One of the defining features of social media is the scope it creates for peer-to-peer interaction. Today, there are very few (if any) communication channels on which messages can spread as quickly as they do on social networks. From staying in touch with old friends to organizing events and simply sharing what we did at the weekend, social media has transformed how we interact with each other. But this ease of communication between friends and connections – this word of mouth activity – also has serious implications for brands…
Word of Mouth as a Vehicle for Brand Discovery
Though branded communication still represents a large portion of companies’ marketing activity, it is no longer the only way in which people discover brands. In a single day, an individual can quite easily discover an item of sportswear, a car, a hotel and a restaurant – all through content that is posted not by brands, but by their own social media connections.
Such word of mouth discovery puts the brands in question at an advantage. Given the choice between a Facebook banner ad for a hotel and a friend posting about one they’ve just stayed at, what are you more likely to click on? Similarly, if an ad for a car pops up on TV at the same time that, on your mobile, you see a friend post a photo of their new one, what is more likely to grab your attention? The fact is, consumers trust user recommendations more than traditional brand advertising, not least because they can relate to and empathize with the preferences of people they know.
Where Does This Leave Marketers?
This all begs the question: how can marketers make the most of word of mouth discovery, by incorporating user recommendations and peer-to-peer conversations into brand communication? The first step involves e-listening: using tools to follow key words and topics, in order to stay adrift of what customers are saying about the brand (the good and the bad). And the second step involves engaging with and promoting individual customers’ messages – either by retweeting their posts from brand accounts or by launching an advocacy initiative, whereby top customers and fans become recognized brand ambassadors, and are invited to submit content on a regular basis: content that is then amplified by fellow ambassadors, as well as the brand itself.
The fact that word of mouth often acts as a gateway into new brands does not make companies’ own marketing efforts redundant. But it does mean that if brands are unaware of the conversations taking place on social media between individual users, they risk eliminating messages that could enhance brand marketing initiatives, not to mention losing out to those brands that do capitalize on word of mouth activity.
Peer-Driven Purchasing Decisions
The benefits of embracing customer insights don’t just concern marketing teams – nor does word of mouth apply solely to the B2C landscape. Sales teams working in the B2B sphere need to factor it into their own activity. The demonstration of company-specific knowledge, experience and industry expertise through social selling is, of course, imperative. However, it’s important to remember that sales teams themselves aren’t the only source of information available to prospects.
Studies have shown that before committing, B2B decision makers carry out their own research on social media. This means that they are more than likely to come across what others – partners, clients and, perhaps, competitors – are saying about companies. It also means that brands need to address both positive and negative word of mouth. Customers don’t hesitate to vent their frustration on social media, and a poor review can have as significant an impact as a positive recommendation. Though companies can’t mute bad buzz, they can deal with it effectively, minimize the repercussions and counteract negative feedback through positive word of mouth.
Whether it’s a B2C consumer looking for a new pair of shoes or a B2B decision maker researching investment opportunities, word of mouth plays a key role not only in the discovery of brands, but also in ultimate purchasing decisions. It’s for this reason that tuning into brand-oriented conversations on social media is no longer an option. Companies need to embrace the fact that their own messages aren’t the only ones having an impact on how the brand is perceived, and embrace the potential of peer-to-peer communication.