We talk a lot around here about “Word of Mouth”.

Really… a lot. Like here, here, here and here. Of course, we may not always practice what we preach (ahemproof here!), but we’ve discussed word of mouth as pertains to marketing quite frequently.

With good reason. An eMarketer report shows that fully half of small businesses surveyed name word of mouth recommendations as the marketing tool they could not do without. And make no mistake, social media is word of mouth.

Even when relying on traditional word of mouth, you’re going to run up against social media. A recent study by Cone Inc. found that 85% of consumers are likely to go online for further information after receiving a recommendation, AND 85% are more likely to actually purchase the recommended product or service if they find additional recommendations online.

Here’s something else to consider — Word of mouth works both ways.

Of course, you knew that. But did you realize that negative information about your brand or business may spread faster than positive information?

The Marketing Leadership Council reported on a study from COLLOQUY that might surprise you. In surveying over 3,000 American consumers, they found that while 42% or respondents are likely to share a great experience with friends and family, a shocking 75% would share a negative opinion.

What’s more, 26% admit they are outright more likely to share a bad experience than a good one. And another 7% – who the folks at COLLOQUY call “Pure MADvocates” – only share negative impressions, never positive.

(We’re guessing they didn’t get the same lecture from their mom as we did… “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Regardless…)

Click graph to view full-sized.The Cone study also looked at negative word of mouth. They found that 87% of respondents said positive information found online reinforced their decision to make a recommended purchase, up 7% from the previous year’s survey. BUT, they also found that 80% of respondents changed their mind about a recommended purchase after finding negative information online! And that figure grew by 12% over the previous year.

Now, you can’t control every negative word ever uttered (or typed, for that matter) about your business… especially when 7% of folks out there flat admit that they don’t say anything unless it’s not nice.

What you can do is be a part of the conversation.

It’s natural to connect with people who have a positive impression of your business. But you must also engage those with a negative opinion. And if you aren’t sure how, ask them! Who isn’t satisfied? What is the specific problem? How can we help you? What will it take to make this right?

By recognizing social media as word of mouth – and adding your own voice to the conversation – you can affect the positive AND negative opinions that are already affecting your bottom line.

And since that’s nothing but nice, we don’t expect to hear a word from those 7%…

Which is fine with us, since they never have anything nice to say anyway.