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According to stats compiled by Yotpo, a reviews and user-generated content marketing platform for online businesses, 74 percent of consumers consider word of mouth to be significant in influencing their purchasing decisions, while a whopping 92 percent trust recommendations from friends and family over literally all other forms of advertising. Even the words of strangers carry significant weight with 68 percent trusting opinions from others found online.

The bottom line is that word-of-mouth marketing is perhaps the most important kind of marketing you can hope to succeed in. It's not the easiest to take full advantage of, but there's no better way to gain new customers because consumers view opinions of third parties as more authentic than those of the company itself.

An effective word-of-mouth marketing strategy is a goal every business should strive for. Offering a great product or service and treating your customers well are good ways to start. These are certainly key components of generating positive word of mouth, but there are also tactics you can employ to get the ball rolling.

Establish yourself as an expert

If you have enough expertise in your field to run a business, you have enough to share with others.

Don't be afraid to put it out there, because it establishes trust and authority, and these are qualities that both consumers and influencers respond to. People want to see that you know what you're talking about, and if they believe that you do, they are more likely to do business with you and recommend your business to others.

Have a presence on social media - not just a brand presence, but a personal presence that you use to engage on a real, human level. This isn't the place to crank out constant updates on products/services. This is where you should be having real conversations both industry-related and non-industry related. Be yourself and use your voice.

Create thoughtful content related to what you offer without being promotional - the kind of content you might share with your colleagues. As you grow your own network, those in it will share that content with others in their networks.

Content can come in the form of blog posts or tweets and other social media posts. Ideally, it should be a mix. Be sure to share content you create on one platform (e.g., a blog) on other platforms (e.g., Twitter and LinkedIn). On sites like LinkedIn, you can publish articles (by using the “Write an article” feature) so they show up on your profile. Cultivate an audience, engage with that audience, and get your authoritative, share-worthy content to that audience.

Just don't make it all about you. Share other relevant content and add your own commentary as appropriate. People will begin to understand where you're coming from, and some will check out your business themselves out of curiosity or interest. If you stick with your presence and engage regularly, your messages will spread to more and more people, and recommendations can spawn from that.

Identify potential influencers

If you're doing well at establishing yourself as an expert, chances are some influencers will find you on their own as they're likely working on expanding their networks. Don't let this happen organically though.

You should spend some time seeking out influencers on your own. Find people on social media who speak to your target audience and have substantial reach. Try to connect with these people and get them to see you as an important voice. If you can get these influencers to share your content with their networks, you're looking at a tremendous boost in visibility, and some of that audience may even come over to your own social network.

Utilizing influencers doesn't stop at getting them to share your blog posts and social media content though. Find people with big audiences of people who include your ideal customers, and send your product to them or perform your service for them. You can get some important visibility out of this in addition to online reviews or at least public comments that are seen by those coveted audiences. (Be sure to follow FTC guidelines and other applicable regulations in this area.)

Support causes you and your customers are passionate about

Social media is also great for people who wish to discuss and show their support for certain causes, whether they relate to charity or a particular movement. Ask yourself what causes your customers care about. What causes do you personally care about? You can use your personal social media presence to engage in the discussion related to the cause, and you can publicly contribute.

You can even get your branded social media presence involved here as well. However, if the issue is a controversial one, you'll need to recognize that and consider how the message you're putting out there will be perceived. That doesn’t mean you must avoid a controversial cause if it's one you're passionate about and want your business aligned with. Just don't throw your brand into the discussion without contemplating the aftermath.

Showing support for a cause can help in the word-of-mouth department because others who are passionate about the same cause will recognize your support (make sure it’s genuine) and hopefully, remember to recommend your business. They may also take the initiative to share your message with their network upon seeing your support.

As you find local causes to get involved with, community word of mouth can be even more valuable.

Develop a referral program

Of course, nothing encourages word of mouth like a referral program.

You can incorporate both online and offline strategies for referral. For online, encourage customers to share your content and recommend your business to friends on social media or email by offering discounts or free products/services if possible. Again, the law may require disclosure of payments or gifts, so be sure your program is compliant.

For the offline world, you might have to get a little more creative, but this could be as simple as verbally telling an in-store customer about your program, and directing them to the appropriate online destination. Ask for their email and follow up with your referral program messaging.

Another option is to include information about your program on the customer's receipt, though you'll still want to point it out.

You can also develop relationships with other businesses in which you refer customers to each other. This works best for businesses that complement one another. For example, an auto repair business and an auto parts store might have such a relationship, which benefits both.

There are few things that can help improve your business's reputation and get you new customers the way word-of-mouth marketing can. While you don't need to be limited to these tactics, it's a good place to start.

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Nationwide is providing this information as part of its Business Solutions Center website content and e-newsletter. The information included on this e-newsletter and the Business Solutions Center website is designed for informational purposes only. It is not legal, tax, financial, or any other sort of advice; nor is it a substitute for such advice. The information may not apply to your specific situation. We have tried to make sure the information is accurate, but it could be outdated or even inaccurate, in parts. It is the reader's responsibility to comply with any applicable local, state, or federal regulations, and to make their own decisions about how to operate their business. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, its affiliates, and their employees make no warranties about the information, no guarantee of results, and assume no liability in connection with the information provided.