The Best Social Media Tool You’re Probably Not Using
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The Best Social Media Tool You’re Probably Not Using

For the past couple months myself and an associate have been on the road doing in-depth interviews with the branch locations of an economic development organization to explore their marketing practices. This organization operates in communities across Canada and have been around for 25 years providing financial assistance, training, and personal support for entrepreneurs operating in rural areas that banks typically would avoid or turn down. This is actually an organization that wants to give entrepreneurs loans and is understanding if you can’t pay it back on time. They’ll even give you free advice and personal coaching to help you find a way to pay it. Seriously, it’s like getting a loan from a fairy godmother.

After completing about 25 hours worth of interviews with the various offices about their marketing practices, one thing that was completely universal among all of them was their response to the question “How do you get most your customers?”. It wasn’t advertising campaigns, nor was it their slick website, neither was it direct marketing via mail or telephone. The answer was always “word of mouth“. Time and time again every office would say they got most of their business from previous customers telling friends and/or referrals from other businesses. Despite this truth last year they spent thousands of dollars on a billboard campaign. They underestimated that their best marketing actually resides within the abilities of their office staff and the community networks they support.

It’s very well known that word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways a business can get customers. In fact, people will trust the opinion of a complete stranger more than they’ll trust the claims made in an advertisement. In the age of the internet, word of mouth is incredibly amplified such that one person’s opinion on Facebook can reach 250 or more “friends” in an instant. Personally, word of mouth is how I get most of my customers and I imagine it’s the same for many other businesses. I often struggle with what my next proverbial “billboard campaign” needs to be so that I can reach more people, get more requests, be featured in the media, and become a household name. Yet by worrying about the next big splash I’m ignoring the importance of my personal network. Compared to doing a billboard campaign, radio ad, direct mail, or trade show it’s far cheaper and more effective to devise a marketing strategy around getting referrals and fostering relationships with those who actually matter.

To take full advantage of word of mouth marketing, the online channel and social media can play a critical role. Consider setting up a referral program, incorporate an online tool on your website to make it easy to refer a friend, provide special incentives to business partners where you offer complementary services/products, be an active participant in social media networks, and last but not least showcase your best and biggest customers so that they help spread your name while sharing their own success story.

Do you want to determine how you can use social media and online tools to do a better job of word of mouth marketing? Send me an email or leave a comment below. Alternatively, please share your own experiences, it might help get you some word of mouth ;-)

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Comments (9)

  1. Norm Fisher, February 9, 2012
    Great advice, Harley, and very timely for me. My main objective in 2012 is to reconnect with past clients and remind them that we still appreciate their help when it comes to talking us up to friends. Reply
  2. Harley Rivet, February 9, 2012
    Thanks for the comment, Norm. If you have any good ideas about generating referrals I'd appreciate hearing them. Cheers. Reply
  3. Jill Sauter, February 9, 2012
    Hi Harley, Great insight, as usual. I'm afraid that many companies believe that if "Word of Mouth" works then they don't have to do any other marketing. Essentially, they passively leave their marketing to their customers - but they wouldn't rely on customers to make their products or collect their accounts receivable! Your suggestions for the Community Futures offices are very proactive in creating that "Word of Mouth" marketing that works so well for them. The key word being "proactive". There are many ways to generate and support referrals but it is up to the company to start the ball rolling. I bet you've seen some great things happening in rural SK! Reply
    • Harley Rivet, February 9, 2012
      Thanks, Jill. You're bang on about being "proactive" in generating word-of-mouth. It's a challenge to try generate some creative ideas that would facilitate the process. It's a lot harder (from a labour perspective) to build a word of mouth campaign compared to putting up a billboard, so I think that's why it gets short changed by many organizations. Reply
  4. Mike Klein, February 9, 2012
    As 'the associate' ;) working with you on this project, I agree that word-of-mouth was mentioned unanimously as an important source of business referrals. And, I think it's definitely a important for this organization. But at the same time I also tend to think that Word-of-Mouth is mentioned because it's the easiest form of marketing to directly attribute (ie. it's the only one consistently remembered). For most other forms of marketing, research (and personal experience) has consistently shown that most customers have no clue where they heard of X brand/product. In fact on projects I've worked on I've seen survey respondents consistently mention tactics that weren't event included in the marketing mix (ie. they would say they saw it on TV, but TV wasn't used). Despite my penchant for social media, and agreement word of mouth is important, I would be hesitant to say that any sole marketing tactic is 'the best'. Rather, I tend to to think an integrated and multifaceted approach is always better. :) Reply
    • Harley Rivet, February 9, 2012
      I agree word of mouth (awareness) is generated various ways, and it would be interesting to explore which marketing approaches/tactics are best at accomplishing this. P.S. You know I just used "best" in the blog title to get attention, right? ;-) Reply
      • Mike Klein, February 9, 2012
        I do, but I felt it was worth pointing out for your readers :) Reply
  5. Slava, February 9, 2012
    I absolutely agree - I can't even think of a single client who didn't come to us because we were recommended by someone. I think that doing a good job and treating people with respect will serve you in the long run. But, in the short run - hey, we all got to spit out an ad or two sometime. :P Reply

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