In 1990, Bonnie Raitt recorded her smash hit Something to Talk About. There are a couple of lines in the song that go; “Let’s give them something to talk about. A little mystery to figure out.” These two lines, although the song writer did not intend it to do so, represent a critical principle of driving Word of Mouth; Schema Disruption.
A schema is an organized cluster of pre-conceived thoughts or ideas that we use to make sense of different aspects of our environment. These mental frameworks organize our knowledge and assumptions about something and are used for interpreting and processing information. Stereotypes are examples of schemas. When you disrupt a schema, people will begin to engage more deeply. Why? It’s about returning to a static state of mental equilibrium. Therefore, people have a natural desire to either; a) disprove the disruption and return to their original schema or b) approve the disruption and change their existing schema. A key here is when you disrupt a schema, you force the brain to engage. When you deeply engage a person, you can then get them to better understand your proposition. “A little mystery to figure out” is a great line. We want consumers to spend the time to learn more about our products.
Positive schema disruption can create a “wow” moment if the new information is specifically relevant, trusted and positive. It makes sense that people will engage in things that are specifically relevant to themselves or to someone dear to them. The greater the specificity; the greater the engagement. For example. Pet owners ears perk up when information about pets are communicated. However, Chihuahua owners listen more intently when they hear a story or information about Chihuahuas. Why? It is more relevant to their specific situation. Of course they want to listen intently as the information may either relate to their current situation or provide helpful or fun information that they can use to nurture their little Hercules (I always think its cool when little dogs get big powerful names.) If the information is not relevant to the listener, engagement does not really occur. Men do not really engage with feminine products. Younger audiences do not relate to denture creams. Why bother? The only exception to this is if the information can help out someone a person cares deeply about. Then, the information becomes personally relevant.
Is the disruption believable? The easiest way to disprove a schema disruption is for the information to come from a non-trusted source. In this case, the information is dismissed and the person returns back to their original schema. People do not trust everyone and everything. Our current schemas help us understand there are people and sources that are more trustworthy than others. The State Farm commercial “They Can’t Put Anything on the Internet that Isn’t True,” spoofs this insight well. People are savvy. Many who are trusted in their own rights will do the diligence to make sure the information they hear is accurate or at least from a credible source. This is why recommendations spread between friends and family are so powerful. Because of the relationship, these sources are inherently trusted.
Disrupting schemas in a positive way is very important to driving Word of Mouth. Nicholas Christakis in his book Connected talks about “the Spread of Goodness.” In his book (great read by the way), he talks about “the purpose of social networks is to transmit positive and desirable outcomes…” It is through the spread of positive information and emotion that people contribute to the growth of their networks. Let’s face it. Most of us like to spread happiness. It makes us feel better when we see the smile on another’s face. When we share a piece of information that will help some one improve their current situations. “Debbie Downer” was a hysterically funny SNL skit however, no one really wants to be her. No one wants to be her because no one wants to be with her. When Vocalpoint.com was created, a key desired outcome of our communications (besides drive word of mouth) was to “Brighten our Audiences’ Day.” We wanted to spread joy. We knew that our creation of joyful communications would lead to others spreading joy through their social networks.
Disrupting specifically relevant schemas with communications and experiences that are credible and joyful drives word of mouth. Just because you use Social Media doesn’t mean you are creating word of mouth. You have to create communications that are worthy of spreading. As Bonnie Raitt sings, “Let’s give them something to talk about. A little mystery to figure out.” Do that in a trusted, joyful way and you too may have a hit.