The restaurants you go to are the ones your friends review positively on Yelp. The books and video games you read and play are the ones your buddies are playing, and the movies you go to are the ones you and your friends or significant other agree you all have an interest in seeing. Word of mouth is one of, if not the, biggest factors in determining where and how we spend our money. So, how do you get good word of mouth going about your business or product?
Engage your community! It’s not entirely dissimilar to building a relationship with press and media contacts, really. Let’s put down the givens: Any media person knows you ultimately want coverage, and any potential consumer knows you want them to buy what you’re selling. Thing is, who are you more likely to buy from or tell other people about? The company who merely tells you the price, takes your money, and gives you what you paid for — or the person who put in the effort to talk with you, engage your interests, gets to know, and also has a nice product to offer?
I’ve read and heard a lot lately that reinforces this idea, especially in regards to how best to use Facebook as a company. While I don’t always agree (okay, I pretty much always don’t) with a lot of their changes and unannounced implementations, I’m coming to understand them at least. They’re all about marketing for businesses first, and social networking with your friends second. Hence the constant privacy issues — these are really intended to sort of force word of mouth to benefit businesses.
Love it or hate it, Facebook is an ideal place to engage your audience and build that community–don’t just post about your product, but talk to the people who are following your page! I’ve been trying to do this more lately myself, and so far, I have to agree that I think it’s been working. Maybe only a few people will reply, but it’s good to get conversations going, get an idea of what they like, what they’re interested in, and there’s no downside to this. At worst, you get a friendly rapport going. At best, you’ve got that and you get insights into what they want to see from you and your products.
Forums are another great place to do this. For Phoenix Online, our strength has always been our forum community. After all, we started as a fangame project and it was 8 years before we had a product finally ready to release. Yet without any product at all, when we got a Cease & Desist order, our fans felt passionately enough to bombard that company with mail and calls begging them to let us continue making The Silver Lining! A free game, one they had not even seen, had no money invested in, nothing. And it worked! Then, a few years later, it happened again (the IP changed hands in the meantime), they went to bat for us again and again, it worked! Our community is that strong, and I freakin’ love them for it. Our forum can be a silly place, but it’s great. Supportive, polite, passionate, fun, and I absolutely consider it one of the best things about us. I’d also estimate that a good 75% of the topics and active threads and posts there are not related to our games at all.
In the end, it’s your fans who will make or break you. Word of mouth is stronger than ever, because now it doesn’t just involve mentioning a store or a good repair shop to your neighbor at work. The internet means your word of mouth can reach around the globe. So talk to your fans, engage the community, and don’t always be pitching — relax and have fun with them! Be silly! You’re all here out of a common interest, after all.