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A guide to word-of-mouth marketing in an online world

By Alexandra Gavril - October 3, 2017

There are businesses that spend millions on advertising, trying to get noticed and attract more customers. Sometimes they succeed, and other times they fail, despite their significant investment.

Then there are also businesses that spend little to no money on marketing, yet they manage to win loyal customers who are happy to spread the word about that business for free. These customers tell stories about a product or service, share positive feedback and encourage others to use it with every chance they get.

That’s word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM), and it’s still one of the most effective ways to influence purchasing decisions and generate sales. According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report, 83% of consumers around the world trust recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising.

And here’s another interesting fact: we usually share information with people we believe would find it useful. Customers referred by their friends spend more: 20% to 50% of purchases are the result of a word of mouth recommendation.

WOMM is powerful. But to produce results, you need to understand what drives people to talk and share. Because here’s the thing: if you want to get people talking about your business online, you can’t sit back and hope conversation will just happen organically.

If you want to unleash the power of word-of-mouth online, you need to know the solid methods for getting those conversations started. So in this guide we’ll cover a number of effective strategies you can use to take your WOMM online.

Getting started with word-of-mouth marketing

“People are bombarded with information online, but few things are more persuasive than a chat with a trusted friend.”

This quote is from Jonah Berger’s book: “Contagious: Why things catch on”. Based on his research into subjects such as which New York Times articles are most likely to be forwarded on, Berger believes there are six steps that drive people to talk about and share all sorts of content.

He calls them STEPPS and you can use them to create catchy content that’ll get people talking about your business, and everything you have to offer.

1. Social currency

We care about how others perceive us. Which is why we often share things that make us look fun, smart, informed and knowledgeable.

That’s why we talk about the time we enrolled in that business course, when we received a special handwritten card with our purchase or a free manicure at our favourite salon.

So if you want people to talk about your business or to share your content, you need to make sure it makes them look good in the process. That’s why it’s important to provide an amazing experience, an above-and-beyond customer service, or a very insightful resource. So that when they talk about it online, it makes them look clever or interesting.

Want a real example? Here’s a great one:

Ever seen the Will It Blend videos on YouTube where this guy puts things like magnets, Bic lighters, marbles, and even an iPhone into a blender?

The guy in the videos is Tom Dickson, the founder of Blendtec, a company that sells blenders. And those YouTube videos went viral almost instantly because 1. The idea was unique and super fun and 2. People couldn’t get enough and were curious to see what else the blender could blend.

The results? Within two years, Blendtec’s sales increased by 700%. Plus, thanks to their ingenious campaign that went viral, the company also received lots of media attention and got featured on major mainstream media outlets like The Today Show, The Tonight Show, The History Channel, The Wall Street Journal and others. Not too bad for a regular, boring blender.

The point here is that any product or service can be remarkable. You just have to find that idea that highlights whatever is exciting or interesting about your product, and figure out an catchy way to get people to pass it on.

Another way to get social currency is to make people feel like insiders. If you can find a way to make them feel special, they’ll want to share that with everyone. For example, you can give your most loyal customers discounts or exclusive access to a private YouTube channel where you post educational or entertaining videos.

So the idea is to make them feel like they have access to exclusive content that not everyone has access to.

2. Triggers

While social currency can help you to get people talking about your business, triggers keep them talking. People talk about things that are top-of-mind, which means you need to use subtle reminders to keep reminding them about your products or business.

No matter how awesome people think you are, if they never think about you, if they don’t remember you exist, then they’re never going to talk about you, share your content or take any action you want them to take.

For example, say you’re a plumber. Someone hired you in the past and was very happy with your work, but if they don’t remember you the next time they need a plumber, you’re not going to get their business.

So, how can you stay top of mind?

  • Use social media to share entertaining and educational content, and to engage with your audience.
  • Create a blog and become the go-to resource for news and advice in your industry. Or guest blog on quality sites that your audience reads.
  • Use email marketing to stay in touch with prospects and customers, to ask for feedback and testimonials, or simply to share useful resources and the latest news.
  • Run paid ad campaigns on Google so prospects can find you right when they’re searching for your products or service.

3. Emotion

When businesses talk about their products or services, too often they focus on functional attributes and why people should buy them. Things like reliable customer support, accredited courses, insightful resources, a large variety of products – they’re all useful to mention.

However, if you want people to talk about you and share your content, you need to get them to care, to feel something. Because the more they feel, the more likely they are to pass that content along.

According to Berger, we’re more likely to share things that evoke emotions like anger, excitement and amusement. These emotions kindle fire, activate people and get them to talk and share.

Here’s an example from Momondo’s The DNA Journey campaign that celebrates diversity:

The results?

  • 169,631 people entered the The DNA Journey competition
  • The video was viewed more than 28 million times on their official Facebook page, and more than five million times on their YouTube channel
  • The video was also shared more than 600,000 times globally and commented on by thousands of people from all over the world.

But you don’t need to do a full-on, expensive campaign like this one to get people to care. You can use emotion in every piece of content you publish online – whether it’s a blog post, a Google ad, your homepage copy or a Facebook update.

Watch our video on how to use emotion to build a stronger business.

4. Public

People imitate others. And we’re influenced by others. It’s the social proof.

That’s why now, more than ever, it’s important to get influencers or opinion leaders in your industry to talk about your business. Because they have the authority and the ability to influence the opinions of your target audience.

If you don’t know what influencers are, they’re people who are already popular with your potential customers. And they’re people your audience trust and want to hear from. So make sure you take the time to find those influencers who can help you spread the word about your business.

Get started with these resources to learn more about influencers, how to find them and ways to build a relationship with them:

It’s also important that you encourage customers to leave reviews of your business – both on your website, and on third-party review sites.

People look for reviews to help them understand whether a site is trustworthy – they’re a key part to online WOMM.

If you haven’t been actively encouraging people to leave your reviews in the past, then now is the time to start. A good place to start is this guide to using customer reviews to grow your online business.

5. Practical value

People don’t just share things because it makes them look good. They also share things because they want to help others. Useful information is one of the main reasons why we share content. From choosing the best, most affordable backpacks for travel to how to be a morning person and get more done – these types of informative resources are shared online all the time.

So create amazing content that not only shows your expertise but also genuinely helps your audience to improve their life, their skills, their knowledge. The more practical and helpful a piece of content, the higher the chances people will pass it along.

Keep in mind that this content can be anything you choose, from a blog posts and webinars to case studies and whitepapers.

6. Stories

You’re more likely to entice people to talk about your business if you stop selling, and start story telling instead. That’s because people love a good story.

So instead of constantly talking about your business or products, try to build stories that communicate your message. For example, you can’t tell a story about the blender blending an Apple watch without talking about the blender. And the message that that video sends is that that blender must be extremely powerful to be able to blend so many objects. Isn’t that exactly what Blendtec wanted to communicate? But without this great story, they wouldn’t have been able to go viral with a video that simply talked about the blenders’ features and how strong it is.

Wrapping up

As you can see, you don’t have to spend a fortune on advertising to get people to talk about your business. In fact, if you do online word-of-mouth marketing right, your audience will share stories about your products or services for free. So follow the steps above and see which tactics can get that conversation started.