6 ways to kickstart a word of mouth program at a big brand

I once sat through a boring off-site meeting in San Francisco where a bunch of corporate buffs like myself — jammed like sardines into a hotel conference room (with amazing views we only witnessed over lunch) — endured two ridiculous days of life coaching. This life coach was to tell us about using our energy to maximize productivity and, alas, break down some alleged barrier.

Long meetings aren’t my forte. I come from the school of thought that success is all about the hustle. Hustle enough, and eventually you shall succeed. So, sitting in two days worth of spiritual reflection during work hours is exactly the opposite of my idea of productive.

Trapped, I blocked out the life coach and began running through my mental list of barriers I needed to remove over email during the lunch break and outstanding action items needing my attention.

But just then, the quacky old life coach caught my attention with these words: “It’s often so much about what you can’t do. Instead, I beg you to start tomorrow rephrasing the question: What can I do?”

And this, my friends, is the purpose of this post. It’s about doing and hustling. If you’re bringing a new word of mouth strategy to your organization, chances are, you see a ton of possibility not everyone else has the ability to see yet.

Take heed friends: you most certainly can do something today. Moving any big idea forward at any organization is definitely a journey. At times, you might feel gridlocked, like you’re boiling the ocean, suffering from analysis paralysis, or biting off more than you can chew (or whatever your favorite line of corporate jargon is).

If you’re like me, and chances are you are, you’re itching to hustle and shake and make things happen — but you’re not 100% sure all the right people think so too.

Here are six ways you can kickstart your strategy right now and make the case for the bigger and better things tomorrow (after your boss gets back from that important corporate offsite). And remember, “It’s often so much about what you can’t do. Instead, I beg you to start tomorrow rephrasing the question: What can I do?”

1. Create a story about what you’re doing and make it simple

Tell a story, and use simple analogies. Don’t drop the F-Bomb (Facebook) or the T-Bomb (Twitter) in meeting #1. Instead, go Don Draper on them and paint a picture with words that don’t involve overly technical language. Word of mouth has been around for ages, but new technical concepts on a room full of people with varying levels of understanding won’t get you where you want to be.

Think broadly about your company and where it needs to be and then relate that to something simple to help you move your story forward (and keep you from getting stuck on explaining what a Direct Message is).

2. Find out what customers are already saying (and where) from the internal experts

In a frenzy to rush and open up every account possible on every social media site available, you will miss a golden opportunity: talking directly to your customers in the same way your company has probably been for years (or decades).

Do me a favor and don’t try to re-create how you talk to your customers before finding out how they’d prefer to hear from you. Ask your fellow experts in-residence from the research intelligence, direct marketing, customer service, and product teams what they’ve been hearing from your customers. Then ask if you might get the chance to put a few questions on a survey that’s already going out, or at the bottom of an upcoming email, or visit a focus group with your product team.

3. Mesh what you’re hearing from the internal experts with listening online

Yes, it’s true. You can never listen enough.

Once you find out from your internal experts about what customers are already saying, or doing, or preferring, do some primary research yourself. For free! I’m not going to get lost in a sea of tools and recommendations, but start with the freebies and enter in your brand name for a world of enlightenment.

4. Do something nice for your customers

Are a bunch of your customer congregating online asking for the same thing? How about calling your call center? How about asking the same questions over and over? This week, find one solution and let them all know about it. It might already exist. You just need to help them find it. It may even just be as easy as putting a FAQ on your website or blog and sending customers the link!

5. Boil a puddle before you boil the ocean

If you’re starting from scratch, start small. Assemble a small group of employees from different functional groups that are as passionate as you are, and set out to prove meaningfully to your organization the power of word of mouth.

Examples of how to start small:

  • Gather product feedback you’re seeing online and share it with your product team. Or better yet, get a product manager to hop online with you and peruse the findings.
  • Try working with customer service to take a few customer service-type inquiries from your online channels to help them offline to see what happens. Document and share your results.
  • Search for positive comments about your brand and reward promoters with a simple thank you.

6. Sit down with the most senior person you can at your organization and walk them through a word of mouth tool relevant to your customers

In my experience, all the stories, analogies, and strategies in the world can’t replace for senior leaders what you are, as the word of mouth expert, most especially armed to do: Teach those in senior roles at your organization the basics of what you know. Any successful discussion I’ve ever had with a senior leader about my craft, which happens to be social media, has resulted in the humble, sometimes quietly murmured suggestion that we sit down and walk through Twitter, or LinkedIn, or SlideShare.

Whatever it is that you’re all excited your organization must use to spread the word about your company and products, you must be well-versed in it and excited to teach about it. Get a plan and use short, live one-on-one demos.

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About Chelsea Marti

Chelsea Marti is the Director of Social Media at Automatic Data Processing. With a background in driving social strategy for organizations from startup to Fortune 500, Chelsea thrives on building social media from the ground-up. A lover of learning, Chelsea gives back to the world via free teaching and pro bono social media consulting. When she’s not busy pounding the pavement with a quick jog, you can find Chelsea on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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