Let alligators teach you about word of mouth

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Huge albino alligators in the sewers of New York can teach us something about word of mouth. The story of the alligators is one of the most known and wide spread urban legends ever. Go to New York, tell an obvious lie, and you might get a response like “Yeah right, like the gators in the sewers”.No one ever presented any physical evidence of the existence of these creatures, but still a lot of people believed the story.

Urban legends were believed to be true although there was usually little or no evidence. So why did people believe them? That’s the strength of urban legends: they were built by word of mouth, people talking to people they trusted. It had to be true. Isn’t that what you want as a company ? For people to tell a story about your product to their peers, and for your own little urban legend to grow.

Modern day society moves to fast for real urban legends to survive. The legend would probably get killed by tweets before its 15 minutes of fame. So if anything, new urban legends mostly have a short lifespan. Obviously most known urban legends were born a long time ago when the world was a different place.

So is looking at how urban legends thrived and survived useful? Yes, because the basics of word of mouth remain the same, just the tools and speed have changed. So if you want to learn how word of mouth works, urban legends provide a good source for some basics.

So what can we learn from urban legends ?

1.Urban legends take time to spread. These days it doesn’t take as long as it used too, but word of mouth takes time. If you’ve got a great product, praise yourself lucky with fast media like Facebook and Twitter. You can spread your own urban legend much faster than in the old days.

2.Urban legends are based on facts. Ok, this might seem strange as urban legends are… not true. But nevertheless most urban legends were based on a few “facts” that at least appeared to be true. So when telling a story, make sure it’s based on something. Stories based on obvious lies never become legends.

3.Urban legends are relevant. Urban legends always had a message. Most of them played into the fears of people; fear of dying was the most common one. So tell a story that matters to who’s listening.

4.Urban legends get value if the messenger has value. Probably the most important lesson. Why do urban legends survive so long ? Because people hear the legends from people they trust, from people that have value. So make sure your story gets spread by people who are valuable to their peers.