For massage therapists, word-of-mouth referrals can help build business, and with the growth of social networking and other online tools, more clients are using the internet for communication every day.

New research shows that when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing, people who are thinking about sharing product information they find in online advertising are likely to first consider whether the information is relevant to friends and family in their social networks.

According to James Coyle of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and colleagues, who conducted the research, online “organic sharing” includes the distribution of photos, information and video clips.

“There is a substantial body of research into what makes a natural digital entity ‘go viral’ and how that process might be exploited by business for commercial gain,” the researchers noted in a university press release. “The not-for-profit and even government sectors are also keen to find success in this area.”

The researchers suggest there are ways in which business and others can readily tap into word-of-mouth marketing and the so-called web 2.0 world of social networking and sharing.

Old-school marketing techniques are not quite as sharp as they once were, according to Coyle. “The effectiveness of the ‘create once, run everywhere’ traditional marketing method is blunted by the expansion of media options that now include consumer-controlled media online and on mobile devices,” he said.

“In our study, in two very different product categories increased product involvement was a significant predictor in increased likelihood of sharing information from an online ad, ” the team says. Similarly, they add, involvement was “how much an ad made participants think of others in their social network also contributed to higher intentions for sharing.”

More of the researchers’ marketing suggestions are running in an article titled “Click once and share with a friend: a uses and gratifications approach to word-of-mouth marketing effectiveness,” in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Electronic Marketing and Retailing.