Want word of mouth? Collect experiences, not numbers.

This is a guest post from BJ Emerson, VP of Technology at Tasti D-Lite and co-author of The Tasti D-Lite Way: Social Media Marketing Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave.

Competing online today means the numbers are out there for everyone to see. Fans, followers, likes, views, subscribers, comments, shares, and such have become the accepted units of measurement for popularity. We all look at these numbers and boosting them can help alleviate the anxiety and intimidation that comes with comparing oneself with the nearest competitor. This very real concern plays into the social psyche which we all deal with as we evaluate our digital presence.

But what do these numbers really mean?

Is there any real value to being a mile wide and an inch thick, or do we want to go deeper and create a real and engaged community of brand advocates? Are fewer strong connections more valuable than many weak ones, or does the real opportunity exist somewhere in the middle?

Rather than viral envy and the pursuit of numbers, what we should really be concerned about is the substance behind the numbers: the quality of engagement, the experiences we are providing, and ultimately the reach and impact.

Fixating on the latest moves by competitors can be distracting and paralyzing while you scramble to keep up with whatever new solutions they are implementing. But how do you know what latest apps and social channels are right for your customers and your brand? Only trial and error and hands-on engagement will lead to the kind of customer intimacy we are seeking.

As it turns out, acquiring at least the appearance of a great social following isn’t that difficult.

You can buy just about anything online today, including an artificial presence. Use search terms such as “Twitter followers” and “Facebook likes” on eBay and you’ll find plenty of options for amassing a following. 5,000 Twitter followers for $24.99 is a great way to grow your network, right?

Not so fast.

You may be able to buy likes, followers, or views, but you can’t buy truly effective word of mouth that comes from providing great experiences for your customers. There are no shortcuts in this transparent environment. In fact, new tools are now able to show with some accuracy just how many accounts are truly active. Acquiring fans or followers in a questionable manner will not be received well by the community. If exposed, you can bet those community members will spread the word and your credibility will suffer.

Inflating numbers artificially can bring some other undesirable effects. Having subscribers who have no real interest or use for your product or service could bring some awkward posts with inane questions or inappropriate replies. Community building starts with people who actually want to contribute to the brand. If they are not your target demographic, over time they will lose interest and drop out, thus causing numbers to decrease and offset any organic growth brought by real customers. Why would they contribute to or demonstrate a real interest in your products or services?

Here are three questions to ask yourself when it comes to the pursuit of numbers:

  1. Would having a large following within a given social network simply be providing you with false comfort?
  2. Are you simply giving in to social envy? Knee-jerk reactions and shortcuts will get flash-in-the-pan results at best.
  3. How do you plan to sustain the community even if the numbers are there? Your content and engagement strategy had better be in place either way.

There is a great difference in the long-term value of connections created as a result of authentic and trusted word of mouth referrals and those created via questionable methods.

Don’t focus on collecting numbers. Provide and collect great customer experiences. 


About BJ Emerson

BJ Emerson is VP of Technology at Tasti D-Lite and co-author of The Tasti D-Lite Way: Social Media Marketing Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave. Considered a social loyalty pioneer in the industry, in 2010 he led the deployment of the first ever loyalty platform to feature an integration with Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare which has been recognized with a variety of industry awards. BJ was once named in Mashable’s Top 40 Brands on Twitter and the People behind Them and his projects were featured as case studies in 7 different books published in 2011 and provided the foreword to Location Based Marketing for Dummies.

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  1. Kimberly Allison

    I absolutely believe this to be true. Too many business owners are all about masses of people. Just get the numbers up. But if you get the numbers up and they don’t convert to sales or loving your brand, what’s the point? I would rather built with real conversations and connections for my clients to build their business brand long term with people who will love
    and care about them online. A handful of Raving fans can take a business much further than thousands of “LIKES” that do nothing.

  2. BJ Emerson

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment Kimberly. I think this mindset also alleviates the pressure and allows marketers to get more creative with their engagement strategy. Build it right, one experience at a time.

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