“This Just In” WOMM is Big News

The April issue of Fast Company is replete with stories of the power of word of mouth. The NPR story caught my eye first:

In one of the great undertold media success stories of the past decade, NPR has emerged not as the bespectacled schoolmarm of our imagination but as a massive news machine…

There are 26 million weekly listeners to NPR, more than read USA Today, more than watch Fox News, more than CNN. One piece of the story is that NPR has put huge investments into its online services. A web presence plus podcasting, NPR Mobile, etc. They’re on Facebook. They Twitter like nobody’s business. So there is accessibility to in-depth news when and where we want it, and an intimate-ish connection to those who produce the news. Excellent. That means people can listen and share the experience, pass it on.

But the real WOMM (word of mouth marketing) began long before Web 2.0 or even 1.0. NPR ratchets up the passion dial with its business model, which hinges on people paying whatever the service is worth to them. Yes, the fund-drive is much maligned, but it allows people to not pay, or to toss maybe $50 bucks a year into the offering plate, or, if you’re Joan Kroc $20 million (probably not every year).

NPR’s growth can be explained, I think, in this way: The new media has allowed those passionate folks (and even those who don’t put a few bucks in the plate) to share their passion exponentially, blogging or tweeting about the latest story. In an instant, I ¬†could share how Ira Glass explained the whole economic meltdown and I actually understood it (Giant Pool of Money from the show This American Life was NPR’s big scoop this past year). Ok, so yay, NPR. They’re not your father’s liberal media elite. Just solid long-view journalism in a sound-byte refracted world.

Then my close personal friend Ellen McGirt (ok I follow her on Twitter, whatever) writes about Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, and THE force behind the Jr. Senator from Illinois’ incredible WOM-induced rise to power. Conventional wisdom says that around 90% of word of mouth happens offline. But MyBarackObama.com gave everyone the tools to organize in an organic, decentralized way. And they did, more than anyone could have anticipated. Dems and Republicans, and marketers in general will be studying the nuts and bolts of this operation for years to come.

I’m one of those marketers. As Seth Godin has beaten into us, and as Hughes’ imprint on the Obama campaign shows us – if you have something out of the ordinary to share, that message can rise above the information haze, and word can spread. We have the online tools, not to geek out, but to make sure the extraordinary gets shared. If we all know (as businesses or candidates) that we don’t control the message, then let’s let go. Let the people that are touched by the message spread it. If it’s an on-target message, those who are touched will far outnumber those who want to tear it down.