WOMMA Wants To Rein In Viral Tactics

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), an industry group dedicated to the growing practices of viral/buzz marketing, will meet next week to start developing a core set of standards and best practices to help formalize the burgeoning industry.

"A reasonably organized industry effort can stamp out potential problems," said Andy Sernovitz, who was hired this week as the association's CEO.

In addition to developing standards, Sernovitz will immediately begin developing a new operational infrastructure by hiring additional staff, and developing new branding and a new Web site.

Sernovitz said the word-of-mouth industry needs to get in front of the privacy and disclosure issues that already plague it, to avoid the fate that befell e-mail--the original Internet word-of-mouth vehicle that he said was ruined by spam and murky industry compliance measures. With respect to e-mail marketing, "people lost the concept of good versus bad players," said Sernovitz, who previously founded the interactive strategy/consulting firm GasPedal.

Steve Rubel, vice president client services for communications firm CooperKatz Group, and a noted blogger and technology evangelist, said the blogging phenomenon has added a new dimension to word-of-mouth and buzz marketing. But, Rubel said, there is a right way and a wrong way to leverage the blogosphere for marketing purposes. "Ultimately," Rubel said, "marketers will be uncomfortable with the fact that consumers control word of mouth--that's what's so exciting and terrifying about blogs," he said.

Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Intelliseek, a marketing technology services firm, and co-founder of WOMMA, added that bloggers can be a marketer's best ally, if viral campaigns are executed respectfully, but warned that they also "unabashedly believe they are truth seekers," and that success hinges on basic loyalty.

According to Rubel--whose company CooperKatz is in talks with WOMMA about possibly becoming a member--developing a code of ethics and guidelines is a "laudable" enterprise, but one that must be backed by a number of parties to be effective. As yet, he said the young industry organization lacks clout, but it is still in the very formative stages of development.

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