Could you use the idea of telephone trees in social media to drive your word of mouth?

Social media networks word of mouth marketing and telephone trees

I was watching a film that we received from Lovefilm the other day. The film was Milk, which is the story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official. It’s a great film that I’d recommend that you watch if you get a chance.

In it there is a point where Milk asks Cleve-Jones, another activist and member of Milk’s team, if he can assemble 1000 people in an hour and if he’s ready to be an activist. Cleve-Jones readily accepts and says that he can do anything. When called upon, Cleve-Jones uses a telephone tree to help rally activists very quickly.

A telephone tree is a list of phone numbers provided to a group and notification by phone is started by the first person and continued consecutively. An example of how it works is shown in the diagram below.

Telephone Tree exampleTelephone trees have been used a lot in political activist, school and community groups to inform large groups of people very quickly about an event or a new piece of information that requires action. They have also been used in business in business continuity plans, to inform employees when the office is closed for whatever reason (ie. fire etc) and what to do in that event to keep operations and the business moving.

Then, it struck me (I love it when we can learn from the past and ideas from other areas of business and life).

A few days ago I was talking about having a word of mouth marketing strategy and identifying your ‘Talkers’ and it seemed to me that having a social media, email, direct marketing and actual phone ‘telephone tree’ could be a great way to drive the spread of your word of mouth marketing message. Isn’t this something that is just made for social media?

Could you use the idea of a telephone tree to help spread your word of mouth ideas?

To make this work, it might make sense to gather a group of customers or likeminded businesses, ten say, who agree that when you each have a message to spread that you both will spread the message to your ‘Talkers’ and that their Talkers will do the same.

Rather than leaving the spread of ideas to chance and limited to just your Talkers, could this by a great way to work with customers and other businesses in your network to help spread your message far and wide?

Would you like to be on my social media ‘telephone tree’? If so, leave a comment.

20 comments On Could you use the idea of telephone trees in social media to drive your word of mouth?

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  • i think comment luv is a form of telephone tree, always letting you know what a persons latest posting is

    • Hi Greg,
      That’s a great point….I hadn’t thought of CommentLuv like that before. Guess, the way I was thinking was that telephone trees are more proactive in spreading the word whereas CommentLuv is still a little passive if you know what I mean.

      Thanks for that,


  • Love this concept – and taking it a step deeper by understanding network dynamics and influencer outreach could likely multiply the impact! Make your first round of “calls” to the influencers, don’t make multiple calls within the same clique or “social circle” , etc. Lots of ways to make this great!

    Would love to be on the tree, btw.

    • Hi Matt,
      As a network specialist that is great praise indeed. I wondered if it would really work but thinking about it and thinking about ripples and the ripple effect then by targeting only certain ‘influencers’ could have a more extended and amplified impact rather than targeting everyone at the same time which can create a lot of noise.

      Oh, and thanks for volunteering to be on my tree 🙂 I’ll let you know when that develops.


  • Really liking the concept. I can definitely see how the concept works and how moving the message from ‘talker-to-talker’ would certainly disseminate it more effectively.

    The key for me is twofold. Firstly, identifying the Talkers, and secondly ensuring the Talkers find value in what you have to say, so that they will in turn pass it on to their Talkers.

    • Hi Guy,
      It’s a great concept, isn’t it. I was struck when I watched the film about how it could be used in word of mouth marketing and how social media could help.

      I agree that to make it make work the key is to find the ‘value’ to the Talker and thereafter to their ‘Talkers’. In short, I believe it is finding the answer to ‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s more of a trickier proposition but, at least, the telephone tree idea gives a good framework for how we can approach, plan and measure word of mouth marketing and the spread of ideas, concepts, offers and news.

      Thanks for your comment,


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  • Hi Adrian

    A nice thought. When it comes to WOM, so many people think it it is about social media. The irony is that most WOM — up to 90% happens offline and is natural and organic.


    • Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree that when thinking about this we need to be aware that much of WOM will take place offline but that social media can play an important part in ‘spreading the word’


  • Great thought i totally agree with you.

  • I concur this is a really thoughtfully written story, thank you for sharing it.

  • Great idea! Telephone tree will allow notification by phone and is started by the first person and continued consecutively. It will be quite interesting. Will wait for it. Thank you for sharing your views.

  • Love this concept – taking it one step deeper by understanding network dynamics and influencer outreach will increase impact! Make your first round of “invitations” to influencers, not multiple calls to the same group or “social circle”. Etc. Many ways to make this better!

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