A question most small business owner’s ask over the course of any given initial consultation is, “What is the best bang for my buck?”
Even though I am there as a representative of a social media company, my answer is always word of mouth. Consider the following scenario: It’s Sunday and you and your buddies are all hanging at your place for the game. The hunger begins to kick in and nobody wants to drive and miss a play. During one of the commercial breaks, there is an ad for pizza. At this point, everybody is in on getting a pie. While the commercial was for the biggest chain in town, everybody in the room has been there a hundred times over and everyone wanted something else. Now you have a room full of hungry people who want pizza and no destination.
Who is going to suggest a bad pizza joint in a room full of friends?
The guy that wants to be taunted by his peers for years to come?
The guy that wants to be reminded every Sunday that he should never be allowed an opinion on food again? The answer is, nobody wants to make a bad suggestion amongst friends.
Their opinions of you matter to you, so you would only make suggestions that you believe would please them.
Let’s look more in-depth and consider something that’s a little further from your personal circle of influence. You have gone out of town for the weekend on a little getaway. You arrive Friday evening and are checking into your hotel. After a few hours on the road, you realize that you’re starving. You pull out your smart phone and do a search for restaurants that are near where you are. You find a burger joint that sounds appealing and had 3 out of 3 positive reviews. So you ask the hotel clerk her opinion of the restaurant. She says that she’s not a fan of the buns and believes there is a much better place just a few blocks away. Where do you believe you will be dining that evening? Even a perfect stranger’s word of mouth recommendation rates higher to most individuals than any written ad or recommendation.
I believe you see the high value of a personal recommendation. So how does that transfer to traditional advertising and social media? I’ll start with addressing traditional advertising. I have yet to see how it can manage to keep pace with word of mouth. The closest it comes is through passing on positive customer feedback, charitable actions and survey results. In today’s ad world, you equally don’t necessarily trust that the feedback is legitimate, if the survey results are tainted or paid for and a whole slew of other trust issues.
Traditional media is a one way discussion. There is no ability to interact with it, question it, have discussions with it or be engaged in any way. The message that you are hearing through any form of traditional media (TV ads, Radio, Newspapers, Magazines, Direct Mail, etc…) has been distorted in a manner to which you are only given information that is entirely beneficial to the company, not the consumer. Does any company spend money on ads that they intend to lose money or business with? Of course not!
Based solely on that understanding, every ad made is to be questioned. Do you remember the last time you saw a commercial from a delivery company explaining that they mess up an average of 25 deliveries a day? No, you hear about the promise of deliveries before noon. When that doesn’t happen twice in one week, are you able to record your own commercial or make your own print ad and represent the truth of the matter? Most of us do not have the means to afford such efforts. This is where we move into social media.
Social Media is a blend of traditional advertising and word of mouth.
The secret to the social media blend is the engagement. If you run your ad on Facebook or Twitter, you will have a response. People will share their opinions of your company message. As an interested consumer, I am able to see both the good and the bad of your company and therefore, can make a far more informed decision. As a company manager, I can see problems being reported about my business that I might otherwise be unaware of. With that information, I am able to address the mistakes while they are still small. Of course, if you are running a shady business, social media will not be your friend. If you are a struggling car shop and are beginning the practice of fixing things that aren’t broken for the extra income, you will find the feedback through social media to be paralyzing.
On top of the more popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, there are a growing number of mobile location-based services. The industry leaders are Yelp and Foursquare with many other small players entering the category every month. This gives a consumer the ability to find quality products and services on the go no matter where they are. If you popped a tire out of town, you won’t have a reference on who to use. Welcome to geo-location! I would go to FourSquare and search for local tire repair/replacement companies. Let’s say it gives me 6 results in a 5 mile radius. I would read the reviews of all 6. Based on what I read, the shop that impressed me the most with their feedback would be the place that earned my business.
Consider that last portion.
The tire company couldn’t have advertised to me in a traditional sense because I was from out of town. The only tools I had to use were the internet and customer feedback.
This is where social media and to an even further degree, geo-location actually use word of mouth to either promote or destroy your business.
While the opinions of others is considered less valuable than a personal aquaintance’s opinion.
It is far more valuable than a TV or magazine ad.
In order to grow your business, you are going to need to win over the public.
Social Media is the current catalyst for managing just that. While you may have to defend some of your company’s actions and statements, you have the ability to address and win over skeptics in a way not available to business owners before. Your relationship with your customers is the number 1 determinate in whether or not they will be a repeat customer.
Their word of mouth about your relationship determines how many of their peers become your customers.
Word of mouth, nothing is more powerful.