The hot new paradigm that is propelling the growth of the Internet today is social networking. Whether you’re a photography hobbyist, an amateur foodie, a budding rock star, or just a web surfer who’s interested in seeking out the sites that best match your preferences, there’s bound to be an online community that’s dedicated to helping you connect with others who share your interests.
But the social networking movement is not all fun and games—the same trend is remaking the way businesses are marketing themselves and promoting their products and services. The “recommendation age,” as some gurus have termed it, is like word-of-mouth marketing that has been turbo-charged and re-tooled for the 21st century. Here are few ideas you can use to capture the zeitgeist and help your firm benefit from online word-of-mouth.
Focus on elevating the overall customer experience. Experts say that while the quality of your products and services are obviously an important component of whether your business will be able to benefit from online buzz, perhaps even more important is the start-to-finish experience that clients take away from the transaction. If you can successfully transport your customers to a level of service excellence that’s in an entirely different realm from that offered by your competitors, you’ll be more likely to reap the benefits of online brand evangelism.
Target early adopters and influential tastemakers. When it comes to online buzz and word-of-mouth, it may be possible to start a cascade of interest by focusing marketing efforts on just a few key players. It has become a common practice for firms to identify a handful of influential bloggers, columnists, or industry bigwigs and gift them with review copies of a new product in hopes of generating advance buzz. Just be prepared to accept an honest assessment of your product, whether it’s positive or negative: most key figures in the blogosphere operate on a strict code of impartiality when it comes to product reviews.
Create and support multiple platforms for customer interaction. You can’t generate online buzz for your products if you don’t allow for the free exchange of ideas, feedback, and criticism, both on your own website and on venues across the Internet. Consider adding comment and review capabilities to your website, and throw your unbridled support behind any kind of online discourse that targets your products or services.
Spark online conversations about your products and services…ethically. Many companies have taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and started corporate blogs or other websites or platforms that are geared to initiate discussion of their products and services. This can definitely be a great—and low-cost—way to generate buzz and hype. Just try to steer clear of deceptive online marketing practices, such as commissioning fake reviews, blogs posts or comments, or testimonials. The risk of fallout from this kind of tomfoolery is much greater than any possible benefit you could stand to gain.
Has your firm benefited from online recommendations? What, if anything, have you done to help create online buzz for your products or services?