How to Make the Most of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

A person photographing street food with their smartphone

This article was contributed by our friends at Business2Community.

When it comes to people telling others about your business, favorable word of mouth spreads slowly, while unfavorable word of mouth spreads like wildfire. Therefore, with respect to negative word-of-mouth feedback, it stands to reason that first you need to do everything in your power to monitor what is being said about your company. Then you need to promptly and decisively address any negative discussions to minimize negative word-of-mouth discourse. The core message of this post is to encourage positive word-of-mouth marketing. Since positive word-of-mouth messages spread more slowly than negative ones, businesses need to be much more proactive when it comes to creating positive word of mouth.

By now you have likely heard of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The premise of the game suggests that every living thing in the world is six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. If it takes a mere six steps to get to anyone else on the globe, imagine how many people are in the first few steps that can be leveraged for word-of-mouth referrals.

Levels of Word-of-Mouth Connectors

The first concept to understand is that human networks contain four levels of connections.

Close Connections

These are your friends and coworkers that you spend quite a bit of time with. Since we spend lots of time with these people, they likely already know the intimate details of your business. Close connections share many of the same connections, and therefore are not a good source of new word-of-mouth referrals.

Weak Connections

These are the coworkers that you meet several times a year in the break room to sing happy birthday with or are friends of friends that you see at parties. While you may know their names and what they do for a living, you likely do not know very much more about them. Weak connections, therefore, expand your network and are a great place for word-of-mouth referrals. It is advisable that rather than ignore weak connections, you proactively reach out to them. Following up with weak connections and showing an interest in them and what is important to them will help you build a closer relationship. A closer relationship opens you up their network of friends as potential word-of-mouth referrals.

Dormant Connections

These were once close friends or coworkers that have either moved away or changed jobs so you have lost touch. A single phone call can cause you to pick up where you left off and feel like they are close friends again. Since dormant connections have left your close connections circle, it is very likely that they have many close and weak connections that are complete strangers to you, yet they all share a common connection in the dormant connection. Therefore, dormant connections are an ideal source of word-of-mouth referrals. Following up with former close connections that are now dormant can rekindle the connection which can often lead to lots of new connections to explore and turn into referrals.

Strangers

These are connections you have not yet met and represent separation steps four through six in the six degrees of separation theory. Not all strangers are created equal. While some strangers may have no connection to you, some strangers may have a connection to you via dormant or weak connections. Strangers connected to dormant and weak connections are potential contacts that can be mined for word-of-mouth referrals.

For weak and dormant connections, and even strangers that have some degree of relative separation, I recommend that you actively create opportunities to begin a dialog with them. As you build a relationship with these connections, share what your business does and ask them to like your Facebook page. If they become a customer, ask them to talk you up to their network if they’re happy with your product or service. If they need an incentive, tell them that you’ll send them a free gift or discount on future purchases if they mention your name. If you don’t ask, they are unlikely to share their experience.

In most cases, a business with a physical location has weak connections with their neighbors. The same can be said with complementary business in your area. So, another awesome tactic is to visit these businesses and provide them with coupons for discounts on your products or services. Encourage them to share these coupons with their customers and agree to do the same with your customers.

For example, if you’re opening up a new coffee shop and there is a hair salon next door, print up a coupon that allows the holder to come in for a “buy one, get one free” (BOGO) coffee at your coffee shop. In this way, the businesses right next door can help spread the word about your new business and the BOGO coupon will encourage the recipient of the coupon to bring someone from their network as well. Double score.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Types

The next thing to understand when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing is that it comes in four different flavors. Each word-of-mouth marketing variation has some unique characteristics and needs to be approached in different ways. Here’s a high-level breakdown of the most common forms of modern word-of-mouth marketing types:

Referral

Referral word-of-mouth marketing is a strategy for encouraging passionate customers, social agents, and advocates to directly refer their network to your business. Customers not only seek referrals from sources they deem credible, but they act on them. Some companies build a referral program in-house and others try to manage it manually through email and other basic systems. Successful companies automate the process by using one system to enroll, track, manage, and reward its ambassadors.

Affiliate

Affiliate word-of-mouth marketing is a transaction that occurs between a business and an entity where the business receives leads in exchange for a commission. Affiliate marketing is efficient because brands specify the cost for a specific action being driven. The challenge with affiliate marketing is that brand recognition has a big impact on success.

Influencer

Influence word-of-mouth marketing uses a network of influencers that have large, captive followings. Someone with a million Facebook followers has the power to create interest in a product. Companies can see big results by incentivizing influencers to talk about their products or services. Most businesses handpick influencers based on their audience, reaching out to them individually and tracking the program through spreadsheets and email.

Partner

Partner word-of-mouth marketing is a strategy primarily used in B2B that connects two brands to share one or both brands with the other’s networks. Engaging and building positive brand relationships with prospects via channel partners, value-added resellers, and agencies produces immediate results similar to customer referrals. Most partner word-of-mouth marketing efforts are loosely managed using numerous systems that aren’t exactly designed exclusively for partner marketing, such as Google Docs, spreadsheets, and email.

Do you actively encourage your customers and partners to talk about your business?

This article originally appeared in How-to Advice for your Side-Hustle or Small Business.

This article was written by Steven Imke from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.