Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How It’s Connected With Social Media

j-p de clerckWritten by J-P De Clerck, who is an experienced content, conversion and social media consultant. Like Mindjumpers, he is associated with Social Marketing Forum. You can connect with him on Twitter @Conversionation

Last week I posted a brief on Focus.com, titled “Word-of-Mouth Marketing in the Social Media Age”. It’s basically a relatively long look at the phenomenon of word-of-mouth, what it is, why people engage in it, when it becomes marketing and how it can benefit your business.

The brief is supposed to become a relatively easy – IMHO at least – starting point for a more thorough analysis and overview of word-of-mouth marketing. So I would like to ask you to read it and add your thoughts. You can also contact me via my website if you would like to collaborate or share input.

Don’t worry: this is not just an invitation to comment on the brief. In this post you find quite some takeaways if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing. So, how is word-of-mouth marketing connected with social media?

Word-of-mouth is an old and human phenomenon

Word-of-mouth is not something new. People have always talked about their experiences, emotions, needs and also products, services and brands. With the arrival of interactive and social media the patterns, role and impact of word-of-mouth have changed. These changes affected the ways businesses can leverage the power of word-of-mouth for marketing purposes and, vice versa, the impact of word-of-mouth on businesses. However, the rules of word-of-mouth marketing have changed and evolved and they continue to evolve.

Word-of-mouth marketing: when a human phenomenon goes business

So, word-of-mouth is a natural phenomenon that occurs and is as old as human communication and trade. Period. But when do we talk about word-of-mouth marketing (WOM)?

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
Setting up communication strategies 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

In practice, most marketers talk about viral marketing, influencer marketing and referrals when thinking 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, excellent customer service, content and stories.

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 and our customer and prospects.

Conversations as such have no business value if they don’t focus on mutual benefits and are not monitored, measured and used to improve the overall customer experience and efficiency of our cross-channel marketing strategy.

Word-of-mouth marketing in a connected world: the link with social media

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.

Word-of-mouth marketing is very much a connected and cross-channel phenomenon, that also includes offline marketing. This is natural, give the fact that people increasingly use various channels as well and their sharing, information and even buying behavior is very complex and integrated.

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 on the customer and interactions with him in any case.

People are easier influenced by family members, friends and people that they know and trust. In this social media age they even rely upon the advice of complete strangers! This also applies to pre-purchase advice and brand information.

WOM is and remains an offline matter but it is clear that the rising success and the increasing attention from marketers has a lot to do with the emergence of the digital media, and in particular social media. They are the carriers of people’s voices, brand and product messages and viral marketing efforts. To get “carried”, all you need are the right stories.
Word-of-mouth marketing does not only involve products, brands and companies. Firstly it involves experiences and interactions, including with companies: experiences with businesses and products are talked about. And, whether they are ‘justified’ or not: there is nothing you can do to get around this. Every individual contact with a company, and therefore with every employee of that company, influences brand experience and perception and thus plays an important role in WOM marketing.

Valuable contact moments, customer service excellence and offering a customer-centric experience are more important than ever. Word-of-mouth leads to new customers, shortened sales cycles, improved branding and much more. Implementing a client-oriented business philosophy across all divisions is key.

With the emergence of social media, which gives the stories and opinions of people a faster and larger reach, WOM has become a more complex matter for marketers. Communication is much more fragmented and appears to be more uncontrollable than ever before.

But at the same time the revolution in communication between people and people (businesses are composed of people) has opened many doors for marketers who tactically exploit new media to efficiently use WOM with unseen and exponential results.

On top of this they will also see that WOM can be better influenced, measured and even controlled than before, despite the fact that people and therefore also clients increasingly control communication and the buying process.

One of the components 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 your 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.

In other words: although WOM happens everywhere, there is a clear link between social media and word-of-mouth.

Notice: social media marketing is not a replacement for WOM in the digital age, as some people claim.

Want more? Read the full brief here or contact me.

Clickbait: Information overload! How can brands cut-through all the noise?

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.11.34You won’t believe the hidden message in this blog post! Or rather – there isn’t one, I just wanted you to click through and read this. But bear with me – I’m about to suggest something incredibly controversial – a never-heard-before admission by a social agency!*

As much as clickbait is the emotional catnip of our online experience and can drive consistent traffic for publishers like The Daily Mail and Huff Post who churn out multiple stories each day, it’s still hugely annoying to discover you’ve been duped by an over-excited headline promising to give you all the feels. For brands, adopting the same practice can negatively affect perception and ultimately – sales. So how can brands cut through all the sensational copy and deliver successful results without falling prey to creating clickbait themselves? How do they beat them rather than join them?

 

Platform crackdown

In the early days of social, Facebook optimised content based on engagement, meaning that if users clicked on a piece of content, it received a higher ranking in newsfeeds. In 2014 Facebook took steps to try and crack down on those gaming this ranking using clickbait, and in February this year it introduced an update based not just on what users engaged with in their feed, but what they wanted to see. Facebook’s advice is that Pages should avoid encouraging people to take action (such as encouraging lots of clicks), because this will likely only cause temporary spikes in metrics that might then be rebalanced by feed’s ranking over time – meaning the latest ranking favours content that users naturally engage with rather than content that users click on through coercion.

 

Last month Instagram followed suit and announced it would alter user’s feeds to optimise the content users “care about the most”, and Twitter has also adopted a similar change (although users can opt-out and revert back to the chronological feed). The changes will hopefully make it harder for clickbaiters to game feeds with meaningless content, but the real aim for the platforms hosting is to surface more engaging content more frequently so users return often and stay longer.

 

The same goes for brands on social. If the content they produce is consistently engaging, then users will interact more frequently, leading others to discover it through preferred ranking. Ultimately, these new newsfeed algorithms exist to generate more meaningful engagement, driving not just clicks, but conversations via comments, and shares.

 

Learn and adapt

Meaningful engagement begins with relevant content that creates value for the user and the brand. While an insight-driven content strategy is key to delivering this, brands should also adapt stories and messages based on the emotional needs and behavior of their audience. This is more than just a case of ‘test and learn’ or refining what has already been done. Brands must also evolve their approach in line with new behaviors, platforms, competitors and rankings or risk being left behind by those who do.

 

A good example of a brand that does this well is Buzzfeed, who’s CEO recently shared their new strategic thinking, revealing how their objective has changed from getting users to click through to their main site to view stories, to allowing content to be consumed directly on other platforms. The new direction was prompted by analysing which content generated clicks and discovering that users prefer to consume some types of content within the platform they are already on. The company also found a discernable difference between user interactions with the same content on different platforms, demonstrating how content demand and consumption vary across sites. What spreads like wildfire on Facebook might fail miserably elsewhere.

 

Relevance is key

For brands looking to use social content to drive click-through to their site, it’s important to balance the goal of the company (clicks to eyeballs, or conversions to sales, for example) with the desire and behavior of users on different sites, and monitor response over time. Relevance is key to interaction, and brands that think like publishers will know that relevance is an ever-changing chameleon. While users are bombarded with meaningless clickbait, there is ample opportunity for brands to channel the social zeitgeist by delivering valuable content that meets audience needs in the format, time and platform that suits them. If they get this right, they won’t need clickbait.

 

At Mindjumpers we help companies and brands to think as publishers and provide end-to-end social media management across multiple markets, encompassing full social strategy, planned and reactive content creation, analysis and reporting.

 

If you’d like to find out more please get in touch.

 

*Don’t be naughty and scroll to the last paragraph – I’ve hidden the controversial part somewhere to optimize your dwell time in finding it!