Word of Mouth Marketing: The Bad, and the Ugly


The ‘wild west’ nature of the Internet is creating a tough environment for businesses relying on word of mouth marketing (WOMM). While this is a challenge that generally impacts consumer product companies, recent findings show that B2B companies should also be paying very close attention to their online presence.

According to a recent story on B2B lead generation, 83 percent of B2B buyers use online channels to research B2B brands, and 91% of B2B buyers confirm that “word-of-mouth” is the most important influencing factor in the buying process.

Online WOMM, however, is still a fairly new playing field for B2B companies and they should proceed with caution. While credibility and ethics are crucial components of the industry, cyber-slander has become a cruel Internet tactic and a real threat to the efficacy of WOMM.

Not only is a businesses’ reputation at risk, but the threat of a law suit is increasingly likely in an era when “word of mouth” business is generated online exponentially. Internet searches, online reviews, Tweets, Facebook posts and blogs – no matter what the digital platform, content that consists of negative publicity or defamation online is detrimental to businesses looking to increase market share or gain footing among competitors.

A story from the National Law Journal earlier this year highlights the trials and tribulations lawyers face when building their own reputation online. The article cites several examples of the backlash attorneys have received from clients or potential stakeholders following defamatory online attacks, often provoked by ex-clients or ex-spouses. No one is immune — the same holds true for most corporate and professional services executives.

Cyber slander has also provoked lawsuits. As detailed in a recent Fox News story, a prominent prosecutor and former Court TV analyst is suing his ex- girlfriend for “tortuous interference with prospective business relations” for comments that she posted online. This case is likely to set a precedent for what people are and are not allowed to post on the Web.

Social networks are another area of online publication ripe for online defamation, and potential litigation. Mashable recently wrote an interesting post about the litigious environment Twitter has faced since its infancy. In its short life, the company has kicked up a legal hornets’ nest involving everything from stalking to satire. The article specifically examines the issue of defamation on Twitter and how recent cases raise questions about whether normal rules of defamation should apply to the social media platform.

Given how much uncertainty remains by way of laws that protect companies from defamation both online and within social networks, businesses and executives must clearly define a strategy for promoting and protecting their brand(s) and services online. In our next post on this topic, we’ll give you some thought-provoking options for keeping your company, brand(s) and key executives out of the hornets’ nest, while still acquiring the value that WOMM can add to your marketing program.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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