Building online word of mouth isn't easy; don't let anyone convince you that it is. Word of mouth, online or offline, takes time and effort. But when you succeed, you'll be rewarded with the best and most cost-effective form of marketing out there. If you have a successful business, you know the power of word of mouth. Here are six tips for building WOM online.

Give them something for nothing.

Everybody loves getting something for free. People love it so much, they will even tell their friends about it. Whether it's offering people an informative white paper, or a free sandwich, if you give them something for nothing, they will start talking about you.

Hold a contest.

Another thing people love is competition, and most of all, winning. Perhaps you can have your customers submit videos or essays, and give a prize to the best. Or you could do a random drawing from your Facebook fans or Twitter followers. Get creative. The prize doesn't necessarily have to be a big-ticket item, but it doesn't hurt, either. A free car wash will draw in a few people; a free iPod will draw in more.

Do something extraordinary.

Doing something that will get people talking doesn't have to be hard. It just means you have to do the unexpected. A great example of this comes from Hyundai. A couple months ago, there was a viral video going around of a large SUV that inexplicably runs over a small car in a gym parking lot. When Hyundai saw that the crushed car was theirs, they found the owner and presented him with a brand new Hyundai. This sort of thing doesn't happen everyday, and it got people talking...for far less than the cost of a TV spot.

Provide exceptional customer service.

Good customer service gets people talking, mostly because so few businesses do it well. Your customers want you to give them a good product at a good price, but good customer service is what will get them writing reviews and tweeting about your business.

Build a community.

This basically means giving your customers an experience online that they will want to share. If your product is a cool new gadget or a beautiful work of art, it's easy to get people excited about your business. If your product is something like WD40, you'll need to get a bit more creative. See how WD40 did it.

Facebook and Twitter are tools, not solutions.

This one isn't really a way to build online word of mouth so much as it's a warning. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that all you need to do is set up a Twitter account and Facebook page and do some occasional posting. These sites are tools (very powerful tools), but they are not a solution in and of themselves. As with offline marketing, you still need to be creative.

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