Social media as a word-of-mouth tool for professionals

Candice O'Sullivan
March 18, 2013

Clients will always believe in word of mouth. It is – and always has been – the ‘gold standard’ of lead generation. Before technology entrenched itself in our lives, it was the only source of information that buyers of services had to rely on and trust to make decisions.

Given that we’ve been listening to (and putting faith in) word of mouth for so many years now, it’s not surprising that new, independent research by Beaton Research + Consulting has shown that users of professional services firms still consider personal referrals the most credible information source when it comes to demonstrating a firm’s expertise.

How does this relate to social media as a marketing and BD tool for firms?

What many people fail to realise about social media is that they are successful lead-generation tools because, by their very nature, they foster word of mouth. The whole premise behind social media is that people enjoy sharing with others what they know and like (and dislike!). ‘Sharing’, ‘liking’, ‘posting’ and ‘following’ are modern-day manifestations of traditional word of mouth.

In an increasingly busy world where people have less and less time (and desire perhaps) to socialise face-to-face, social media provide the means by which to remain efficiently connected. Don’t like the meal you’ve just been served in a restaurant? Take a photo of it, post it to Facebook or Twitter and in an instant all your friends – not just the ones you’re with – will know. Social media’s reach is such that the effect of traditional word of mouth is amplified many, many times over.

So how does the concept of ‘sharing’ work in a more professional context, to the extent that it has a true and measurable impact on your business?

Consider a link to your latest blog that you might post as a status update on LinkedIn. Your connections have the opportunity to now share that link, on your behalf, if they consider it to be of value to their connections. If just one person with 500 connections shares your link, an additional 500 people may now be exposed to your blog. There are obviously a number of variables determining whether each of those 500 connections actually views your link or clicks through to your blog, but the point is you have potentially exposed an additional 500 people to your work – and thought leadership. And this effect will be augmented even further if more than one of your connections decides to share your link. In this way, eWOM has the ability to amplify your referral rates with very little extra effort from you; because others are doing the sharing for you, the additional reach comes at a marginal cost.

But although social media offer the potential for achieving broad reach – very quickly – such reach is not a given. Word of mouth won’t simply happen of its own accord, simply because you’re in the realm of social media. How do you get your connections to share your content in the first place?

This brings us to the issue of engagement, which I will explore in an upcoming post. To receive an email alert, simply subscribe to our blog.

By Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan.

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