. Once two fax machines exist, the value of a fax machine becomes understood. As more people bought fax machines, not only did the buyers receive value, but every other owner of a fax machine also received value as they had one more person to fax.
This concept applies to the sharing economy as well. The more people who participate in the sharing economy, the more viable a marketplace it is. AirBnB would be a significantly less compelling proposition if only one person was sharing a room in their house. Lyft would be useless if there were only one driver in the city. The more people who open their homes up, offer their spare vehicle time as Lyft drivers, or are willing to do a quick errand on TaskRabbit, the more valuable the services become to everyone.
So what does this have to do with earned media and public relations? In the study, the top way that new sharers became aware of a product or service wasn’t from web searches, ads, or the news. New sharers became aware of the product or service predominantly by word of mouth marketing, with 47% of survey respondents citing that as the primary method for their use of a new service or product. This is earned media at its purest, having other people eager to talk about your product or service.
In an age when social media reach has largely become pay-to-play and consumers are drowning in (and tuning out) corporate messaging, word of mouth has become even more valuable. Wouldn’t 47% more reach at no additional marketing cost be valuable to your company? If you want to get people talking, figure out a way to make your products or services more collaborative, more easily shared. Figure out a way to build sharing into the DNA of your product and build network effects into your product so that everyone who shares, benefits.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology
You can read the full report and study below on Slideshare.