“Word of mouth.” It’s almost a quaint expression in the context of digital marketing. In that space, Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing has morphed into Share Button Marketing (SBM), and actual mouths have little to do with its success.

Here’s where the lack of mouths comes to play: If most people are on social media, it’s logical to assume that advertisers are, too. Can SBM, including boosted posts, Instagram ads and Snapchat stories, break through the clutter? And, will SBM replace WOM marketing, or is it just the latest thing?

According to Kyle Minerley, Rebel’s director of advertising and search, “SBM has the implication that it will branch naturally into a larger conversation. People always want to try what other people have tried and liked, and they want a word of mouth recommendation even from a stranger who’s sharing it.”

Word of mouth had to start somewhere in cyberspace, and marketing strategist Zack Hummel looks at Amazon’s astronomical success as a nascent WOM experiment. “Amazon created an experience that was buzzworthy, which people wanted to talk about and experience. Clearly that experience drew them back again and again.” And where Amazon is concerned, the strategy paid off exponentially.

Content marketing strategist Courtney Parent is analytical when it comes to evaluating SBM marketing: she considers the following questions: “Is the content relevant and will it provide value? Is the messaging captivating and is it going to provide that X Factor that makes users want to hit the share button to let their friends and family know about it, which would expand brand reach and build brand trust?” She factors these questions into consideration when she advocates for WOM versus SBM.

Zack adds that media professionals should be judicious about recommending SBM for their clients: “Sharing good content without a sale-sy motive is always preferable. If we put cool stuff out there rather than putting marketing first, THAT’s the stuff people tie into emotionally.”

But it all seems to come back, says Zack, to trust: “I see people having curated online conversations. But in-person — authentic — conversations mean more because virtual chatter isn’t a true word of mouth experience.” He adds: “Random pictures and videos are purported proof, but people need and want to see other people’s real experiences to convince and move them.”

Kyle is cautious about SBM: “Now it is so easy to share a product online or talk about it, so it can get lost in the void. Not only that: people now easily turn to online reviews. They also search for referrals and look at the best and the worst experiences, as well as how the companies responded to them. Having a random stranger on the internet endorse a product is not as powerful as having one of your friends endorse it.”

Authenticity, it seems, is key: says Kyle: “It plays into that emotion of ‘you’re more willing to trust your closest friends online.’” As marketers, he adds, we need to be cognizant of people’s trust, emotions and motives.

So, will SBM replace WOM marketing? That question has yet to be answered, but at the end of the day, sharing is indeed caring.

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