By Chris Charron, Forrester Research

Consumers' trust in traditional forms of advertising is waning. In 2004, less than 50% of consumers trusted TV and radio ads, and only slightly more trusted print ads. What's more, consumers increasingly say they're bombarded with too many irrelevant ads. These negative attitudes toward traditional marketing have led consumers to take measures to block direct mailers, telemarketers, and TV advertisers from their homes in an accelerating consumer ad backlash.

Social or viral marketing - with its minimal obtrusiveness and trustworthy sources (often other consumers) - avoids most of the anti-ad reactions that fuel the backlash. By engaging consumers in a dialogue about their products or encouraging consumer-to-consumer dialogue, marketers inevitably lose some control over the message of their campaigns. But what marketers may lose in control, they gain in audience attention, velocity of communication, and much-needed trust from loyal consumers.

How can marketers connect with jaded consumers who avoid traditional campaigns with spam-blockers, DVRs, and Do-Not-Call lists? Four flavors of social marketing can help:

1: Word-of-mouth (WOM) Marketing

Disillusioned consumers -- those who've lost trust in marketers -- now turn to each other for trustworthy product information. This consumer-to-consumer "buzz" naturally occurs without the intervention of marketers -- 46% of North American consumers often tell friends and family about products that interest them. When marketers get involved to stimulate WOM activity -- like P&G did when it offered to donate money to an energy-saving charity if Tide Coldwater users sent along product samples -- they must relinquish the control they would have had over a traditional campaign. But this is a small price to pay for the increase in consumer trust created by WOM marketing. While Tide created a buzz arou! nd Coldwater based on environmental awareness, Burger King's successful "Subservient Chicken" Webcast created a humorous buzz for its BK Tender Crisp.

2: Blogs

Blogs (think: online journal) provide a venue for marketers and consumers to open a dialogue and facilitate WOM marketing among consumers. Blogs can be a space where corporate executives post their musings and consumers respond, marketers solicit consumers to post reviews of products, or consumers connect and recommend products to each other. Blogs about kids' issues help Stonyfield Farm create a dialogue with parents. Vespa's blogs give its consumers the opportunity to share Vespa scooter experiences.

3: RSS

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is an XML standard that gives consumers the opportunity to aggregate all of their information into one location. RSS provides marketers with many options to reach consumers: Feed sponsorships, ad placements within feeds, and ad headlines are only a few. Though current adoption of RSS is relatively low (only 2% of North American online adults use RSS today), those who use this technology now are the valuable, information-hungry consumers of tomorrow (see figure above). Marketers like Purina and Apple use RSS to inform consumers about new products, send updates about product support, and disseminate consumer-generated content from their Web sites.

4: Podcasting

Like RSS, podcasting separates media from a single channel, delivering audio content in a new way. For marketers, podcasts provide opportunities for sponsorships, on-air ads, and original product-specific content. The upside? A captive audience. The downside? A small audience (only 10% of online adults are familiar with podcasting) but a growing one, especially with the addition of a podcasting library in iTunes, which lists more than 600 podcasts about technology and 100 about travel. Marketers looking to repeatedly reach a valuable, younger, tech-savvy crowd should actively explore this new medium.

So while traditional one-way marketing campaigns are losing their audience to consumers' ad fatigue, multitasking, and distrust of marketing messages, marketing itself is not dead. It's just gone to the masses. Get involved in the dialogue.

If you're interested in learning more about why social marketing works and how to do it, attend Forrester Research's Boot Camp. Social Marketing: Tapping Into The Power Of Connected Customers with Charlene Li and Jim Nail will take place October 13, 2005, in San Francisco.