By Consumer Dummies

Word-of-mouth is, without a doubt, the most cost-effective form of advertising. Ultimately, that force powers all social media, with its peer-to-peer recommendations and referrals. Recent research on the impact of social media as a form of word-of-mouth is both intriguing and contradictory:

  • Mention found that 76 percent of more than 1 billion brand mentions on the web and social media were basically “meh” — neither positive nor negative. The remaining mentions are more likely to stand out.
  • According to eMarketer, about 68 percent of social media users 18 to 34 years old, and 53 percent ages 33 to 35 are at least somewhat likely to be influenced to make a purchase based on a friend’s social media posting.
  • Lithium Technologies found that 70 percent of consumers read online reviews when considering a brand.

Keep these points in mind while you consider the positive and negative impacts of participation in social media. Review sites can have a significant impact on your marketing, but the impact of individual recommendations may be overrated except in special cases.

Try to keep your expectations in check. According to Microsoft research in 2012, less than 1 percent of social media content goes viral. In this case, viral is defined as reaching a much larger audience via peer-to-peer sharing compared to the audience reached by the original post.

Your analytical task here is to compare the efficacy of “word-of-web” by way of social media to its more traditional forms. Tracking visitors who arrive from offline is the trickiest part. These visitors type your URL in the address bar of their browsers either because they’ve heard of your company from someone else (word-of-mouth) or as a result of offline marketing.

Offline marketing may involve print, billboards, radio, television, loyalty-program key-chain tags, promotional items, packaging, events, or any other great ideas you dream up.

By borrowing the following techniques from direct marketing, you can find ways, albeit imperfect, to identify referrals from offline sources or other individuals:

  • Use a slightly different URL to identify the offline source. Make the URL simple and easy to remember, such as http://yourdomain.com/tv; http://yourdomain.com/wrapper; http://yourdomain.com/nyt; or http://yourdomain.com/radio4. These short URLs can show viewers a special landing page — perhaps one that details an offer or a contest encouraged by an offline teaser — or redirect them to an existing page on your site. Long, tagged URLs that are terrific for online sourcing and hard-to-remember shortened URLs aren’t helpful offline.
  • Identify referrals from various offline sources. Use different response email addresses, telephone numbers, extensions, or people’s names.
  • Provide an incentive to the referring party. “Tell a friend about us. Both of you will receive $10 off your next visit.” This technique can be as simple as a business card for someone to bring in with the referring friend’s name on the back. Of course, the card carries its own unique referral URL for tracking purposes.
  • Stick to the tried-and-true method. Always ask, “May I ask how you heard about us?” Then tally the results.

You can then plug these numbers into a spreadsheet with your online referral statistics to compare offline methods with online social media.

HubSpot (www.hubspot.com) compared the subjective importance of various sources of B2B lead sources by marketing channel, including some offline activities, in its 2013 State of Inbound Marketing survey. The results, shown in the following figure, indicate that marketing professionals view online activities as more important sources of leads than traditional offline marketing venues, with social media, natural search (SEO), and email seen as the most important. Think about where you’re spending your marketing dollars.

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Reproduced with permission of HubSpot, Inc.
In a HubSpot survey, businesses rated social media, SEO, and email as more valuable sources of leads than traditional marketing activities.