In the not-so-old days, word-of-mouth recommendations occurred just that way. Individuals (including employees of larger organizations) would tell others about their experiences with you, usually through first-hand communication, perhaps by phone, at social gatherings, or chatting on the street. If you wanted to leverage or accelerate word-of-mouth’s power, your most powerful tool, generally, would be the conventional news media. It took (and still takes) skill to obtain positive media publicity, but a positive story about your business in a reader-relevant publication could bootstrap your business to the stratosphere.
If something went wrong, you generally would suffer a gradual decline, unless you did something so incredibly bad that you “earned” truly negative media publicity. You could, in theory, rebuild your reputation and start afresh, with a bit of patience and perhaps by moving to a new market. I use the words “in theory” because it is hard for anyone to change, and you most likely would repeat your errors and experience the consequential results.)
Today, the traditional word-of-mouth options remain, but have been supplemented and even overpowered by online media. Peer review sites and rating systems have become big businesses. Social media allows the word-of-mouth message to flash instantly among friends, acquaintances and then to strangers. Most painfully (or positively), the word-of-mouth record remains intact. It doesn’t go away. It may fade slightly, but if someone wants to find it through Internet search, then it will emerge loud and clear just when you either want or don’t want it to be seen.
These facts result in some concepts, which apply in traditional circumstances but even more vitally in the online world.
It is (almost always) what you achieve, not what you say.
Genuine word-of-mouth reputation is earned through performance. You can say you have “great customer service” but these words from your mouth are meaningless or even counter-productive. However, if several dozen of your customers openly and positively extoll their service experience in videos and online posts, then your claim has been achieved.
You need to watch what you say: Everyone is watching, and the watching never ends.
We’ve seen presidential candidate Mitt Romney got caught out, after he made some disparaging remarks about lower-income people to what he perceived would be a private rich-persons’ fund-raiser. In Romney’s case, someone in the room (a bartender later said he made the video) had a cellphone camera to record things. Michael Stone takes these thoughts a step further in his reminder that if you use language or express political thoughts that might offend some of your potential clients, these remarks could come back to haunt you later.
You should gather and encourage all the positive testimonials you can, if possible, by making it very easy for enthusiastic clients to express them.
Timetohire.com uses a video testimonial/recording service, for example. Michael Jeffries has tools that encourage and allow you to gather strong written testimonials, quickly. You want to control as much as possible the testimonial process and not leave it to third-party services who can trap you with onerous contracts in case you want to take fullest advantage of the good-news testimonial.
Note that these concepts only will help your business if things are right from the start. While it is possible in theory to “seed” positive public testimonials through support from friends, family and maybe a few real clients who truly enjoy your services, you should not delude yourself that your self-generated testimonials really will work in the long-term unless you can earn real testimonials from the majority of your clients.
I’ll conclude with an example of how negative testimonials can bite and interfere with the best-laid marketing plans.
Through a Tweet, I saw a reference from a writer/consultant to a blog posting with what I thought might be some credible and useful advice suitable for this blog. I followed the link trail to the consultant’s site, where he promoted his book. I then went to amazon.com (directed there by the author) and discovered a slightly higher than a three-star rating based on 19 reviews.
My first reaction: Why are five of the 19 reviews one star (he also had 10 five star ratings)? I didn’t go to the five star ratings — I went to the one-star ones. After reading these, I decided not to purchase nor promote the book, nor give any sort of positive publicity to the consultant. See this review, for example:
First of all, this book isn’t 90 pages. It’s a lousy 74. After I finished reading it I felt thoroughly gyped for the amount I paid for it. More than 13 dollars for 74 pages? Gimme a break! And this book is actually 19 dollars retail price!!! If the book had cost me 1 dollars I would have given it 3 stars because that’s what the common sense advice in this book is worth. 1 dollar! I’ve read 10 times better books than this that gave better advice, cost less and had more pages. The content in this book has been covered by other books that are far better like the Go-giver. I suspect the positive reviews from this book are friends or contacts of the author or something. I thought about buying this book earlier in the year but my intuition told me not too. Lesson learned: Don’t ignore your intuition. I now realize to be a savvy book buyer you have to look not only at the over-all rating but the number of people who reviewed this book. Only 11! Are the reviews long with paragraphs or just a short review with just a few sentences? If it’s short that means to me they didn’t commit to the book or probably haven’t read it even if they gave it a disingenuous 5 stars or not. Does amazon let you peek inside the book at its content? You don’t have that option with this horrible book. This book arrived on April Fool’s day and take it from me. If you want to feel like a fool you will buy the book.
Achh. I won’t name the author, nor the book, here because of my policy not to identify negatively individuals nor organizations in this blog except in exceptional circumstances.
In the real world, there will always be a few nay-sayers, and in fact, some people are wary when every single review (if there are many) is 100 per cent positive. (One person, alas, gave my own book a one star review. Ouch.) They think there may be some trick behind the story. But we can’t cover up who we really are, and we are most likely to be “outed” if we stray to far in the online space with careless or irresponsbile comments, or we fail to deliver the service and value clients have the right to expect.
Do good. Earn your word of mouth. Then control and manage things so the good news is spread under your control, not that of third-party review sites.