Social Media Word of Mouth

The power of word of mouth in marketing a small business has been well-known for decades. In today’s online age, entrepreneurs are looking for ways to harness the power of connectivity across the Internet and social media to increase both the reach and frequency of word of mouth marketing. Whitney Lemon, host of  Friday 15: Small Business Tips, part of Google’s Get Your Business Online series, offers some ideas on how small businesses can use social media to get more word of mouth occurring about their brands.


Studies show that approximately 70% of people trust opinions of friends when making buying decisions, and 40% trust the opinions of someone trustworthy whom they don’t personally know. What are some obvious truths about word of mouth that small businesses may overlook?

When considering word of mouth as it spreads across social networks, we’re really talking about a greater form of word of mouth: digital word of mouth at scale. Social media allows small businesses a gateway to harness word of mouth recommendations from customers and fans of the business, and spread that word far and wide—in many cases reaching new regions and markets that previously may not have been penetrated by this knowledge. 


What attributes of social media make it so indispensable to spreading the word about a small business in today’s environment?

According to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, every month 70% of social media users spend time reading about other users’ experiences, 53% compliment brands, 50% express concerns/complaints about a brand or service, and 47% share monetary incentives with their networks. Social media interaction is simply what consumers are doing, it is how they are spending their time. To capitalize on this knowledge, small businesses are crafting marketing initiatives around these consumers, providing them with engaging and worthwhile experiences to capture their attention on the networks and platforms where they’re already spending time.  


How does a “good” reputation (or a “bad” one) pervade a business’s online presence?

In 2012, the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer found that a consumer who has enjoyed a positive experience with a brand shares that experience with an average of 43 people. A consumer who has a negative experience with a brand or service tells an average of 52 people. In other words, negative experiences tend to move people into greater action—they want to spread the word farther, and make sure as many people find out about it as possible.  


Say you discover that there’s some negative or inaccurate information going around about your small business. What are some tips for developing an effective response?

If you monitor the channels where consumers are having conversations about your businesses and see something that needs addressing, calmly and respectfully open a dialogue with the user. Many customers who leave negative feedback are mainly looking for recognition that their voice is being heard. Addressing their concern and informing them of a way to be in touch with you, offline or online, to further the discussion and reach a resolution is usually appreciated. 


Many in-person customer issues are resolved privately; does the same practice hold for social media?

Taking the discussion off of the public forum for speedier resolution is fine, but a transparent strategy works best. Use the same medium as the customer did to reply to their statement, even if you’re directing them offline for a resolution. Future users who stumble across the information online will see your business is responsive and quick to resolve issues. 


What are the three “must-have” social media tools every small business should at least consider if they don’t have them already?

  • Social media dashboard programs that allow you to manage all of your social media posts from one location can help you stay organized and save time.
  • URL shortening services such as Google’s URL shortener ( are essential to make links convenient, or when working with character limits.
  • Above all else, you must be able to write and listen well to be successful in social media.  

Similarly, what are some things to consider when evaluating whether a particular tool can help your small business?

  • Does the tool increase efficiency or add unnecessary complexity to the process?
  • Does the tool allow multiple users to access accounts?
  • Are there up-front or recurring costs to use the service?

With so many Tweets, Facebook and Google+ posts, and other messages out there, what are some ways to ensure a small business’s messages stand out, or have “staying power”?

More than simply making one message stand out for a long period of time, “staying power” in social media is more about a consistent cadence of good content and personable interactions that build trust and an expectation that the content will continue to be valuable in the future.


Is it possible to overuse social media and risk becoming a nuisance that people will tune out? If so, what are some ways to avoid this?

  • Social media should be an extension of your personality or your brand identity. Keep your messages relevant to your brand and your fans, and target posts to specific segments of your audience whenever possible.
  • Post unique and engaging content that your fans can’t get anywhere else. Examples include insider interviews, tips specific to your product or service, sneak previews of upcoming events, and product releases.

Should your social media strategy differ if you’re marketing to Baby Boomers as opposed to, say, Millennials?

Yes. Different audiences have different sensibilities and senses of humor, and are inclined to engage (not to mention, be motivated to purchase) by different kinds of content. As with any marketing/advertising, know your target audience—what motivates them, what their interests are, etc. 


What are some good tools for helping gauge the effectiveness of your social media strategy?

Google Analytics includes a set of social media reports that allow you to track conversions, sources and sharing. The Conversions report allows you to quantify the value of social media, as it shows conversion rates and the monetary value of conversions that occurred due to referrals from each social network. The Social Sources report shows the initial paths that visitors from social networks took through your site, and engagement and conversion metrics for each social network. The Social Plugins report shows the most commonly shared articles on your site, and which social buttons are being clicked to share them (e.g., Google “+1”, Facebook Like). Additionally, the Activity Stream shows how visitors engage with your content on websites external of your own.


What are some tips for keeping your messages fresh and relevant to current and potential customers?

There are literally dozens, many of which I share in my post on the SCORE Small Business Success Blog, 40 Ideas for Social Media Content

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About the Author

Whitney Lemon

Whitney Lemon- Friday 15 Host, Google Small Business Engagement

Whitney hosts Friday 15: Small Business Tips, Google's series to help small businesses succeed online, in 15 minutes or less.  Friday 15 is  part of Google's Get Your Business Online program providing small businesses with a custom domain name and web hosting-- free for one year.