Monday, August 11, 2008


A journalist down the road in Raleigh jumped all over me once for using the term “virulent” to describe a small part of the population there and in other surrounding communities who drive negative word of mouth (NWOM) about Durham.

vir·u·lent (vîr y -l nt, vîr -)

2.Bitterly hostile or antagonistic; hateful: virulent criticism. See Synonyms at poisonous.

3. Intensely irritating, obnoxious, or harsh.

But I’m hardly the first person to use the term in regard to NWOM or for that matter, word of mouth in general.

For years we’ve been tracking the origins of an underlying current of negativity about Durham reported by both visitors and newcomers.

  • First, surveys were used to rule out Durham residents as the source or genesis of the negativity.

  • We’ve also confirmed that while reports of the negativity are widespread, it is actually fueled by a relatively small, 10-12%, of the adult population.

  • Early on our collaborator, Catevo Group, ruled out the news media as the source, explaining that “while journalists are exposed to the same negativity in their every-day lives, and it may seep into content through tone or headlines, members of the media are more often victimized or contaminated than they are the source.

  • We also learned early on that no amount of advertising can “out-gun” the power of negative word of mouth. It takes a far more intricate and sophisticated approach of playing up positives while empowering people who are positive with information to confront water-cooler fables. This presents what blogger Gordon Hotchkiss calls a moral hazard and that is the biggest inhibition to negative word of mouth…risk of looking stupid.

  • NWOM artists want to be seen as “in the know” and they appeal as Hotchkiss blogged late last year in Out of My Gord, to “the darker side of nature of human nature 0f building oneself up at the expense of others.”

  • We’ve isolated the population who are “carriers” and volunteer negativity about Durham around the “water cooler” and to visitors and newcomers. Research reveals both the carriers and the sources are largely located in nearby communities and the origin seems internal because so many people commute from those communities to Durham to work.

  • Finally, we’ve narrowed the carriers down to slightly more than 1 to 1.5 out of every 10 adults. They are the ones you read gratuitously trashing Durham online with comments at the end of news stories or in blogs and in chat rooms.

    Amazing how much economic damage so few people can wreak.

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