How Twitter Makes "Word of Mouth" Manageable

Every business wants to benefit from positive word of mouth. But until Twitter came along, word of mouth was more wish than science.

Back in my early twenties, I got a job selling advertising for a small, weekly newspaper. I only stayed there three months (it was a miserable job), but learned a lot about how unrealistic some business owners are in their approach to marketing.

The most common brush off I heard was "We are going to rely on word of mouth advertising." I soon noticed that these words were a sure sign the business would be closing its doors very soon. I could literally mark my calendar when I heard someone say the words, "word of mouth advertising," and know they would be out of business within a month or two.

And yet, we have all seen word of mouth lift a business out of the doldrums and into high profitability:
  • A small restaurant is suddenly "discovered" by the community and it is packed to the walls every evening.
  • A dentist builds a well-deserved reputation and soon her waiting room is standing room only.
  • A budget movie, without support of a big studio marketing budget, takes off and rakes in a bigger box office than big budget projects.

More often than not, word of mouth success just happens. For every beneficiary, we can all point to a dozen other businesses that were just as deserving (often more so) of such a reputation.

Until Twitter, with the ability to track keywords, brand names and retweets, word of mouth was almost entirely random in the way it bestowed its blessings. Sure the business had to be good, but a lot of good businesses close their doors in obscurity every day.

What has changed with the advent of Twitter is that we can actually see word of mouth happening in real time. Anyone on Twitter can watch every retweet, mention of a brand name, a company name, or a topic as they leap from person to person, state to state and even country to country.

But Twitter is much more than a word of mouth tracking tool, it actually helps word of mouth happen at faster speeds and with greater reach than it could occur in the non-Twitter world.

Here's a very common scenerio: @Mary tells @Tom about the great service she got from Al's Tire Shop. In the past, only Tom heard about Mary's experience, and so word of mouth could either be passed along by Tom or dropped entirely.

Mary might tell her other friends about Al's, but these were all one-on-one conversations that could either be transmitted or cease with each person she talked to.

On Twitter, these conversations are no longer one-on-one (well, except for direct messages, but I'm mainly talking about conversations that take place on the Twitter feed). Sure Mary and Tom are having a conversation, but all of their combined followers are also privy to what they said. Tom may not tell someone about Al's, but six other people who saw the conversation might.

And any of these witnesses can also carry the ball, even if @Tom drops it.

But it goes far beyond the direct followers of these two individuals. What if a few of Mary's followers "retweet" or pass along her comments? Depending on how many people these people have, this could now spread the conversation to thousands of other people who were not direct followers of either Mary or Tom.

And that is only one level of retweeting. If you have been on Twitter very long, you have no doubt seen messages that have become extremely popular and have been retweeted by two or three additional people.

This is truly a viral effect that spreads word of mouth beyond anything ever seen in conversations before this technology existed.

But word of mouth can spread in other ways besides retweeting.

Let's say there are people who are searching for the keywords "flat tire" or "Tire repair shop" on Twitter. Now people can see @Mary's remarks about Al's shop who do not follow her or any of her followers. Some of these people will have search columns set up on their Tweetdeck or HootSuite accounts so they can be notified whenever these keywords are mentioned by anyone on Twitter.

By this means, Al's reputation for honesty and quality service can leap from person to person, regardless of following connections between individuals, simply because the message is noteworthy.

So how can a business person manage or influence word of mouth on Twitter?

The example so far has been of positive word of mouth, but we all know that negative news spreads farther and faster than the good news.

Twitter gives a business the tools to spot a negative story before it gains much traction, and respond to it.

If a restaurant customer complains that she was served a bad meal from Tina's Grill, Tina can learn about this complaint immediately if she is tracking her own brand name on Twitter. Then she can respond with a prompt apology and an offer to make it right. Perhaps she can offer a free meal or a generous discount.

(Please note that customers increasingly take their complaints to their friends and followers on social media. They have lost confidence in getting any kind of acceptable response from company customer service lines, so they often vent online.)

When Tina takes prompt action and makes the situation right with her disgruntled customer, this exchange is also witnessed by potentially thousands of other people who follow either Tina or the customer, or who are tracking specific keywords.

The key is to track your brand and company name at all times so you can jump in quickly before negative word of mouth takes off. Then respond in such a way that takes ownership of the problem and goes the extra mile to turn an unhappy customer into a delighted one.

I've even seen a couple of extraordinary examples of businesses that took care of problems not of their making. In one case, the customer turned out to have bought a product made by a competitor, yet the company STILL took care of her. Amazing!

Can you imagine how much "juice" that can give a business when such acts are witnessed online by thousands of other people? Imagine that some of these people are either bloggers or potential customers?

On the other hand, can you imagine how well a snotty attitude or an off-hand "that's just our policy" remark would go over?

Can word of mouth be planted on Twitter?

Yes it can. All businesses on Twitter send tweets about a blog article, news release or information about a product. If the message is interesting enough or solves a real problem, it is very possible that it will be retweeted.

This is why the whole concept of content marketing and producing interesting, valuable content is so integral to social media. No one will follow someone for very long if all they tweet about is the ham sandwich they ate for lunch.

Twitter users who use it for business crave good, valuable information. When we find someone who consistently sends good info out, we follow him or her. And we retweet their content to our followers.

Good content that is interesting and informative can get the whole word of mouth ball rolling in the first place.

Before I wrap this up, let me add two additional tips:
  1. If you want to make it easier for people to find (and retweet) your information, pay attention to the #hashtag conventions within the Twitter community. A great article on hashtags can be found here.

  2. People are much more likely to retweet your messages if you have taken the time to build friendly relationships with them. This is the value of "Social Capital."

    It is very possible to build friendships on Twitter. Being nice and cooperative can go a long way to cultivating these relationships. These other people on Twitter also appreciate having their messages retweeted. If they send something out that you regard as valuable, retweet it. You can also mention them on #followfriday to promote them to other people who may wish to follow them.

    Just like the "real world" people tend to do business with other people they know, like and trust. In the Twitter world, they also tend to retweet them.

Of course word of mouth still relies on others to pass a message along. That hasn't changed with the advent of Twitter. But if a business wants to create or influence good word of mouth; or if they want to respond to negative word of mouth before it gains much traction, Twitter is the best tool ever created to accomplish these ends.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites

Advertising Begins When "Know, Like and Trust" Fails

I stole the headline for this article from Scott Stratton, author of UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging., who spoke to the Social Media Club in Dallas the other night (and I'm not giving it back).

Scott was talking about the role of social media in marketing and why it is so important to businesses that are seeing their marketing/advertising costs go up, and their results go down.

We've all heard the truism that people do business with other people they know, like and trust. Scott pointed out that people only look for a business in the Yellow Pages or on Google when they do not already have a relationship with a business they know, like and trust. In other words, only after relationships fail does traditional marketing have to take place.

Therefore all of our advertising, all traditional marketing, even search engine optimization is directed toward people who do not already know, like or trust us (Call me lazy, but I'm shortening that phrase to "KLT" for the rest of this article).

Think about the sheer cost of this problem. Massive amounts of advertising money are spent every day to target the no-existing-relationship potential customers. Would not the cost of marketing be a lot less if we put the focus on building lots of KLT relationships instead?

In contrast to mass advertising, this is the role of social media marketing:
To build KLT relationships with targeted people who may not now have a need for our products or services; so they will know, like and trust us before they need us.

Social media is the ideal tool for gathering lots of people who KLT you. It is an awesome relationship building tool because it works in real time, has a global AND local reach, allows you to mingle with people of like interests, and enables you to show the human side of your company.

But be warned: social media is shockingly ineffective as an overt, in your face, buy-my-product-now, selling tool. It is more like a social event where you can get to know people, talk about Major League Baseball, talk about what your kids are doing, and share helpful ideas and information, than it is the showroom of a new car dealership.

But this is precisely why a lot of business people have trouble warming up the the idea of using Twitter and Facebook to reach out to customers. It sounds warm and fuzzy, but how do you measure it? How do you determine that this dollar brought in this sale?

There are a lot of really good ways to measure social media's impact. You can measure how many people clicked on a link and visited your website, how many people Retweet your messages, how many eyeballs see your messages, etc. But the truth is that the true value of social media is based on common sense.

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, answers the question of what is the ROI (return on investment) of social media by asking, "What is the ROI of your telephone?"

You could never measure the ROI of your telephone. Nor can you measure the ROI of meeting people at networking events, or volunteering to get involved with charitable organizations.

How can you possibly attach an ROI to talking to people?

But we all know that talking to people is extremely valuable. If you were invited to speak to a large group of your target customers, would you show up? Of course you would, but can you put an ROI on that speech?

If you were invited to appear on the Oprah show, would you show up? I'm betting you would make that appearance if you had to push your car from San Diego to Chicago. But what is the ROI of sitting beside Oprah and getting your chance to tell the world about your product?

What is the value of credibility? What is the value of relationships? What is the value of brand awareness?

This is the same challenge PR faces. How do you measure the value of favorable news? If your company is constantly in the news in a favorable light, is that valuable? Of course, but how do you measure it?

Here's the real test. Show me a single top executive that isn't a great networker. I personally know of several top people who readily admit that some of their biggest deals were made or initiated on golf courses, country clubs or at social events.

Harvey Mackay says that he always flies first class because of the people he meets there. The very best business deals are made in non-business settings.

But the real kicker of why social media is so important is not just the KLT relationships you establish directly. It isn't always the person you meet on the golf course or in the seat next to you in first class, or the person you work with on a charity's board.

It is also about the people these people know. It's about the people who know, like and trust the people who know, like and trust you.

No advertisement is ever going to trump a referral from someone who trusts you. Even if that referral comes from an old high school friend your customer has reconnected with on Facebook 30 years after graduation.

The more you are out there on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the more you can get known, liked and trusted by the friends of the people you connect with. If you want real word of mouth to take place, nothing beats social media.

Here's why:

Something that takes place every day on Twitter is the very visible customer service interaction. A customer has a problem with a brand and tweets about it. From there, one of three things happen.

  • First, the issue may be ignored. This company is not on Twitter, is not aware someone tweeted about their brand and the issue never gets resolved. Other people who see this happen think bad things about the company. (Here's an example of what happened to FTD when they failed to respond to a customer on Twitter).

  • Second, the company is on Twitter and does respond, but handles the matter badly. (Scott gave an example of a coffee shop that got snippy with a customer on Twitter, and the incident unfolded before thousands of people who were following either the customer or the coffee shop). Result: the company looks really, really bad and probably loses a lot of business.

  • Third, the company responds quickly and politely. They take steps to resolve the problem, and do so in a very professional manner. Result: thousands of Twitter users see this interaction and think what a quality company this is. And they see this company as an organization they know, like and trust.

On social media, your everyday customer service interactions becomes a powerful marketing tool if you handle them well.

The bottom line is that social media is really a big, big networking event. You don't want to go there to push product and back people into a corner with your sales pitch, but you do want to meet people and build relationships with them. If you build enough KLT relationships, you won't need to spend massive amounts of money advertising to people who do not know, like or trust you.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites

Is Your Facebook Business Page Targeting the Right People?

Once upon a time Facebook pages were called "Fan Pages."

Fan Pages were originally intended for celebrities, famous groups and artists. Maybe the occasional organization that truly generated fans (like Apple and Starbucks) could have a fan page too.

But over time, more businesses and business people started pages and the word "fan" just seemed too pretentious to keep. Now they are just called pages. And we no longer "fan" these pages, we simply "like" them.

But a lot of page owners still act like they are fan pages, except without the actual "fans" part.

Let's face it "Frank's Plumbing Emporium" is not likely to come with a cadre of pre-existing fans. But every day I see a new page for pest control companies, hardware stores, insurance agencies, etc. that are as far from Steve Jobs' Apple as can be. And they assume that "fans" will flock to them as they post update after update about plumbing, killing roaches, or selling hammers and annuities.

The truth is, they just aren't that into you.

So can businesses that do not already have fans, still make use of Facebook pages? Of course they can, but I think they would do better to take a different approach.

People will not "like" your page if you just talk about yourself, your business, or assume they are as fanatically interested in plumbing or pest control as you are.

But they are interested in their own problems and goals.

Instead of creating a Facebook page that is about you, create one that gives people information they want. Make your page an online magazine devoted to a specific interest.

  • If you are doing business within a specific community, make your page a community magazine that informs about the things going on in your city. Tell about local events and issues. Make it a forum for your community.

  • If your customers are mostly young families with small children, create a page about parenting. Give readers all kinds of information about raising children and activities that can enrich their lives. Address their concerns about childhood safety, traveling with children, helping children do well in school, and fun activities to keep kids busy (and entertained) over summer vacations.

  • If your business targets property managers, create a page/magazine that provides solutions to the problems property managers face. Give your readers actionable tips and ideas they can use to make their jobs easier.

Of course you can also throw in the occasional tidbit about your business or the products you sell, but do so within the context of this magazine approach and make it relevant to the overall theme of your magazine.

The best part about the Facebook-page-as-a-magazine approach is that you may well create fans as a result. In other words, they would never start off as fans of "Frank's Plumbing Emporium" or "Dave's Pest Control," but they may become your fans as a result of the useful information you give to them.

The second best part about the Facebook-page-as-a-magazine approach is that it is easy. You don't have to create all your own content (although you should create some of it on your blog). You can make it a kind of Readers' Digest devoted to your topic. Gather articles, videos, white papers, news articles from the web and post links to them on your Wall.

Within a short time, you will have people looking to your page as a resource of really great information about a topic that interests them.

And they will become fans.

And once you have launched a successful page/magazine devoted to one group of your target customers, you can do it again for another area of interest.

If you are familiar with David Meerman Scott's concept of "buyer personas," you know that your customer base will often consist of a variety of people who want your products or services for a variety of reasons. Not all of your customers do business with you for the same exact reasons, and you will do well to understand their various reasons.

(For more information on how to develop "buyer personas" for the customers you serve, click here).

These various reasons customers may choose to do business with you may translate into various interests you can fulfill with different page/magazines.

Study real magazines (the paper kind as well as the online versions) to see how they do it. Successful magazines really know their readers. They understand what information they want to read and what problems they seek solutions for. You will seldom see a magazine talking about itself. It puts the focus on what its targeted audience.

Particularly, you will want to study magazines that target the same people you will be targeting. If there is already a magazine devoted to your local community, or to the young families you want to reach? If so, make it your textbook.

Study the people it interviews, check out the editorial content, look at what needs it addresses for its readers. Read the articles, the Letter From the Editor, and even the ads.

The more you focus on your readers, the more likely they will become fans. Not because your business is sexy, but because you are giving them content they really want and need.

And fans will soon become your customers.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites