Artificial Word of Mouth
There's the natural kind, where someone reads a book (or sees a movie, or whatever), loves it, and tells their friends about it because they want to share the love. Natural word of mouth is extremely effective, because it's honest and it comes from people you trust.
Then there's the artificial kind, which is harder to define. It might be tweeting about something to enter a contest, for example. Or giving someone a 5-star review in the hopes they will do the same for you. Or blogging about a friend's book because they're your friend, not because you actually read/liked the book.
Artifical word of mouth is not inherently bad, but it's not publicity. It's more like marketing, a paid advertisement. People know it's not coming from a real place, but at the same time it may be the first or only time they hear about your book.
Artificial WoM has a mildly effective, short-term effect. It's a good way to grab votes or one-time donations, and if you have a product that people like, it can be a good starting point for natural word of mouth.
But by itself, artificial WoM is pretty poor at creating a fan base. Worse, if used too much, it can have a negative effect. People can tell the difference between artificial and natural word of mouth, and while we understand the need for the artificial kind, we don't like it. After a while, it gets annoying.
Even worse than that, it can devalue what you have to say. If all your reviews are 5-stars, the stars become meaningless (seriously, guys, real books get 4 stars too). If you frequently talk up books that are written by your friends and -- let's be honest -- aren't that good, people will stop listening.
The guys at Penny Arcade impressed me a few years ago when they started accepting paid ads only for products they've tried themselves and actually like. Now it's the only place on the whole internet where I actually pay attention to the ads. They've made a natural thing out of something artificial.
We don't have to go that far (shoot, most of us don't have the clout to), but our words do have value. Be aware of that, and use yours wisely.
What's your opinion? Can artificial word of mouth be effective?