There is a new widget that caught my eye the other day and I have been playing with it ever since. It’s called Tell-a-Friend and its general purpose is to help users to share any type of information without leaving the website where it is installed. Nothing new, you may say, but the point I want to make is that this tool actually enables visitors to access their friends with much greater speed and scope. So, instead of remembering all the contact details of your LinkedIn network, you can now spread your messages with less efforts and boring authentication requests. Convenient for ones, quite scary for others! Tell-a-Friend is a two-edged sword that can successfully build and destroy your reputation in a matter of minutes. Everything depends on the professional skills of both the black-hats and the reputation management consultants.

It is not a surprise that most of the serious PR agencies today design Word-of-Mouth (WOM) strategies as part of their promotion services. They are well aware of the power of peer-to-peer sharing and that most potential costumers heavily rely on the advice and the input of the people they trust. A professionally executed WOM campaign is hundreds of times more effective than any other advertising platform combined with the best communication tactics, especially when it can also help boosting the sales performance and corporate operational profit.

One of the most specific features of WOM marketing is that it barely relies on any substantial facts, but personal opinions. So, even if you read something about yourself on the Web that it is not entirely true, the measures you can take are pretty limited. It is almost impossible to start legal actions against a whole community, especially when the initial source of the rumor is hard to be identified. It is also quite stupid for a company to blame someone because of his personal believes and thus all marketing books share the opinion that customer is always right.

I will stop here. I think it is pointless to explain further the importance of Word-of-Mouth and its global impact on corporate reputations. However, I believe it is crucial to discuss its usage as rumor spreading accelerator and general defamation tool.

What makes Negative WOM so powerful?

It is proven that people trust negative information way more than any superlatives. If you hear something bad about someone, this is more likely to be remembered than the high volume of positive stories you can find about that very same person. The reason for this are the libel messages with their embellishing nature which causes the drama effect. This means that if you start a rumor about something,,at the end of the day it will sound totally different from its initial form. In fact, every time when somebody repeats the story, the impact will be much bigger and stronger over the target audience. None of the other communication tools enable you to do that.

The other thing I would like to mention is the tempo, with which viral messages could be disseminated. This is extremely important for every defamation campaign , because it disables the target to react promptly on existing reputation attacks. If the target delays its official respond or fail to give a reasonable explanation of the buzz (with enough number of facts), then the allegations will be subconsciously confirmed by the audience. Moreover, this delay may actually help the rumors to spread even more and this is how the target’s reputation can be permanently damaged.

In conclusion, I can only say that most of the big corporations tend to underestimate the power of negative communication. They are willing to spend enormous amount of money for creating a positive buzz, but not fighting the negative one. In short term perspective, this may look reasonable, but keep in mind that there will always be someone that doesn’t like your product and will try everything to take you down. As I always say, it is up to you to decide whether this is going to happen.