Compensation for Spreading Word of Mouth Marketing?

At yesterday’s 2006 Corante Innovative Marketing Conference, Larry Weber had this to say about word of marketing: “Compensation is a big red flag for word of mouth marketing…..true word of mouth is transparent recommendations.”

This was said at a conference at which at least a few in the audience were engaged in that very thing — coming up with appropriate ways in which to reward people who spread the word about their products and brands. No one questioned him on it at the time, but I had a couple of conversations afterward with a few attendees about it.

For me, the only truly authentic ways for a company to be involved in word of mouth is to come up with truly great things (products, services, promotions, etc.) for people to spread the word about. And make it easier for them to spread the word by making the word available (putting information on the web where it can be linked to, making company reps and spokespeople available for comment to people besides the mainstream media). And then use all available technological means to track what’s being said and try to measure the effect.

It seems that when a company tries to do more than this to manipulate word of mouth, the potential downside is just too great.