Word of mouth

by Naomi Pearson. 0 Comments

Although they do their share of advertising, it seems that outside of the economy in general, the businesses in downtown Frederick live and die by word-of-mouth.

All it takes is a few people to give a restaurant rave reviews to all of their acquaintances and suddenly it’s THE place to be.

Well-placed praise of a shop and its owner or employees can be enough to draw in the curious, who finding the truth of the matter, come back and in turn sing praises of their own.

Satisfied clients refer associates to their “people,” happy customers drag their friends and family in to share the experience, and comfortable patrons return again and again.

When word-of-mouth is complimentary, everyone wants to see what all the buzz is about.

Conversely, the complaints of a few people can be enough to keep people away. The difference is that when word-of-mouth is negative, nobody will even try to find out if it’s actually true or accurate.

Let’s say someone sees something that looks suspiciously like a roach crawling in the dining room of a restaurant. Of course, you know that that person will tell everyone who will listen about it, until one day the restaurant owner is wondering what happened to all of his clientele. The assumption is that the restaurant is dirty and unsanitary, etc,etc. But the truth? Could very well be that the little beast flew or crawled in through the front door along with the diner, or came in from the open-air patio seating. Just that one bug, that one time. The rest of the establishment is sparkling, and never has had a health violation and even the inspectors eat there.

The same principle is true for people, especially in a small-town city like Frederick. You know what I mean. If there is a city or county official that’s fair and “gets things done,” the beneficiary of that will tell everyone and the official becomes the go-to person. Does such-and-such an organization need a chair? Word-of-mouth will recommend so-and-so. Most helpful neighbor, most reliable carpool driver, most conscientious playdate parent and--the list goes on--all identified by word-of-mouth.

On the other hand, negative word-of-mouth can kill a political career or term of service, destroy a chairperson’s credibility and effectiveness, undermine a person’s standing in his or her social circle or community and lead to ostracization, often without them even knowing why. And nobody will even bother to find out for themselves if the words and whispers are true.

I’ve been affected by, and seen the effects of word-of-mouth campaigns -- both complimentary and derogatory -- in my personal life and in observing national and local politics. I’ve learned for myself and as a journalist to try to find out the truth or get a more accurate picture from the source, if possible, and from the subject. Rarely is anything quite what it seems.

Word-of-mouth = rumor

We think of one as positive and the other as negative, but think about it -- they are at heart exactly the same. The difference comes in how we use it and how we act upon it.

Don’t just take my word for it; check things (good or bad) out for yourself.

(Especially during the election season.)

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