Digital Word of Mouth: Consumers Have Unprecedented Access, Here’s How to Manage It

Engagement isn’t about "pouring" your message. Instead, it is more about being present in the conversation when your consumer wants to have it, not when you want to...

When a consumer hears about a product today, their first reaction is ‘Let me search for it online.’

That statement itself is obvious, but do you understand the meaning behind it? The discovery journey your customer goes on to learn about your products and services?

Every so often, something comes along and changes the rulebook. This could be a change in the Google algorithm, a new technology or a social network that lets you share information. And with changes comes another trend that a brand feels they must jump on even if they don’t have a useful success metric.

Many small businesses enter a state of euphoria when consumers like a simple Facebook post, even though a much smaller segment of their audience took a deeper commitment by actually sharing that post with their network.

In the pursuit of engagement, small businesses pour their messages down on consumers’ heads and hope that some of them get wet. However, engagement isn’t about “pouring” your message. Instead, it is more about being present in the conversation when your consumer wants to have it, not when you want to share it.


The Emergence of Pre-Shopping Access

Admittedly a few years before my time, there was a point where big-ticket items such as cars, homes or expensive electronics received a majority of the pre-shopping attention. Today, consumers engage in discovery before shopping on just about everything.

This new shopping behavior means that consumers are exposed to different elements of a brand much earlier in the purchase cycle. So as a marketer how do you accommodate for this? How do you successfully deliver ‘your’ message, even when so many other channels are telling potential customers what they should think about you in advance?

As a small business marketer you must first understand that there are no barriers to access.

Today’s shoppers carry access in their pockets with smartphones, laptops and tablets. “We simply want a website that is informational,” shouldn’t be in your company vocabulary.

Consumers are now creating their own consumer guides with reviews, tweets, blogs, social network posts and videos for products of all kinds including yours. As marketers this has created an entirely different conversation.

Don’t believe me?

Open up a new window tab and type the name of your company’s flagship product. Hopefully you rank near the top of search engine results. Now add the word reviews. Most likely you will see ratings and opinion sites, online stores, images, coupons, demonstration videos, social network pages … and even competitive sites.

My question for you is this: Could you even find your product? If you found it were you happy with what you saw? Based on what you saw, will somebody buy your product?

This is where brands win or lose customers; this is where engagement and truly being present is most important.


How Digital Word of Mouth Impacts your Business

Shopper Sciences partnered with Google, in 2011, to produce a comprehensive study which came to the conclusion that an average of 10.4 new media or traditional sources were being utilized as research by consumers before a purchase was made. This number represents 2x the sources used just the year before.

Word of mouth has spread into the digital medium through these sources and instead of being one-to-one it is one-to-millions.

So it is understandable to have anxiety about online ratings and reviews – especially when it comes to opening up your own website for user comments to drive deeper levels of engagement.

What if somebody says something negative? What if a whole lot of people do?

My response is usually to take a deep breath and relax. Most word of mouth is positive.

According to Bazaarvoice, 80% of product ratings are 4 or 5 stars out of 5. Negative reviews and how your small business deals with them can add authenticity, truthfulness and transparency — ultimately building more trust among prospective buyers. If the product you’re marketing is truly a good one you shouldn’t fear the occasional negative comment. Whether it’s on a medium you control or a number of other channels that consumers utilize, it will happen regardless.

However, something that you control or a medium that your brand is actively involved in gives you the chance to make things right with customers. Ideally, every small business should create a plan in advance for handling negative comments and reviews. You may very well still lose the customer that posted the negative comment, but by choosing not to engage you’ve allowed the opportunity for competitors to grab other customers that were originally interested in your product.

Welcoming the word of mouth conversation online has to be at the core of every small business these days.


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