Six Ways to Leverage Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing is the most cost effective means of reaching current and future customers, and the most important interaction driving product purchases. Because of its powerful reach, relatively low cost, and the credibility it enhances, WOMM is a powerful tool, particularly in a recession.

Here are six ways to keep people talking:

Listen, speak, listen some more.

By listening, a company can align with its audience. Engage customers in open, unfiltered conversation. When concerns are raised, respond promptly and honestly. It is essential to value customer opinion, whether that opinion is positive, negative or neutral. However, avoid unethical WOMM tactics such as using fake identities in an online discussion to promote a product or company.

Online tools such as Twitter search or Google blog search make it relatively simple to get an idea about what people are saying about the company on a day-to-day basis. In house staff can do this. However, those companies that want to cast a wide net across message boards, blogs, social media platforms to attain deep, rich insights, may want to consider outsourcing this function or obtaining more sophisticated technology to aid their listening and interaction.

For example, Kaplan Online University uses social media to engage prospective and existing students, alumni, and teachers in discussions about state of the art online education. Participants discuss best models for online education, rather than discussing the brand.

Be transparent and disclose

Gary Spangler, e-business leader for Electronic & Communication Technologies, DuPont, points out “that in order to become and remain a credible source of information, communication must be transparent.” Traditional communications are not as trusted as they once were. Customers and the public favor friend and peer-to-peer recommendations over trusting an ad. Building trust about customers and brands requires brands to adopt a

A customer talking about their experience with you is worth ten times that which you write or say about yourself.

David J. Greer

completely transparent mode. Participate openly on online blogs and discussions. Encourage two-way conversations with interested parties. Don’t engage in stealth marketing and do not shill—i.e. pay people to talk about or promote your product without disclosing their relationship to you.

Evaluate ROI continually

The ease of quantifying the results of online activities has made measuring the ROI of WOMM easier and faster, allowing a company to be more nimble in changing tactics and even strategies. Track online and offline conversations by supporters, detractors and neutrals. The approach need not be scientifically rigorous. Simply using internal goals, making them measurable and reasonable, is the way to start.

Companies need to rethink what ROI is from the beginning. Ultimately, it is sales. However, it may take the form of ideas that lead to new or improved products that meet stated customer needs. One way to track success is by measuring new mentions of the brand. Fiskars crafting supplies did this through an online movement. The goal was to increase the number of online mentions of the brand by 10%—the movement increased mentions by 600%!

At DuPont, according to Spangler, any new voice is improvement over none. Use that as a benchmark for comparing future engagements. For their first video, 1,000 views per video on YouTube were considered great. When another one is launched, it will be benchmarked against the 1,000.

Spread the word, not the manure

WOMM is the most honest form of marketing, building on people’s natural desire to share their experiences with family, friends and colleagues. However, it is imperative that the information shared by marketers is accurate and that it respects the communities to which it is directed. Everyone knows that sending bulk or unsolicited e-mails without clear, voluntary permission is wrong. Also, avoid using automated software to post unrelated or inappropriate comments to blogs or other online communities.

“Always make sure your content is relevant and easily shared to encourage word of mouth” DuPont’s Spangler says. For example, DuPont launched “DuPont Science Stories,” which were developed as a series of 2-minute videos strategically placed on appropriate blogs to reach specific audiences. Focus groups indicated a significant change in the way they viewed DuPont after seeing the videos and that they appreciate DuPont as a company that wants to provide products that keep people safe.

Encourage an enterprise-wide WOMM culture

Company infrastructure must be in place to promote a successful word of mouth culture. Corporate policy around social media marketing is essential, but not just as a policy designed to prevent use of social media. Encourage and enable conversations to develop, with all of its uncertainty, rather than being message driven. Be certain to train employees about ethical WOMM. Ongoing training for both staff and clients to understand WOMM will lead to cultural change. Be sure to review and update essential skills of marketing and communications specialists.

At many companies that are actively engaged in WOMM, the old marcom divisions don’t hold up anymore and collaboration across marketing, communications, customer service and more is critical.

Employ online and offline WOMM

According to a recent study by Keller Fay Group, over 90% of all WOM conversations that take place in the U.S. are offline. The company estimates that 3.5 billion WOM conversations take place in the U.S. on a daily basis. Three-quarters take place face-to-face, and another 17% are on the phone. Only 7% take place online via instant/text messaging, chat rooms, e-mail and blogs. This means that offline tactics to encourage conversations cannot be ignored.

Online experiences can be used as a platform to spark and generate offline activities. For example, the use of amplified online experience with key fashion and style bloggers, coupled with an invitation to have a brand weekend experience, was a hit for the Louis Vuitton luxury brand. This was an opportunity to meet the people running the brand, having “in the flesh” conversations with them. That experience energized them to be more active online and to authentically share what they have.

Keep listening. Keep trying different approaches. Be transparent. Be real. And you’ll be a better, more successful marketer.

Holly Shaw
Holly Shaw is a content manager for a number of multinational brands and a freelance journalist. She specializes in the field of business and entrepreneurship. When Leona is not reading or publishing, she likes going out into the countryside for some relaxation.