Marketing & Hobos

Hobo Communications Code

Hobo Communications Code

In the decade we’ve lived in our townhouse, our patio has been visited by at least 4 stray cats, (two of which we’ve adopted), two stray dogs, and an injured exotic homing pigeon.  Our patio also receives daily or weekly visits by at least six other cats that live in our neighborhood.  It has the reached the point where my husband and I have joked there must be an animal hobo code somewhere around our patio because, to the best of our knowledge, our neighbors do not experience this activity.

This is why I enjoyed reading Peter Shankman‘s post on the Hobo Code of Business Ethics.  Peter is someone who really knows social media and has built a significant public relations business around social media, called HARO.  While I may join him in following the Hobo Code of Business Ethics, (you may want to as well) his recent post got me to thinking about how effective the hobo communication code was in its day.

For those unfamiliar with the hobo communication code, hobos would leave markings or symbols scratched in dirt or on a rock to communicate with other hobos.  These symbols would tell a short story about the house, the owner, the town and assist visiting hobos in making better selections as to where to hustle some grub, clothes or a job.

When you think about it, hobos were early day marketers using the dirt and rocks as their media.  And the hobo code is still with us today in the form of word of mouth and referrals through social media.  Best of all, we trust the hobo.  We’ve all seen the stats illustrating that consumers today are less trusting of advertising than ever before (14%) and place more trust in the word-of-mouth referrals from their hobo friends and associates in their social networks (85%).

In truth, these are old data.  The persuasiveness and value of word of mouth has always been considered the gold standard of communication.  The value ranking used to be and probably still is:

1.  Word of mouth (WOM)- Think of word of mouth as the kissing cousin of reputation, because as the word of mouth spreads, so does the long-term reputation of your business, be it positive or negative.

2.  Public relations – PR serves the same role as advertising, which is the promotion of a business or product.   But as a free medium, public relations must be newsworthy to garner interest on the part of editors.  PR has always been perceived as being more ‘valid’ than advertising due to the editorial format.  Although, over 90% of the stories published in Wall Street Journal are submitted by public relations firms.

3.  Advertising – Is the paid form of promotion and is typically designed as an on-going campaign to build awareness and strengthen positioning.

We all know social media offers the best way to create positive word of mouth for small business, so, if you’re not currently engaged in social media, get engaged.  If it works for hobos, it will work for your small business.

Share your ideas on how to create marketing hobos for your small business in the comments section below.


Peter Shankman’s – Hobo Code of Business Ethics


Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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