When was the last time you took advice from friends or family? If you’re like me, chances are good that word-of-mouth recommendations influence the decisions you make every day.
I’m increasingly intrigued by word-of-mouth marketing’s (WOMM) relationship with social media. Social networks constantly connect users with hundreds of other consumers that they know and trust. And, as smartphones continue to grow in size, social channels lend themselves even more to visual content that makes sharing so fun.
Despite these strengths, the American Marketing Association revealed that just 6% of marketers feel they can successfully combine social media with WOMM. Social media has become one of the most powerful drivers of WOMM, though, and all marketers will benefit from mastering it.
All WOMM follows a basic blueprint. A brand creates a campaign. That campaign generates buzz and, through cyclical sharing, that buzz goes viral. I think that this process works so well because it centers on trust.
A study by Nielsen found that 84% of respondents cited family and friends’ word-of-mouth recommendations as the most trustworthy form of advertising. Gaining this trust is a huge marketing victory as it builds brand loyalty and reliable brand advocates.
WOMM is hardly a new strategy, but its legacy actually makes trust more important for marketers. No matter how WOMM changes, we as humans will always be predisposed to seek out and value peer recommendations. Social media has become an excellent medium for this. Across all social platforms, consumers are constantly engaged with thousands of peers they have self-selected and inherently trust. For marketers, trust equates to business success because consumers are more likely to be persuaded by consumer-shared posts than by the same recommendation from a brand.
We see users preferring visual platforms because they can consume visual content quickly and with minimal effort. This is particularly true on social platforms where consumers can scroll through the majority of content without having to click through or read anything. Social channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are among the market’s most popular platforms because they’ve keyed in on the power of visual content.
Visual content is so popular that it gets up to 94% more engagement than text. I think the real power for marketers is that visual content prompts consumers to share their recommendations instantaneously. Once, peers could only persuade me in person. But now I’m influenced by their digital persona and daily social activity, too. And, because we’re inclined toward visual as consumers, social channels push us to share recommendations even when we don’t intend to. For example, even if I just want to highlight my lunch on Instagram, my post automatically becomes an advocate within my network of social contacts.
In simple ways — adding a branded logo to pictures, or creating a filter specific to a company event — brands can link themselves with these deliberate and visual consumer actions. Throughout the process, brands can gather even more consumer information through integrated lead capabilities, too.
Social media also works well with WOMM because of its massive network of users. While many marketers have existing social media strategies, few successfully use their profiles to promote content. Branding can take this process one step further.
Social media operates along a one-to-many trajectory, where a single user’s content has the opportunity to reach many. Consider this — while Instagram says that its users post just 70 million photos per day, the channel records 2.5 billion likes daily. That means that each photo on average reaches 35 people. For marketers, I can’t think of a more powerful ratio to invest in. Brands can reach so many new consumers without investing a great deal of time or money. Their branded content does most of the work for them.
I believe that any brand can do this. By combining these three features, brands can link their campaigns more directly, more visually and more authentically with consumers. Inherent trustworthiness offers brands credibility. Visual content makes brand messaging easier to consume. Expansive reach lifts brands to unprecedented audiences. WOMM is incredibly powerful, and at stages simple branding efforts can amplify positive results across social channels.