Word of Mouth Tip #18: Make it exclusive

If everyone knows about it, if everyone can access it, and if everyone’s already seen it — why would anyone talk about it?

For great products, we call this the “chocolate problem” because while we all love chocolate (and we do, don’t we?), when was the last time eating any inspired us to tell anyone?

And for communities, we’re talking about a barrier to entry. When everyone can access it — when there’s no basic filter that bonds community members — it’s hard to develop the sense of true community.

How a word of mouth supergenius does it:

Last summer, casual dining restaurant Houlihan’s created its own social network — an invite-only brand community that now consists of more than 10,500 “Houlifans.”

But why their own private network? In an interview with Fast Company’s Ben Paynter, Houlihan VP of marketing Jen Gulvik explains simply: “Exclusivity.” Tired of trying to keep up with competitors like Applebee’s and Chili’s in mass media, Gulvik wanted to approach millennials on their own turf. She traded insider information about recipes and redesigns in exchange for fans’ honest input.

Houlihan’s recruits community members from their database of 600,000-plus customers who have either visited their corporate website or signed up for email coupons. Potential Houlifans fill out a questionnaire testing both their brand love and how socially active they are. Each restaurant has about 200-400 fans, most of whom bring in friends once a week.

This fan feedback has allowed Houlihan’s to stay nimble. As a result of community insight, their small-plates menu alone has seen significant improvements. In the Kansas City area, site of the first test, overall profits are up 12% at a time when sales in the $83.5 billion casual-dining industry have dropped 1%.

Learn more: Fast Company

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