Monetizing Word of Mouth: Towards New Ad Spaces

I want to share the following idea for a new WordPress plugin or Open Source widget in the hope that someone might either: implement it; bring an existing implementation of the idea to light; critique it as not worthy of implementation; and/or build on it, make it better. Here goes nothing…

The background

When a friend recommends a product to you, even a friend of a friend, it is a well-documented fact that the chance of a sales conversion is higher than all other advertising strategies. Why? At the risk of vulgarising a complex socio-psychological process, I’ll offer three simple reasons why – all are pertinent to this discussion:

1. Mutual trust: you trust your friend’s opinion far more than you trust an anonymous marketer, and your friend knows you well enough to trust that you’ll be interested in the product;

2. Vicarious experience: your friend’s first-hand experience is the closest you can get to the product without using/buying it yourself;

3. Active participation: you are actively engaged in a conversation through which you can question the viability of the product in real-time with the possibility of a real-time response.

Word of mouth trumps all other advertising media, not least the ageing banner/text ad model. Despite countless attempts at “interactive” and “personalized” advertising, the majority of Web-based advertising still posits the consumer as a passive recipient of information and it is still largely based on the one-way traffic of information:

The advertiser de/prescribes their product to you, and if relevant, you proceed to “research” the credibility of the product – more often than not through user reviews.

The advent of social media presented a promising alternative to the static ad model. Facebook and Twitter in particular were both heralded by entrepreneurs and marketers as key platforms for word of mouth marketing. Both allow for an approximation of the real world word of mouth experience, the next best thing to sitting in a cafe listening to you friend extol the virtues of such and such a film, book, gadget, web application, holiday destination or garment of clothing.

Despite the social media explosion over the past few years, advertising experiences are still predominantly static: the advertiser pays the publisher a predetermined sum to display information about his/her product to the publisher’s audience. Here below are some thoughts towards a widget or WordPress plugin that would give website owners, bloggers, publishers in general, the ability to harness the power of word of mouth on his/her site – to create a real niche-specific advertising opportunity with real engagement, real opinion and real feedback.

The Idea

I’m looking for a compact, intuitive, self-contained sidebar widget/plugin, ideally (though not exclusively) WordPress-based, that would allow me to achieve the following:

1. To advertise a product that I choose to vouch for on my website over a set period of time. It could be an affiliate ad to an Amazon product for example; it could be an ad deal brokered directly with the product owner.

2. To allow interested end-users to submit open questions to me about the advertised product and my experience using it.

3. For me to answer end-user questions on a page linked to the product (questions updated on a rolling basis).

4. To sync widget updates (new questions, new media added etc.) with social media platforms.

The Process

So allow me to describe the process as I see it:

I find a product that I use and like. Personal experience of the product is crucial for this to work, accept no imitations!

I set up an initial page for the product on my site. The page would consist of a short product review, and might include video and/or photos. It might include a social media stream of other people’s mentions of the product and a mash-up of other reviews from around the Web. The same page would then be used to house the Q&A section with potential end-users.

The widget on my site would display a digest version of the whole thing and would contain a link to the product page. It would also allow interested users to enter a question.

The widget space and the product page would be labelled as ad space. In other words, it would be made clear to the viewer that revenue was being generated from this enterprise. This does not preclude the possibility of writing an honest appraisal of the product, or to provide honest answers to end-user questions.

In terms of revenue, there would be two main options as I see it. The first and probably the easiest would be to link to affiliate products (think Amazon and other major affiliate schemes). The second would to go directly to product owners and arrange a set fee.

Final Thoughts

What got me thinking about all this was a recent switch in advertising options on OSLiving.com. If you check the front page of the site, you’ll see some typical 125×125 banner ad slots, powered by buysellads.com in the right hand sidebar. I switched to this option after having displayed a google ad in the same position for the best part of 2 years. Both solutions feel very impersonal and are governed by the ad brokers that power each solution.

My idea here is to make advertising a more interesting, personal and reflexive experience. That being said, I’m not a developer so I’m relying entirely on interest from a lone reader who might happen across this blog and find this of some interest. And in the spirit of open source software, this idea is free to use, reuse and modify to your heart’s content. If you could mention/include me in the process then I’d be grateful. All comments, thoughts, criticisms are most welcome so please do leave a comment. Thanks for reading.

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