Online Influencers: The New Word-of-Mouth


      Bookmark and Share

BEST PRACTICES SERIES

So much of the internet is about celebrating cats that I thought it was high time I finally gave mine the shout-out they deserve. For the past year or so, I've been schlepping to the pet store every week to stock up on cat food. I have two mature cats who are now (much to my vet's delight) on a wet food diet. Keeping up with this is expensive and time-consuming. It's also a bit confusing, trying to figure out how much to feed them--mostly because one is lazy and has a slow metabolism, and the other has always been more active. Apparently, I was getting it wrong, because the vet told me I needed to up their calorie intake.

This was my breaking point. I decided to do some research and eventually chose to set up an auto-ship order with a website. Not only was the food less expensive, but many of the brands include auto-ship discounts, and the shipping is free (for orders of $49 or more). I put together an order for every 4 weeks and forgot about it.

Then, right before my second order went out, I got an email reminding me that it would be filled soon; if I wanted to make any changes, now was the time. As it happened, I did want to make some changes. The cats were not thrilled with the limited ingredient food I'd ordered-which resulted in them leaving it to sit, until the dog came along and ate it. A change was needed.

A few months later, one of the brands I'd put in my order was temporarily out of stock. I received a phone call and an email informing me of this. The rest of my order would be sent out, but if I wanted to replace the item with something else, I needed to let customer service know, so they could waive the delivery fee, if it didn't meet the $49 minimum. I picked out another brand, sent customer service an email, and within a few minutes, I had a confirmation of the addition to my order. I was so impressed with the customer service that I decided to write this column.

That's what we all want, right? For people to love what our companies offer so much that not only will they pay for it, but they decide to tell the world about it. Such is the power of word-of-mouth or, in a more modern parlance, online influencers.

I'm sure most marketers and PR professionals would love nothing more than for their product to catch the eye of a magazine editor who writes a column about it-except maybe for their product to catch the eye of a 15-year-old YouTube star with an enormous audience. Influence has been redistributed, especially in the business-to-consumer (B2C) world. While it may be difficult to find a YouTube star with the clout and charisma to help you sell a new web content management (WCM) system, there are plenty who can endorse your new chip flavor or nail polish color. On the B2B side, people turn more to LinkedIn Influencers and others who have built a reputation as industry experts.

Many companies pay these influencers to review their products or to get them to participate in challenges designed to build awareness. But the most important word-of-mouth is the kind you earn, not the kind you buy. That means you need to build brand advocates organically.

You need to have a product that inspires something bordering on love in your users. We can't all be Apple-the gold standard when it comes to enthusiastic brand advocates-but there is no use spending time and resources cultivating relationships with online influencers if your product is going to let them down when they receive it.

You need to identify the influencers in your niche who might be open to developing a mutually beneficial relationship. You can't just send someone your product or a trial code and hope for the best. If you've found a truly influential voice in your industry, then he or she is probably being inundated with requests for reviews. Building a relationship with your target influencer before you ever mention your product will be infinitely helpful to your outreach efforts.

Above all else, be honest and open because you need them to do the same with their audience. The only thing more important than good word-of-mouth is trust.