Guardian News & Media

Word Of Mouth & Advocacy

Advocacy constitutes a massive challenge for brands: very powerful, but hard to harness and even harder to measure

Eighteen months in the making, the winner of the 2010 AOP Research & Insights Award and the Media Research Group Conference Award, our advocacy research for Guardian News & Media explored the dynamics of word of mouth in truly innovative style.


How did we do it? We carried out extensive desk research (there’s a lot of material out there!), streamlining and channelling the various opinions. We conducted a series of expert interviews, garnering different perspectives from those in the fields of academia, marketing and media.

We deployed a ground-breaking ‘network audit’ technique, interviewing a sample who met with a specific screening criteria, based on media consumption. We then interviewed as many of their friends, family and work colleagues as we could. Then we repeated the process with the next wave, interviewing as many of their friends, family and work colleagues as we could.

We carried this on to around ten degrees of separation across ten networks. Then we re-interviewed and re-interviewed the participants – yes, we’re talking hundreds of interviews here! – building up a picture of who in each network was first to introduce new ideas and recommendations; also noting differences in how advocacy functions across sectors as diverse as finance, music, travel, technology, fashion, health and media.


Next, we tested our hypothesis on a nationally representative sample, looking at how our ideas would stack up – and at differences and commonalities based on media/social media usage. Finally, we fused data with TGI, creating a practical and user friendly planning tool that’s gained solid industry support.

Key finding: Influential people have more weak ties than average, giving them more extensive and (as importantly) diverse networks through which to disseminate ideas.

Our work for Guardian News & Media has placed us as word of mouth research experts, with multiple follow-up projects. We worked with WPP’s Social Partners agency, for instance, establishing a framework for evaluating influencer types and pinpointing the significance of the ‘temporary expert’

“The intellectual thought from Crowd DNA has taken industry understanding of word of mouth to the next level, enabling the creation of a framework for identifying influential people – a valuable resource for all involved in communications.”

Andre McGarrigle, Director Of Audience, Guardian News & Media