Word of Mouth to the Power of Social Media

If you believe that you don’t need to buy into the current social media frenzy, if you eschew online anything, more power to you. Content in the belief that “this, too, shall pass”, you’re probably not reading this anyway.
But, if you are reading this post, even if you consider yourself a hardcore skeptic (and you are not alone, then you probably have a nagging suspicion that, somehow, you might be missing something. I can almost hear you muttering, “Go ahead, try to convince me that I need to waste my precious time engaging.”
When it comes to communication, you say, nothing beats good ole word of mouth, right? Short answer: yes. There is a longer answer, but you probably knew that.

Let’s start with the assumption that all the hoopla about social media is unfounded. After all, who needs social media when word of mouth works just fine? Data backs that up. The thing is that the channels that convey word of mouth, a marketing approach as old as the hills, have changed some since back in the day. These days, the primary channels are social media platforms.
At the risk of over simplifying, social media marketing is word-of-mouth marketing at its core. — Adam Fridman, CEO and found of Mabbly(via YahooSmall Business Advisor)
A dictionary might define the term “word of mouth” as informal or unofficial discourse. Rooted in oral traditions, since the invention of writing systems the term also applies to written communications. For die-hard cyberphobes, that means penning or, okay, typing a letter. For those who, if pressed, will use a computer, an email also counts. Strictly one on one, mind you, surely not a spam campaign.
Traditional, in real world (IRL) word of mouth also includes all those little ways that you spread and seek information through your network of friends, family and colleagues. Job-seekers and business owners big and small have used this approach for eons, still do and it still works.
That is, until it doesn’t. What do I mean?
Word of mouth only works if
a) you consistently nurture and grow your personal networks,
b) your networks are sufficiently large and/or well-connected, and
c) the members of your network are not all discoursing exclusively via the internet.
Again, no data, but personal experience tells me that a lot of folks wait until they’ve got a problem before they tap into their real-life networks. A devastating surprise awaits them. There is no network there.
I’ve had a version of that unhappy experience and seen plenty of others go their own personal hells.
Example, or rather, examples. On a weekly basis and sometimes more often, I get pinged on LinkedIn by someone who wants to connect. If I’m lucky, I actually know the person or, failing that, the person has posted a picture that rings some bells. If I’m greeted by the dreaded empty-head avatar or, even with a photo, the bells remain silent, but mostly as a reflex, I visit their profile and find …
that they have eight (8) connections, four with the same last name so, I’m assuming, family members, two who have attended the same university, i.e., former classmates, and two individuals who share absolutely nothing in common professionally. I’m thinking drinking buds or the chess club. Avid birdwatchers? Moving on.
I see that their current job description reads “seeking new challenges”, code for “unemployed” or “under-performing” and looking. Or, worse yet,the career descriptor “unemployed” is used, a synonym for “desperate”.
No kidding, I’ve seen it. In one instance, I immediately connected with the individual and pleaded with her to change it. Immediately.
Remember, even if you’re unemployed, you remain a person capable of doing something. Translating, for instance. So describe yourself as a translator for heaven’s sake! I digress.
What I take away each time is the sense that these folks have exhausted, literally and figuratively, their personal and professional circles and taken the plunge into social media as a last ditch effort to land a job or find contracts. Unfortunately, they realize that they are a long, dry country mile behind the starting line preceded by colleagues already racing ahead in a highly competitive job market. Mind you, these plugged-in colleagues might not be better translators. They are just better at marketing themselves.
Bottom-line: social media, newfangled as it might still seem to some, is just another, very powerful channel for word of mouth. Going granular is for another post, but here are some key dos and don’ts:
  • Don’t waste time, energy and money mastering and marshaling advanced bells and whistles.
  • Do tackle and nail the basics of at least one, maybe two, social media platforms. Note: for job-seekers and freelance translators, LinkedIn is probably the best place to invest your energy.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute and you have no where else to turn. Getting up to speed on social media will be stressful enough without the “gotta get a job/contract NOW” mantra burning up your brain pan.
  • Do start tackling the learning curve while the living is easy. 
Despite the marketing boosters who claim that social media is some kind of magic supersonic bullet train to wealth and personal fulfilment, taking advantage of the platforms is a long game. Who knows? You may never need to tap your online contacts. But, if you do and you have to do it fast, you won’t have to start from scratch.

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Photo credit: The Party Line via Wikimedia Commons