Mouthing Off: Customer Evangelism Takes On New Media

Here is your reality as a communications professional: The swell of new media platforms has shifted control from the hands of select corporate executives to those of their once-passive stakeholders. Now the organization's reputation is vulnerable to the uncontrolled commentary of anyone and everyone in cyberspace, and the messages that the communications team does create are then sent out into the world to live on forever. Scary, huh? Obviously, this reality brings all new meaning to the concept of word-of-mouth marketing, as this now encompasses all conversations that take place online. Consider it "word- of-mouse" marketing, as dubbed by Ann Videan of Videan Unlimited Marketing Connections. This evolution requires communications executives to implement more advanced strategies in using and tracking the benefits of WOM, while protecting against the inherent dangers. After all, according to Jackie Huba of Creating Customer Evangelists, "customer evangelists" help: Spread news; Recruit new customers; Improve your communications approach; Defend you against criticism; and, Support you. When outlining a strategy for enhancing your company's word-of-mouth marketing and creating customer evangelists, first consider this preliminary approach, offered by Videan during a recent PR News Webinar: *Create and Maintain Customer Evangelists: Videan emphasizes the importance of finding out who is already talking about your product/service, and then delivering information in their preferred method of receipt. Systematically feed them valuable information that they will turn around and disseminate through their own network of people; if possible, let your greatest evangelists try out your product or service so they can spread the word as informed users. The key to this, though, is having an exceptional product or service in the first place; you can't fix something that isn't broken, and you certainly can't sell something that is. *Identify Influencers in Your Markets: Ask your customers the following questions: Who do you respect in your industry? Where do you get industry information? What associations do you belong to? Then, search the Web with these questions in mind to identify key industry people: Who is quoted in online articles? Who's blogging in your industry? Who can give you the best feedback on your product/service? The answers to these questions, coupled with extensive research on who and what the prominent media outlets in your industry cover, will form your target audience for WOM outreach. Videan and Huba have both cited the Build-a-Bear Workshop and Southwest Airlines as examples worth emulating, pointing out six tenets for creating a consumer evangelism plan both company's executives embodied: 1. Customer plus-delta 2. Napsterize your knowledge 3. Build the buzz 4. Create community 5. Make bite-size chunks 6. Create a cause When combined, these tenets take a remarkable product or service, make true believers out if its consumer base, and then compel them to use passionate persuasion to create other evangelists. But what about the digital stratosphere of influence? That is where things get really crazy, with blog posts and YouTube videos flying from user to user at warp speed. Forget about ever harnessing the level of control (you thought) you once had; rather, consider this strategic "digital influence" approach, based on a series of questions and offered by Ogilvy PR Managing Director/Executive Creative Director John Bell (see above graphic): Digital User Profiles: What devices and digital services are they using? Influencer Audit: Who are the influencers for an issue, brand or topic? Conversation Map: What is consumer-generated media saying about a topic, and how is the conversation unfolding? Multimedia Visibility: How do we help them find our video, audio and pictures, and offer them an emotional connection? Directory and Affiliate Program: Can we connect a network? Engagement Strategy: How do we put all this together and set the big idea into action? Bell describes a process of engagement that looks something like this: Consumers spend time with branded entertainment and task fulfillment, which prompts them to transition into the role of "content creators" in terms of product reviews, testimonials and blog posts. Through collaborative filtering - bookmarking, tagging, rating, voting and sharing - content creators become "co-creators," with conversations surrounding product feedback, blog posts and commentary, and message board posts. As co-creators, they then influence product/service innovation, advertising, sourcing and funding. Word-of-mouth (or "mouse") marketing is an intimidating concept for risk-averse corporate cultures, but it is a reality that must be embraced rather than avoided. After all, as so eloquently stated by Cone Executive Vice President Mike Lawrence, "The secret sauce is to lose control." CONTACTS: Amy Videan,; Jackie Huba,; John Bell,; Mike Lawrence, Required Summer Reading Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message, by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba (2007) Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, by Andy Sernovitz (2006) Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force, by Ben McConnell, Jackie Huba, and Guy Kawasaki (2002) The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell (2002) Unleashing the IdeaVirus, by Seth Godin (2001) 360-Degree Digital Influence Listen Feeds Collection Snapshot "Map" Crisis Monitoring Comprehensive Monitoring Strategy Digital User Profiles Influencer Audit Crisis Monitoring Search Visibility Plan Multimedia Visibility Directory & Affiliate Program Engagement Strategy Engagement Web 2.0 development Blog development & visibility Blogger relations SEO/Search engine marketing RSS/Content syndication WOM program development Digital Advocacy Microcasting Extranet/wiki development Source: Ogilvy PR Ogilvy Managing Director/Executive Creative Director John Bell offers a comprehensive strategy for establishing a 360-degree digital influence.

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