How Word of Mouth Spreads — In Numbers and Pictures

Word of mouth is the hot marketing trend of today. Many written articles, however, do a poor job driving home the real impact of how far and wide talk can spread on the Web.

But this morning I ran across some numbers and a picture that demonstrate how truly powerful word of mouth can be for your business.

If you read blogs frequently, you have probably seen the question-and-answer posts that are spreading like a virus, called “Five Reasons I Blog.” The way it works is that you list five reasons that you blog. Then you “tag” five other bloggers, and ask them to write their five reasons for blogging on their own blogs. They in turn should tag five other bloggers. And so it spreads.

These may seem like fluff posts, but in reality they are powerful communications. One of several things they do well is illustrate the word-of-mouth power of blogs. Let me explain how.

I was tagged by several bloggers, including most recently by Barry Welford. Rather than tagging individual bloggers in turn, I did something different. I threw the question out there for all small business owners to consider and answer. (You can read my five reasons for blogging here.)

Here’s the fascinating part. My post, which did not even tag anyone else specifically, spawned additional discussion, including a profound point about the power of blog posts to spread information, by Michele Corey of WordStreamz. Michele followed the trail for 19 days from when the meme started up to the point I wrote about it, noting:

If every one participated which means when they were tagged, wrote a post and tagged five other bloggers – we would have 1 X 5 X 5 X 5 X 5 X 5 X 5 X 5 X 5= 390,625 blogs may have participated since Ryan Healy read Mike’s post on February 12th and Anita Campbell wrote her post. Interesting and quite amazing huh?! – that’s getting close to a half a million blogs.

Let me emphasize the point again: from one post, to potentially 390,625 posts — or more.

Blog meme visualizationAs far as I can tell, Michele’s math is correct, if we assume every person spreads the word in equal numbers. However, even if we assume only a certain percentage follow through, that would still mean lots and lots of people discussing the topic. (Perhaps some mathematician out there can take a crack at calculating a number more precise than “lots and lots”.)

Just imagine if instead of discussing a blog meme they were mentioning your business.

Now, if math doesn’t make you sit up and take notice about the potential spread of word of mouth using blog posts, maybe a visual representation will. From Barry’s post I learned about a Web page at Solo SEO listing those participating in this particular blog meme question. That page, which is not even a complete listing, shows you visually the spread of discussion on blogs. I’ve included a screenshot of about one-third of that page (all I could fit) to the right.

Look at all the blogs listed on it, discussing one topic. Collectively those blogs probably reach hundreds of thousands of readers.

Again, imagine if it were your business they all were discussing.

One blog post starting a discussion might seem small, insignificant even. The old-school marketing approach would tend to dismiss it, saying, “Oh, it’s just a blog, not even a media mention.”

But that misses the point.

Just do the math, as they say. And visualize how far and wide “word of mouth” about your business could spread online.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

4 Reactions
  1. The math looks good, but I doubt that it really applies to “business” in general. Blogging is unique in that the blogging itself is the “business”. So writing a blog on “Top 5 reasons I blog” works for the blogging business. All bloggers have the incentive to write their own entries on the topics because they would be promoting their own business. But it is less likely for them to write about other people’s business, whatever they are, unless that entry will “increase” their business (e.g. traffic).

  2. Hi Timothy,

    I think you make a valid point that bloggers like to write about themselves. But I would suggest two things:

    (1) Many bloggers do, in fact, write about products and businesses.

    (2) The more newsworthy or unique or notable the business or product, the more likely bloggers are to mention it online. My comments assume there is a reason to write about the business in the first place. It’s up to the business owner or management of the business to make sure that things happen in the business that trigger bloggers to write about it.


  3. Anita,

    Thanks for responding to my post at WordStreamz.

    Timothy and you correct that there will always be a group of people that don’t follow through, but the power of word also means, and what interests me, that more than the amount of people that were tagged may participate because they want in on the action. The “right” mass appeal idea (product) has huge potential.

    Word of mouth blogging (AKA marketing) seems to work best when you are able share your unique input and / or have some type of emotional connection. In other words, connect with the What’s in if for me? – (WIIFM).

    We’re a smart bunch so if one is simply trying transparently toot their own horn for their own gain and then tags 5 people to talk about it, I doubt we’d see the same results we did with “5 Reasons I blog.”