Never underestimate the power of positive word of mouth.

Shout-outs. Positive comments. Reviews and recommendations.

At a glance, these might seem like little more than pleasantries for your business.

The reality? Customer conversations are among your most valuable marketing assets. This is especially true for brands in crowded industries (think: ecommerce, SaaS) where it’s so simple to bounce to a competitor.

And despite popular belief, driving more discussions and recommendations doesn’t happen organically or by accident.

With a defined word of mouth marketing strategy, you can create a consistent flow of customer conversations that regularly result in new business. In this guide, we’ll show you how it’s done.

  • What is word of mouth marketing, anyway?
  • The not-so-hidden power of word of mouth advertising
  • How to build a word of mouth marketing strategy: 8 tactics and examples

What is word of mouth marketing, anyway?

Word of mouth marketing represents brand promotion that’s driven by customer experiences and stories. Common examples include product recommendations, reviews and customer photos. These stories and experiences are typically shared organically (think: not paid), although brands can prompt customers to share them as well. 

Although word of mouth marketing is a form of advertising, keep in mind that WOM doesn’t represent an ad or ads. Far from it, actually.

In most cases, word of mouth is totally free. Organic conversations, feedback and reviews can’t quite literally be bought. This is why word of mouth has such a positive connotation: it’s advertising that often occurs without any sort of sales pitch or sleazy tactics.

Gymshark, Threadless and Casper are shining examples of brands that flourished thanks to community-building and word of mouth. Companies with plenty of positive buzz and frequent social mentions grow rapidly in the age of social media.

What are some examples of word of mouth marketing?

Good question! Here are the most common types of word of mouth marketing that consumers encounter in the wild:

  • Social shout-outs. This includes @mentions of your brand and tagged posts.
  • Employee advocacy. In short, this is when employees or colleagues boost your promotions and content on their own accounts.
  • User-generated content and hashtags. When customers share photos of their photos, experiences or purchases. Typically, these posts are attached to brand @mentions and hashtags.
  • Reviews. Either on-site, social media, Google or third-party review aggregators.
  • Blog postspress mentions and earned media. Coverage in industry publications is a powerful form of word of mouth typically reserved for brands doing something truly noteworthy.
  • Brand ambassadors. In short, customers who consistently promote your products and brand in exchange for discounts or products.

There is no “best” type of word of mouth. Likewise, most brands benefit from having multiple types of conversations around their business as they build trust with different audiences.

For example, user-generated content is more relevant to a past customer that hasn’t made a purchase recently. rating or review is most valuable to someone researching a brand for the first time or buying a new product. See how that works?

The not-so-hidden power of word of mouth advertising

To say that word of mouth is an underrated marketing technique would be an understatement.

In fact, recent research from R.R. Donnelly notes that most consumers (28%) prefer to learn about new brands or products via word of mouth (note that social media close behind at 23%).

But contrast that with the meager 4% of marketers that feel that same.

The disconnect here is telling, though. Consumers overwhelmingly prefer to learn about and research products organically via conversations versus being bashed over the head with ads.

But the data above highlights how marketers at large are still missing this.

Translation? There’s a massive window of opportunity for brands that can effectively encourage and leverage positive word of mouth. Consider the key benefits of doing so below:

1. Increased trust and brand visibility

A staggering 75% of shoppers evaluate and discover products via online reviews and shared content.

Although this isn’t a huge surprise, this stat showcases the importance of people shouting you out.

Consider how the volume of conversations impacts your ability to create awareness. This is fairly obvious on social media: the more positive mentions, the better.

But what about product pages? Search engines? Review sites?

All of these represent places to not only establish trust and increase visibility with customer conversations.

For example, ecommerce brands rely on star ratings and positive reviews to convert first-time customers and skeptics. When your product boasts thousands of positive reviews, that trust is pretty much immediate.

 

The same rules apply for SaaS brands. Review aggregation sites are crucial for software brands, as is Google search. Again, a high volume of positive ratings results in greater visibility.

And on the flip side, ask yourself: when’s the last time you bought something from a brand with no reviews or significant social presence?

2. Make a meaningful impact on customers through authenticity

Keep in mind that in-depth reviews aren’t the be-all, end-all of word of mouth marketing.

Heck, even the simplest of social shout-outs and recommendations are invaluable for scoring sales.

Food for thought: recent research from Bazaarvoice notes that recommendations from everyday social media users (36%) are the most meaningful to consumers, handily beating out influencers and even subject matter experts.

That’s because social comments are unfiltered and authentic. This circles back to what we said earlier about diversifying your word of mouth marketing: off-the-cuff conversations and formal reviews are both beneficial in their own way.

3. Earn long-term brand loyalty

Encouraging conversations among your audience is central to building customer relationships and, in turn, brand loyalty.

There’s a reason why so many ecommerce brands are going all-in on user-generated content and hashtag campaigns that require customers to share photos and reviews — they get people talking.

Look no further than the recent boom of brand ambassador programs as evidence of how well word of mouth works. When done right, such programs serve as a goldmine of content and social proof.

How to build a word of mouth marketing strategy: 8 tactics and examples

Perhaps the biggest upside of word of mouth marketing is that any type of brand can get on board.

Regardless of your budget or industry, there are actionable steps you can take to encourage more comments, recommendations and reviews from your customers. Below we’ve broken down eight tactics to try.

1. Boost positive social comments and customer stories

This is probably the most straightforward way to start building a sense of community and driving conversations.

In short, make a conscious effort to integrate customer reposts (think: retweets, regrams, reposts) into your content strategy.

Doing so represents a low-hanging tactic to highlight that you’re listening to your customers and want to hear from them. This likewise breaks the monotony of purely promotion posts while also saying “Hey, check out our satisfied customers.”

Random photo tag? Someone share a positive review? Boost it!

2. Extend your brand’s reach through employee advocacy

This is especially important for B2B brands.

If you’re posting solely from a brand account, your reach is largely restricted to our own followers.

But if you have your employees boost your content, you’re immediately reaching an exponentially larger network.

Think about it. Ever notice that a lot of brand content on LinkedIn doesn’t rack up a ton of likes and shares? Seems like personal counts get the most love, right?

Whether you have just a few or a few hundred employees, investing in an employee advocacy program is a surefire way to introduce your brand to more players in your industry. As an added bonus, employee advocacy is an example of word of mouth marketing where your brand has a sense of control over conversations and comments.

Check out Bambu by Sprout if you’re interested in getting your employee advocacy efforts off the ground!

3. Actively gather and and curate user-generated content

While big-box brands can generate user-generated content by simply existing, up-and-coming brands need to actively promote their company #hashtags and customer photo campaigns.

Likewise, you can’t be shy about asking people to share photos and feedback. If your tags are underperforming or you want to increase the visibility of your UGC, consider:

  • Feature a hashtag (and call-to-action) in your bio (think: Instagram, Twitter) encouraging people to share photos
  • Include invitations for customers to promote hashtags on-site, in-person and via email (see an example below)
  • Regularly publish and repost UGC as part of your content calendar (circle back to tactic #1)

4. Monitor mentions and respond ASAP to keep conversations rolling

When word of mouth ramps up, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

Sure, conversations with customers are awesome.

But when they start flooding your @mentions and inbox, you have to start prioritizing tasks and making sure you’re responding accordingly. After all, your responses highlight your brand voice and likewise signal that you want to hear from your customers.

Other priority tasks to take care of as you keep an eye on your mentions include:

  • Responding to all customer questions, comments and concerns
  • Defusing difficult situations and negative comments (hint: escalation management)
  • Keeping track of your conversation history so you can build better relationships with customers

This is where a tool like Sprout Social can help in a big way. With our Smart Inbox, you have a bird’s eye view of all your social media mentions and messages across all platforms. You can also measure your average response time and make notes on specific customers.

5. Ask for reviews and recommendations directly (hint: provide an incentive)

Fact: 41% of shoppers say that “robust” online reviews (featuring photos, keywords and more) are important for a positive shopping experience.

As noted earlier, a lack of meaningful reviews is a red flag for new customers. Getting more reviews not only represents positive word of mouth but also a proven way to gain trust.

Much like UGC, sometimes scoring reviews is as simple as asking. Ideally, this can be done non-intrusively via email. Many brands implement post-purchase autoresponders to ask for reviews by default, meaning that each purchase is a potential opportunity to earn a much-needed review.

But how you ask for reviews matters. Beyond putting on a smiling face, also consider additional incentives (think: discounts or free shipping). Your customers’ time is valuable and sweetening the deal is worth it if it means a rave review.

6.  Assemble your army of influencers and brand ambassadors

Although most word of mouth marketing is focused on organic engagement, don’t neglect the value of influencer marketing.

Having influencers shout out your product or give it a review not only introduces you to a new audience but once again serves as social proof. In fact, recent data shows that reviews are actually considered “the most valuable type of content” that influencers publish. Chances are there are relevant influencers out there that’d be the perfect fit for your brand.

If you already have a dedicated customer base, you might alternatively consider starting your own ambassador program. Doing so does require an investment of time as you manage relationships with your ambassadors. That said, fostering a community of people that already love your product is easier than reaching out to influencers cold.

7. Provide customer service that overdelivers

It’s been proven time and time again that social customers will show unprompted love to brands that provide stellar support and service.

For example, brands like Sweetwater and Chewy are regularly praised and put on a pedestal for regularly going above and beyond for their customers.

Remember that customer service and word of mouth go hand in hand. Stepping up your response time and personalizing customer care can cement your positive reputation.

8. Run campaigns that are actually worth talking about

Piggybacking on the point above, word of mouth promotion isn’t something you can force.

Instead, you encourage it.

And what better way to get people talking than actually doing something that gets people buzzing? We’re not talking about PR stunts or viral marketing attempts, but rather:

  • Launching a genuinely unique or high-remand product
  • Running a creative campaign or giveaway
  • Promoting a steep offer or sale

We get it: “just do something awesome” is easier said than done. Even so, injecting a bit of excitement and creativity into your social content can go a long way.

What does your word of mouth marketing strategy look like?

Listen: word of mouth should be a top priority for any business today.

But this is particularly true if you’re selling through social media.

As consumers become wary of ads and seek out authentic recommendations, word of mouth becomes even more valuable. Ask yourself: what does your strategy look like?

If you need more inspiration or are looking to build a tight-knit community that talks up your business, make sure to check out our guide to building customer relationships.