As early as 1967, Professor Johan Arndt from the Colombia Graduate School Of Business identified “word of mouth” as “one of the most important, if not the most important source of information for the consumer”. As time marches on, word of mouth has only become more influential.
The plethora of information online has resulted in “official” marketing messages, produced by companies, being seen as less credible and, therefore, less influential than in any previous age. This, together with the decline of trust in institutions, has meant that we increasingly turn to our colleagues, friends and family for information we trust.
Of course, social proof — in other words what others say and do — has always been one of the most influential factors in the decisions we make. However, the web, together with digital technology and the resulting rise of social platforms, means that today we can access more social proof with greater ease than ever before.
Word of mouth has always happened face-to-face and that is still the case. However, there are now two important factors to consider. Firstly, where the catalyst for word of mouth was often broadcast media such as TV, billboards and adverts; today, a growing catalyst for word of mouth is online media. Secondly, conventional word of mouth and online are merging, as more of us post opinions on social platforms, having conversations online rather than face-to-face.
Search is going social and the web has become our primary source of information when searching for products and services. The result is that the most important marketers, for any company today, are its engaged community of customers, prospects, partners and suppliers.
The more public support or advocates a company has, the more likely it is to be commercially successful. Rather than broadcast messages as in yesteryear, marketers today are more like facilitators, creating value, fuelling conversations and encouraging people to become involved with the company. In so doing, it is the participants themselves who become the most effective communicators of an organisation’s message.
This means businesses have to become masters of particular disciplines. Using social listening tools, a company must learn what its customers and prospects talk about and share. In so doing, it becomes more likely that a company will create content that will be well received and shared by the community it wishes to engage.
Data becomes vitally important as companies track their own content that has the biggest impact and is shared most widely. By obtaining an understanding of what content works, a business can then produce better material on an ongoing basis. Using data to understand the people most likely to share, and those with the greatest influence, means a business can invest extra time and resources nurturing these particular individuals.
Businesses should also be encouraging advocacy. That is, supporting and providing platforms where customers can leave reviews. In business to business environments, companies that are engaging face-to-face with customers should be asking if they can use positive feedback as a testimonial on LinkedIn or in a tweet.
Word of mouth has always been vital. In the past, many companies have left it to chance hoping that providing a great experience will lead to positive recommendations. Of course, this still happens. However, on its own, it is no longer enough. Businesses now have to be more strategic about garnering word of mouth.
So, what are you doing to encourage advocacy?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the way of improving visibility by trying to ensure one has as high a web ranking as possible when relevant searches are undertaken. This is visibility in unpaid or organic search results as opposed to those opportunities which companies pay for in order to be found.
As many people’s first port of call, when looking for a new product or service, is a search engine, the importance of coming up in the first few entries, on a relevant search, is widely understood.
Many people, however, still think of SEO as separate from any social media activity they undertake. However, this is simply no longer the case. Social media is fast becoming the major way that people are sharing and, therefore, discovering new information online. This means that search engines have long had to take into account social media activity and incorporate it into their search results. This is because so much web activity is undertaken on social platforms and so failure to do this would start to render search results irrelevant.
The trend, however, has been fast tracked by the creation of the Google + platform. Google is now incorporating brand pages from the platform into search results. They are also providing users with the option to see relevant search information, gathered from their connections, in the Google + network.
This means that if businesses want to ensure they show up in the searches that people undertake, they have to address their social media activity as part of their SEO strategy, not as a separate entity. In other words, the lines are blurring between what is traditional SEO and what is social media activity. Over time, they are very likely to become almost one and the same thing.
Social Media Optimisation (SMO) is not as familiar a phrase as SEO. However, it is now becoming increasingly important in the effectiveness of SEO.
Businesses must increasingly ask themselves what they are trying to convey in a piece of social media activity. By understanding the message they are trying to put across, they will be able to ensure they use the relevant keywords in order that the content is found.
Furthermore, companies must ask where the value in their activity is for a customer. It is only by ensuring that they are adding value, from a customer perspective, that businesses can protect themselves from falling into the trap of simply using social media platforms to broadcast their message. Simply broadcasting is not engaging and is likely to damage a company’s reputation over time.
Finally, businesses must ask themselves why and how they would expect someone to share any content they create. Without making it easy for people to share content and without giving them a reason to do this, companies miss out on the biggest opportunity social media provides. That is, not all marketing and communications have to be undertaken by your business.
Today, those people engaged with your organisation have the means to market and communicate your business for you. These communications are more likely to be well received because they are not sent by a company but by one’s friends and colleagues. Moreover, these are people you could probably never hope to reach any other way.
One of the trends for 2012 is the increasing socialisation of information. The web is becoming social. The lines between activity on social platforms and other web activity are becoming blurred. Failure to incorporate social media as part of your overall SEO strategy will render it less likely that your organisation appears in the search results of your potential customers.
How do you explain 292 pages of deep content in four and a half minutes? I was recently asked to review Brian Solis’ new book, The end of business as usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution on the radio. It’s about social media and its impact on the new consumer landscape.
Here’s what I learned from it:
There is no escape. Technology is going very, very fast. Five billion people are connected online. The average age of the world population is now 28, which means that we are dealing with very social media savvy customers. Most buying decisions now have an online element.
As result of the evolution (revolution?) online, people are now becoming part of our search engines (which is why it is called social search). This has repercussions for both the individuals (reputation) and companies (brand). The power is back with the people and as a business you need to become part of the ego system of the individual.
As a result, social capital becomes very important (and should be part of your balance sheet). It will go further, social capital will be part of your CV and part of your individual credit score.
Explosive headache for marketers
Our interests, experiences, context and the history of the experiences with the company become very, very relevant. It is not about the quantity of the relations, it is about the quality of the relationship. It is about one-to-one conversations, micro-engagement and heart share. Combine that with collective EQ, IQ and the long memory of the net and you have an explosive headache for a marketer who is very likely to be a lot older than 28 (and therefore does not understand).
The need to be very compelling
How do you stand out, how do you connect with the heart of your customers and how compelling are you? And with the attention span of the “shallows” you need to compel in the moment. How do you make a split second compelling? An important part of that will be the higher purpose of your company — the soul of your business.
Global local village shop
I read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, The Thank You Economy and from that I got the image of the local village shop on steroids. You need to create the feel and engagement of the local shop where everyone knows your name (with the theme tune from Cheers in background) on a global scale.
But there’s more…
In my radio review, I did not even get the time to talk about the concept of networks, within networks, within networks — niche networks. Or to explain that six degrees of separation is now four degrees of separation. Or that processes such as AIDA (Attention Interest Desire Action) are now circular and have a very strong feedback loop. If you doubt the effect of feedback loops I suggest you read Overconnected by William Davidow.
So what are the lessons?
• Brands are now the sum of the experiences and these experiences are visible online
• We are all becoming brand and reputation managers
• You are too old to understand
• When moments need to become compelling, design is key
• Context is king
• Social capital is an asset
• Soul, culture, passion, heart, ethics will have to become part of the brand experience
• Brands are part of self-expression
• Mediocrity is not accepted
• Engagement will not be transactional but emotional
• Use data mining to segment to near one-to-one level
• Everything is circular and holistic
Four questions to ask yourself
Here are four questions you need to ask yourself as a business:
• How loyal are you to your customers?
• Could you tweet your mission statement?
• How compelling are you?
• Where in the loop is your product or service
It may be a dense book but if you are over 28 years old…
This book is very dense. Maybe too dense. And it does touch on a lot of other books such as Marketing 3.0, The Thank You Economy, Emotionomics and ZAG. They were more enjoyable to read.
However, if you are looking for a comprehensive book on the future of social media, this is the one. If you combine it with Brian Solis’ other book Engage! then you will be sorted on social media for a while. So if you are over 28 years old and a marketer or business owner, you should read this book.