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Most small businesses recognize the importance of word-of-mouth (WOM) as a promotional tool, but not all understand the best ways to foster it. The power of favorable recommendations or reviews from satisfied customers is hard to match with advertising or social media, provided you can inspire customers to say nice things about your company. Every business marketing strategy should encompass word-of-mouth advertising.
The factors that trigger favorable word-of-mouth are somewhat obvious: provide outstanding service and exceptional value, and people are more likely to describe and recommend your company favorably.
Unfortunately, one unhappy customer will be more motivated to share his or her dissatisfaction (and get a wider audience) than a dozen happy ones. By providing solid reasons for people to continue to do business with your company, you will be able to increase the chances you’ll get favorable referrals and recommendations.
Creating Good (and Lasting) Impressions
Along with outstanding service, a company’s website can provide an effective foundation for engaging with customers and talking about the company, industry and products/ services. Note this should not be done in a promotional way, but in a way that helps customers address questions or problems.
For instance, if you own a restaurant, sharing daily specials or pictures of menu items on a company blog increases your chances of reaching people who share an interest in food. If they live locally, they will be more likely to try your restaurant.
If you’re a professional services firm, you can write blog entries about industry issues or provide advice to people. Some small business owners may be hesitant to offer free advice online. If time and advice are their main product, but the word-of-mouth benefits of being able to demonstrate your knowledge to potential customers is far more powerful than worrying about helping someone without being paid. Good content is a magnet drawing customers closer.
Similarly, talking to prospects and customers on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can provide another outlet for people to form a favorable opinion of you and your company. One of the paradoxes of social media is that the more you talk about other people (and the less you talk about yourself), the more likely people are to promote you in return.
Asking for Favorable Mentions
Another important way to inspire customers to say nice things about your business is to ask them to do it. Consumer reviews on sites such as Facebook, Yelp, and Google carry increasing weight with sophisticated consumers. Including a subtle suggestion that satisfied customers consider posting favorable reviews can be helpful in influencing your online profile and search engine results.
If a local newspaper, magazine, or influential blog is compiling a "best of" list for the area, letting customers know and inviting them to vote for you can also provide excellent word-of-mouth benefits.
Similarly, it’s a helpful idea to invite customers to register for your email or direct mailing lists so that you can send them discount offers or other interesting news about your business while building a client base.
Also, don’t overlook traditional real-world efforts such as notes thanking people for being customers or discounts for frequent customers. Gestures like these can demonstrate that your company is pleased to serve its customers, and make them feel appreciated enough to describe you favorably to others (both on and offline).