Word-of-Mouth Marketing in the Social Media Age

Word-of-Mouth Marketing in the Social Media Age

Word-of-mouth happens all the time, and everywhere

People communicate in many ways: from face to face interactions to telephone calls and writing letters or exchanging opinions via email, blogs and so on. People "talk" and exchange thoughts and opinions about many things: the weather, their children, their health, the news, other people, the latest gossip, their feelings, recent events, the good old days, you name it.

Although concepts like ‘brand' and ‘marketing' have only recently been introduced into our way of thinking (and have operations facilitated through marketing automation platforms), people have also discussed products and brands with others for many centuries - and they still do. 

Think about it. How often do you discuss a purchase, ask for advice or just share your experiences with a company or product? You are then doing exactly the same as for instance medieval citizens that were talking about the products which were displayed on the weekly market. These days, people even talk about marketing and advertising: "have you seen that cool xyz commercial?".

What is word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing capitalizes on the effectiveness of recommendations/suggestions that are done directly by people, to others they know. Since people are more likely to trust a product or service after being recommended to it by someone they know, word-of-mouth marketing is actively pursued by organizations to create brand and product awareness. Referral marketing, for example, is one form of WOM marketing over the digital space, and this feature is something that can be sought when trying to purchase marketing automation software, or upgrade an existing system.

Why is word-of-mouth marketing important?

Word-of-mouth occurs everywhere people get together: at the local pub, at home, in the sports club and increasingly online and on social media. And there are many reasons why people like to talk about their experiences with products and brands. These experiences are shared and often have a very personal and subjective nature. But they increasingly happen in a very public environment: over online spaces. They occur, whether we like it or not. They can have a positive impact on our brand or hurt it.

In the social media age word-of-mouth can travel fast, very fast. The scale, speed and real-time nature of social media and the increased possibilities for people to share and express themselves play a crucial role in this. The fact that word-of-mouth is so important online is one of the reasons why businesses must be active in social media marketing. They need to listen to what is being said about them, their market and competitors. They need to learn from what they "hear" and also respond when necessary. They have to, as the expression says, "join the conversation", and avoid social media pitfalls from occurring.

However, word-of-mouth and a defensive attitude to try to "protect our brand reputation" is not the main reason to get involved. The main reason is the fact that your prospects use social media, that word-of-mouth is an opportunity to learn about customer sentiments towards your product/service, and thereby improve customer loyalty with the right strategies.

What are the characteristics of word-of-mouth marketing?

In the broadest sense, word-of-mouth marketing encompasses among others:

  • Monitoring what is being said for marketing purposes
  • Engaging in brand- and product-related discussions
  • Creating a customer experience strategy whereby the natural word-of-mouth phenomenon is being "used" and "enhanced"
  • Identifying influencers and people who can be involved in sharing our stories
  • Viral marketing and activities to generate "buzz"
  • Involving people and their social networks for all possible marketing goals

All the above tasks can be streamlined with a cloud-based marketing automation platform, by automating repetitive tasks and gaining real-time insights from data. However, many leading software vendors will also be able to integrate cloud-based CRM software to help centralize all customer data into one master profile, and to unify communications in an omnichannel environment.

What are the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing, which encompasses a variety of subcategories, including buzz marketing, blog marketing, viral marketing, referral marketing, influencer marketing, etc., works and integrates well with all channels, media and forms of online marketing, including "more traditional ones" such as email marketing.

Marketers find out every day that combining word-of-mouth and peer-to-peer programs and activities such as customer reviews, social media-related WOM activities, referral marketing etc. leverage the global impact of their marketing efforts. The same goes for having an integrated and holistic view, to enable a unique customer experience across all communication channels. 

Here are some of the main benefits of WOM:

WOM is customized to the digital network society.

Word-of-mouth marketing is an extremely powerful marketing instrument. It has an exponential effect that is strengthened by the online communication channels and the consequences of the network economy. WOM leads an own life that is linked to the scale of the networks. The rise of online media and communication means has markedly increased the speed in which messages are shared. At the same time the cost is often much lower than that of other forms of marketing and the ROI better.

WOM presents a powerful answer to modern marketing challenges.

The explosion of media and the changing consumption thereof have made the marketing-communication reality a lot more complex. Consumers are exposed daily to an abundance of advertising messages while the impact of conventional communication is simultaneously dropping. The fragmentation of the communication landscape is however also one of the most important feeding grounds for WOM and therefore generates a significant response to all these challenges.

WOM is an answer in the client-oriented economy.

In a discussion, you personally decide who you want to talk to. Word-of-mouth occurs between people who personally determine what they want to share, and who to believe in order to acquire information, opinions etc. in their buying journey. The impact of a recommendation from a reliable person, like a friend, is much stronger than that of an advertising message of a biased source, namely a company. 

The message in WOM is per definition customized for the consumer - which is one of the hallmark qualities of good customer service. After all, we talk to others about the product that we are interested in at the moment, otherwise we would be asking for advice. Take note that people talk about things that interest them, that they are passionate about etc. So if you want to generate a WOM campaign, you will have to ensure that this message is interesting.

WOM is/appears reliable.

This coincides with the previous, but is crucial. The advice from friends is much more reliable in the consumers' perception than that of a seller or marketer. Since people participate and personally create media amongst others via blogs, you get a new group of opinion leaders. It is obvious that identifying these opinion leaders is an important job for the marketer. Working with opinion leaders is for that matter not only a prerogative of online WOM. It has been implemented successfully in numerous sectors for many years.

WOM accelerates the purchase process.

In his book ‘The secrets of word of mouth marketing', George Silverman casted a new light on marketing. His statement is that all forms of marketing, advertising and communication should actually be considered possibilities for generating WOM. Silverman doesn't imply that other, classic ways to see marketing are senseless. He simply suggests looking at everything from the WOM-point of view, which provides some interesting insights if you do this exercise. 

One of them is that WOM considerably accelerates the decision process in the area of purchases, amongst others through the trust that consumers have in the person that they are talking to. Silverman states that the acceleration in the purchase process is a direct route to more sales and that this is exactly where WOM gets its strength.

compare marketing automation vendors online

How to get started with word-of-mouth marketing

In practice, most marketers talk about viral marketing, influencer marketing and referrals when thinking of word-of-mouth marketing. They see communities, people like you and me, influencers, loyal customers and social network users as extensions of their sales and marketing force. However, this should not be the main focus. The key elements of successful word-of-mouth marketing are about value, relevance, content, and handling customers mindfully.

And listening to stories is just as important as having them shared. Word-of-mouth marketing requires a customer-centric mindset of sharing and focusing on what is valuable for the people and networks we hope to involve. It's certainly not about paying people to "get the word out" nor about simply "joining the conversation". It's about perceived and real value, both for our business, as well as our customers/prospects.

1. Identify the Unique Selling Points (USPs) of your product/service.

When people discuss a product or service, they discuss the many qualities associated with it. Good or bad, it is these qualities which spark conversations, and subsequently, opinions and recommendations (or a lack thereof) about said product or service. Likewise, identify what is positively unique about your product, and how it can truly add value to peoples’ lives. These factors will hence enable your team to source the right advocates for the next step in the WOM process.

2. Identify the right advocates for WOM.

The next component of a word-of-mouth marketing action is often identifying people with an influential voice on a specific topic, including for example bloggers. It is also important to know who is positive about your brand and could be a potential brand advocate. Through analyzing what happens on social media you can also see which users you should best aim your campaign at and also who has the most influence. Through ‘social media listening' you can identify existing fans of your brand whose opinion people seem to trust. You can reach these people as a brand via social media.

3. Incentivize correctly.

Once you have sourced your thought leadership advocates to conduct WOM, empower them with your USPs to have them infused with their content. Depending on the execution, incentives can be offered per click (in the case of affiliate/referral marketing) or commissions based on the number of sales generated via a specific channel. Online retailers can benefit from AI-powered CRMs by monitoring progress with real-time forecasting, as well as intelligent recommendations for task management and lead generation.

4. Measure and improve on an ongoing basis.

Hone your WOM campaign by measuring performance, and making improvements to heighten results during successive campaigns. Adopting robust reporting tools through big data and business intelligence can really elevate the quality of insights that your team obtains through even the simplest of engagements. Additionally, CRM and marketing automation vendors can also integrate business intelligence tools into your existing systems and workflows, for greater convenience and centralization.