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What Makes Word-of-Mouth Work?

Guest Post by Rob Eagar

I recently switched my TV provider service from a cable company to DirecTV. I’m absolutely thrilled with the change for several reasons: 

  • DirecTV has a free app that lets me watch live TV on my iPad - how cool is that?!
  • DirectTV saved me over $60 a month from what I was paying my previous provider.
  • DirecTV has an awesome channel called the “NFL Red Zone” that monitors every pro football game simultaneously and shows all of the key scoring plays as they happen – without any commercial interruption. It’s like watching non-stop action for hours! 

As you can tell, I’ve become a big fan of DirecTV. Why do I tell you all this? My enthusiasm reveals the hidden power that propels word-of-mouth. I am volunteering to tell you about my great experience with DirecTV, because they gave me numerous reasons to talk. I naturally want to tell others about the cool features that I’m now enjoying. I’m spreading word-of-mouth for DirecTV because they made me excited enough to tell others. 

As an author, do you give your readers a reason to talk about your books? Word-of-mouth doesn’t spread by itself. You literally have to give people legitimate reasons to tell someone else about your book. If you don’t, no one will say anything. And, you’ll wonder why your sales don’t grow. 

On the other hand, if you give readers a reason to spread word-of-mouth, they will do it naturally. Then, you’ll have a bonafide, book-selling, wildfire on your hands. What do readers need in order to spread word-of-mouth? Let’s look at the concept from different angles: 

Emotion – This word-of-mouth category refers to a reading experience that feels so enjoyable, thrilling, or meaningful that the reader believes your book was a worthwhile use of their time. Appreciative readers will openly make comments, such as “This book made me laugh out loud, cry so hard, stay up late, read without stopping, etc.” Their emotions compel them to share the experience with someone else. 

Uniqueness – This category is defined by a distinctive writing style, unique topic, or unusual point of view that hasn’t been covered before or blows away people’s preconceptions. Appreciative readers will make comments, such as, “This book blew my mind” or “I’ve never read anything like this before.” 

Instructional / Results – This category applies mostly to non-fiction books, such as self-help, textbooks, and reference guides. Appreciative readers will spread word-of-mouth with remarks, such as, “This book explains the answer better than I can tell you or teach you” or “You could really use a copy of this book.” 

Shock Value – This category refers to a story or written account that pushes past the typical limits of tradition, religion, humor, confidentiality, etc. Appreciative readers will tell others, “This book really spills the beans” or “You won’t believe the stuff that I just read.” 

Price – This category tends to have the least affect on word-of-mouth. Yet, the influence can still be tangible, especially when coupled with one of the other four categories. Deep price discounts or limited-time deals can encourage readers to tell friends, “This book is quite a bargain. Don’t miss your chance to get a copy.”

As you examine these word-of-mouth categories, where does your book fit? Do you give readers a valid reason to tell their friends? Usually, you can tell when people are referring your book to others, because the conversation is identifiable either offline and/or online. In the offline world, literal conversations will happen between friends, relatives, or business acquaintances. People will volunteer to tell others about your book out of their own motivation. How do you know? People will tell you by sending fan mail, tell you while attending a booksigning, or even call you just to say that they referred your book to someone else.

In the online world, you can track word-of-mouth by seeing if people freely post positive comments about your book on their blogs, Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts. They might also willingly write a positive review on Amazon, or mention your book on their website or email newsletter. 

Word-of-mouth isn’t a mysterious process that happens randomly. Instead, it happens according to rational principles that affect everyone. Your job is to write a book that people will naturally want to discuss. Use the five categories above to help identify which style best generates word-of-mouth for you. Remember, people will talk about your book, but only if you give them a reason to talk. 

Did I give you a reason to talk about this article?

About the author:

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Rob Eagar is the founder of WildFire Marketing, a consulting practice that helps authors and publishers sell more books and spread their message like wildfire. He has assisted numerous New York Times bestselling authors and his new book, Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, will be published by Writer’s Digest in May, 2012. Find out more about Rob’s advice, products, and coaching services for authors at:

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