Thinking Outside the Social Media Box
You’ve got fans! You have customers who love everything about you and your company, and thinking outside the social media box is all about involving your most loyal customers. Word of mouth advertising or referrals have always been the best way to earn new business, and that’s still true today, but the formats available for word of mouth advertising can reach broader audiences than ever before. Nielsen studied consumers’ trust in advertising and found that 83% of us trust recommendations from friends and family. About 66% of people said they trust reviews and comments even from people they don’t know. That’s why review sites such as Yelp have been incredibly successful. For small business owners, especially those offering products and services to local customers, it’s never been easier to capitalize on word of mouth advertising. Here’s how to think outside the social media box and get in on the word of mouth advertising action!
Of course you want followers on prominent social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and we certainly recommend keeping up with reviews sites such as Yelp and Google for both reputation and search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. Engaging customers and potential customers on social media platforms is a key component of any digital marketing campaign. In addition to formal reviews, sharing social content, and engaging customers in conversation, there are avenues to get the word out about your company that you may not have thought about—and most are absolutely free.
What About Facebook?
Kudos to you if you’re a small business owner who’s got your Facebook account set up, and you’re actively posting and managing reviews. You may even be using paid Facebook advertising as part of your digital marketing plan. If you’re a local business or provide services in a particular area, consider this: most subdivisions and neighborhoods have closed Facebook groups. In addition to complaints about the HOA, information about the latest incidence of crime, or posts about upcoming community events, people often use this platform to ask friends and neighbors for business recommendations and to share their opinions about businesses they’ve recently used. You obviously can’t be a part of all these closed groups, and, even if your customers mention you, they may or may not “tag” you in the conversation or provide a link to your website. Still, if you have happy customers who are telling their friends in the neighborhood how much they like your company, you could reap big benefits through their recommendations.
What's Outside the Box?
Facebook isn’t the only social app your customers are using. Nextdoor is growing in popularity, and many locals are using it to seek and share business recommendations. In fact, the app is geared for that type of social interaction instead of sharing funny memes with your neighbors. Like most online groups, including closed Facebook groups, Nextdoor has strict user policies that prohibit self-promotion for business purposes. Though they do offer limited opportunities for “sponsored” posts from local and even national businesses, the app promotes itself as a source of genuine referrals and is very effective as simple word of mouth advertising. Nextdoor provides a platform for happy customers to share their experiences with your company, and other local Nextdoor members will see their comments. To take full advantage of the Nextdoor app, you should claim or add your business listing so users can find you. Blue Corona marketing has some helpful tips on how to get the most out of Nextdoor.
Then there’s Angie. Angie’s List has been around since the mid-90s and heavily advertises its referral services. The catch to Angie’s List is that it is fee-based for both users and businesses. In 2016 Angie’s List began offering a free user account with limited options for the site; more extensive user plans require a paid subscription. Business owners can also register on the site in order to review activity, and they must certify that the owner and employees who interact with Angie’s List clients have recently undergone a criminal background check and have clean records. But are the search results based on genuine reviews or on paid placements? Companies can be more prominently placed in search results through paid placements of “ads” couched as special pricing or coupons offered exclusively to Angie’s List subscribers. That offering gets your company listed among the top search results, but may also skew users’ opinions of the companies that advertise. Like other referral resources, though, if your customers are using Angie’s List anyway, they can help you out by giving you a glowing review for the world to see. Before signing up for paid advertising with Angie, do your homework. Motava published a great article on the “5 Things You Need to Know Before Signing on the Dotted Line” with Angie.
What’s Your Niche?
Niche referral services can be another great source for reviews and referrals. Are there sites that cater specifically to the type of customer you want to attract? Are there sites where your potential customers would go for information about the goods and services you provide? If so, you want to be sure you have good reviews and that you’re monitoring activity on those sites. For instance, travelers may check out reviews on TripAdvisor, a family looking for senior care may see reviews on A Place for Mom, homeowners looking for remodeling services might look for reviews on HomeAdvisor, and, of course, if you’re selling products online you want positive reviews on Amazon. You can even rate your doctor at Healthgrades and rate your college professor at Rate My Professors. Some cities have consumer-related experts such as TrustDale.com in the Atlanta area who offer opinions on local services or provide “certified” recommendations that might also be helpful. Consider what niche sites can benefit your business and set a goal of acquiring reviews on those sites.
Sites that publish reviews and ratings that are often overlooked are the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and job search sites such as Indeed and Glassdoor. If a potential customer is researching services or products online, the last thing you want to show up in search results is an unresolved complaint filed with the BBB or a lot of negative comments about working for your company from current or former employees. While most people realize that some negative reviews are unavoidable and there are good ways to handle negative reviews, an overwhelming sense of negativity surrounding your business name online will turn people away from your door.
Online forums in your business arena can be an opportunity to shine as an expert in your field and get new business at the same time. If you provide landscape design services, for instance, participating in online forums to answer questions from other professionals and potential customers makes you and your company not only appear knowledgeable and up-to-date on current practices, but also makes you approachable for business referrals.
How do you leverage this often free word of mouth advertising outside of social media? The first step is to ask! Your customers may not think about sharing your information with family, friends, and neighbors unless you ask them. Your customers may not realize what niche sites are good to drive business your way, so you ask them to consider reviewing your company on a particular site. Let your customers know how important their referrals are to you and give them some options for spreading the good news.
The second step is to track how new customers find you. Since you can’t actively participate in many of these social exchanges, you won’t know if a customer is touting your company on Nextdoor or other sites unless you track the source of new business. Finally, don't forget to thank customers who are actively promoting you. Think of unique ways to let them know how much you appreciate their confidence in you, and you’ll make them feel good about sharing . . . and they’ll continue to recommend you!