Make Gossip Work for You

The Internet is creating communities and relationships by making it easier to find people with similar interests and preferences. Social media is becoming a powerful tool for marketing. Could it work for your business?

Are you harnessing the power of gossip, communities, and social networking to promote your brand? Whether your brand is a product, a service, or yourself, this is the era of connectivity and belonging. The Internet has become a powerful medium for connecting people with more than information access. It is creating communities and relationships by making it easier to find individuals with similar interests and preferences. Tapping into this communication is the new face of marketing, and it has a new set of rules to go along with it.

The benefits of word-of-mouth endorsements have always been difficult to calculate. However, a study by Koen Pauwels of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College quantified social networking as 20 times more effective than traditional marketing efforts like print and television. The study concluded that social networking and communities are at least 30 times more effective than media events.

LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace provide powerful opportunities for social media and groups of online communities to share opinions and meet users with similar interests. “You can track how many invitations are being sent out, how many users responded, and when,” said Pauwels. “Quantifying word-of-mouth like this couldn’t be done before.”

Can word-of-mouth create a contagious appetite? In 2007, the estimated number of legal online music downloads exceeded 1,700,000,000. That is up 53% from the year before, 2006. The online music industry reached the $3 Billion mark. Artists are finding new ways to release songs, by marketing ringtones, video downloads that can be shared and forwarded to friends, or mobile tracks on the web. Of the 115 products that sold for 19 million units worldwide for Justin Timberlake, less than 20% was sold on CD.

Social Networking enables individuals to communicate and connect with one another. Community marketing engages audiences in non-intrusive conversations, activities, and benefits. Community marketing turns customers into advocates. Blogs, Wikis, Forums, and other online tools empower communication within the community of socially networked users.

One of the fundamental commandments of marketing in communities and social networking is to avoid marketing. Yes, that’s right, you must avoid marketing slogans, ploys, or tricks to market effectively to your advocates. Customers trust and respect other customers of similar opinions and tastes. Therefore, to market effectively, you must provide your advocates with information, facts, and a forum to exchange useful tips with one another. Mavens and Gurus will rise from among the ranks to espouse your products, your services, or yourself, if the facts are accurate and worthy of the support. The target market is always better at communicating your message and benefits than you are, so empower them and enable them to do so, then get out of the way.

It is estimated that by 2010, more than 60% of Fortune 1000 companies will have some form of online community for relationship marketing. Unfortunately, many of these companies may miss the mark by merely building and monitoring a forum for remarks. Many companies are wary of blogs, and the connotations of uncontrolled ranting and raving that has become synonymous with disgruntled employees creating blogs on the Internet. As the awareness of relationship marketing in social media and communities continues to increase, so the tools for connecting users must also evolve.

In the meantime, while we wait for online communities to evolve, there are opportunities for businesses and individuals to leverage a combination of tools available today. Create and maintain a web site as a means to communicate and share information. Sharing meaningful information is a good way to give something to your audience. Quoting endorsements, testimonials, and comments on your web site is a great way to demonstrate your awareness, acceptance, and appreciation for the community feedback. Your web site does not enable social interaction, but you can contribute to it, and demonstrate your support of it, by the information and feedback that you post.

In addition, leverage existing tools that enable users to post comments and interact with one another. You can keep these utilities completely separate from your web site. Blogs are a forum for users to communicate with direct and exposed feedback. Rather than avoid such unencumbered communication, you should cultivate it, even if at a distance. Monitoring the feedback on blogs may help you to determine the effectiveness of the communication on your hosted web site. You can measure the positive or negative unsolicited feedback, and use this insight to modify your messaging and strategy accordingly. This is much more effective than paying for expensive print advertising, and finding the results long after the investment is spent. Blogs can create some risk by the very nature of the open forum, so keeping a relatively safe distance may be appropriate to avoid some inappropriate or controversial topics or conversations.

LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace offer opportunities for controlled messaging, groups, communities, and communications for businesses and individuals. These utilities offer independent controls to mitigate the risk of inappropriate or controversial communications interfering with the user community experience. The reduced risk also reduces some of the flexibility for open communications, but that may be a small sacrifice in exchange for the structured environment, ease of use, and wide spread acceptance.

You may be promoting a brand, a product, a company, a service, or promoting yourself for another career. Whatever the purpose of your promotion, you will be more effective if you promote your advocates, and allow them to be the ones to promote you. Quote your advocates, build the credibility and awareness for your advocates, and support their success. It is by promoting, sustaining, and empowering your advocates as experts, that their opinions and support for you becomes even more credible and valuable. You will be 20 – 30 times more effective and successful by promoting your advocates, than you would be promoting yourself. Let your advocates do the promoting for you.

Remember to thank your advocates and let them know that they are appreciated. After all, they are the keepers of your reputation, your relationships, and your community.

Words of Wisdom

“Relationships of trust depend on our willingness to look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others.”
– Peter Farquharson

“I’m not afraid of facts, I welcome facts but a congeries of facts is not equivalent to an idea. This is the essential fallacy of the so-called “scientific” mind. People who mistake facts for ideas are incomplete thinkers; they are gossips.”
– Cynthia Ozick

“Gossip needs no carriage.”
– Russian Proverb

John Mehrmann is author of The Trusted Advocate: Accelerate Success with Authenticity and Integrity, the fundamental guide to achieving extraordinary sales and sustaining loyal customers. This revolutionary book applies peak management techniques and leadership skills, with common sense and practical applications to grow business, sustain loyal customers, and use personal talents for personal success.

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