We recently held a webinar with special guest Andy Sernovitz from WordofMouth.org. He covered lots of inspirational ideas about getting started with word of mouth marketing for your small business. There were so many great questions during the webinar that we couldn’t answer them all, so we asked Andy to tackle some of the big ones here:

Q: I’m at a B-to-B /nonprofit / health care /insurance company, will word of mouth work for my biz?

Word of mouth works for any business, in any industry, for selling anything. Your mission: Find people to talk about you and give them something to talk about.

Every product has fans. You don’t have to be exciting or goofy to start conversations. Think about the people who depend on your product or service, who love how you treat them, and trust you to deliver for them. These are feelings that can generate word of mouth.

Q: But seriously, we’re a dental office. No one seems to like us or want to go to us. How do we create word of mouth?

First, no word of mouth strategy can mask a truly bad product, service, or company. That’s the beauty of word of mouth: The good guys win, and the lousy ones don’t.

But, if you actually deliver great service or create a great product — and treat customers well — then yes, even dentists can create word of mouth.

In fact, in my book I talk about Delaware Dental in Chicago. They’ve turned their practice into something special by creating a “dental lounge.” The office is decorated funky with modern colors and furniture. Instead of the usual pan-flute version of the Beatles’ greatest hits, they ask you about your musical taste on your patient information form — and play it for you. It’s little stuff, but it all adds up to great word of mouth.

Q: Are you saying we should completely avoid monetary-based incentives? What if the value proposition of our business is helping people lower their electricity bills (a.k.a. save money)?

Yes, because it backfires. People will review you because they like you, trust you, and believe in you. If they don’t like you, paying them won’t change this. Offering to pay people who don’t like you only amplifies the distrust.

Q: What about contests or drawings on Facebook to get more people to share news about us or “like” us? Is this what you would consider a payment incentive, and hence not the best approach to gaining followers?

Sure, doing this may give you a short-term boost in your follower count, but it doesn’t get you high-quality word of mouth. It’s like a kid saying, “Be my friend, you can play with my toys.” They might come over to play, but it’s not because they’re really your friend. You’re better off using your energy and creativity on creating things that genuinely interest and excite your fans and customers (great products, incredible service, remarkable stuff to talk about) — things that lead to long-term, sustainable word of mouth.

Q: How can social media amplify the positive and negative effects of word of mouth?

Social networks are high-energy homes of word of mouth. They can be incredibly powerful tools to amplify word of mouth conversations about you — both positive and negative. They allow for speed, and they can get your messages out there further and faster. But before you draw up some fancy social strategy, remember the fundamentals: Do interesting stuff; make it easy to find, follow, and connect with you; be nice; be remarkable. The companies that are all famous for their use of social media didn’t get that way because of some secret social tactic — it’s because they’re great at the fundamentals that applies to all word of mouth.

Q: Is it not true that in order to develop brand ambassadors, one has to relinquish some power? This is potentially dangerous as one cannot always be sure that the brand ambassador will always deliver the right message and/or in an appropriate manner. What can we do to avoid potential pitfalls?

Here’s the reality: You never had power. Word of mouth is actually how you gain influence in the conversation. Think of it this way: You don’t have power over the press, but if you invest in great PR, you can influence it. When it comes to word of mouth, people are already talking about you — and will continue to do so. If you help these talkers, support them, and give them the tools to make it easier, there’s a much better chance what they actually say will be closer to what you hope they’ll say.

Q: Do the 3 motivations apply the same way for all ages?

The You, Me, and Us motivations apply to people, not demographic groups. Different people respond to different motivators. So, test a variety of word of mouth messages and see who responds to what.

Did you miss the webinar? Check out a recorded version here.

Andy Sernovitz teaches word of mouth marketing. He runs SocialMedia.org, the community for social media leaders at the world’s greatest brands, and WordofMouth.org, where marketers and entrepreneurs learn to be great at word of mouth marketing.

© 2012 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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