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Basic Business Cents: Electronic word-of-mouth marketing can work, or fail

Lou Schultz

An old story relates of three business owners vacationing in Florida. One said he was celebrating a very successful fire sale. The second said he was also celebrating a very successful sale but his was a flood sale. The third inquired, “How do you start a flood?”

There are many better ways to bring customers to your door, but the best by far is word-of-mouth. Getting your customers to brag about your goods and services to their friends and colleagues is effective, but slow to develop. A tool is available today to speed up that development, social media.

Many tools, called application programs or apps, are available to help you. The most common are Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Google+, Pintrest, and blogs and new ones are emerging regularly. A posting by a customer about a positive experience with your product or service is made on their favorite app. If readers are impressed, they might re-post it and it is read by a whole new set of friends, and then another reposting, etc. This can cause an exponential growth in information about your products or services. If it really takes off, it is called going viral.

As important, if not more important, to posting on social media is listening to social media. What are your customers saying? What are they looking for? Are you offering them what they need?

All of this is dependent on the quality of your products and services. It can work in reverse and that is disastrous, so you have to make sure that you are providing goods or services that will cause people to brag about you. Just meeting their expectations or satisfying them is not enough; they should be so proud of the decision that they made to do business with you that they will want to share with their friends the good experience. People who use these apps tend to be on-line daily so the news can mushroom quickly.

To kick start your electronic word-of-mouth marketing, get a presence on various apps for your business. You do not need to be on all of them, but be timely, current, and careful of what you post. Do what you do well. You will want to have frequent messages, at least weekly, that are not blatant advertising, but attention getting and interesting. They might be informative, useful, or practical. Of course, they need to be brief, which is mandatory on some apps.

Next, you need to get your customers to enroll as friends of your business app. You can do this with a small sign next to the cash register, use email “blasts,” direct mail, media advertisements, or simply talking to your customers when you come in contact with them. Make sure the directions are clear on how to transcend the process of becoming a friend of your company. Or better, collect email addresses of your clients and send them emails to invite them to become friends or contacts of your organization.

Electronic word-of-mouth is fast, effective, easy, and inexpensive. Our forefathers never dreamed of such a wonderful tool to use to promote their business. And you don’t have to reduce profit by having sales or wondering “how to start a flood.” Just make sure the quality of your goods and services is high and continually improving, so the resultant word-of-mouth is positive.