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How to integrate word of mouth marketing into your company

How to integrate word of mouth marketing into your company

By Molly Flatt, WOM Evangelist at 1000heads.

2010 will be an exciting year in the word of mouth industry. When it comes to listening to your customers, building real-time relationships, and ensuring that everything you do has deep social traction, most companies have seen the light.

As Andy Sernovitz put it, “social media is now a "how" question for businesses, not an "if."

Most brands have moved beyond the internal debate of if they should be involved in social media or not, and are moving on to consider how they will approach it.

The early adopters have earned their early lead, but it might surprise you how quickly brands that started a little slow are catching up.

Those early adopters such as Ford, Dell, IBM and Mars have by now moved beyond a few discrete pieces of social activity - establishing an ongoing listening process, say, or venturing into some Twitter engagement – to fully integrate a word of mouth approach into their internal processes and roles, from product development to customer care.

In November2009, the annual WOMMA Summit in Las Vegas devoted a whole content stream of sessions to ‘Organisational structures for WOM and social media’, featuring the likes of PepsiCo, E&J Gallo Winery and Microsoft.

Evidently, the next step for UK companies will be taking ownership of WOM and looking for skills transfer, secondment and support rather than handing over responsibility to agencies ‘to drive some buzz’.

Don’t be deterred

It’s an understandably scary prospect for many companies. Learning to navigate a real-time, reactive and personal space when the legal team exert an iron stranglehold, operations are littered with sticky red tape, and your marketers speak in corporate sound bites can be a lengthy and gradual process. But it’s worth it.

Comcast’s infamous Twitter customer care stream @comcastcares is only the tip of a social engagement strategy that includes blogs, forums and their own support communities.

It required the brand to significantly retrain staff, transfer investment from call centres into social media man-hours, and create a lean, mean feedback loop within the rest of the company.

But CEO Steve Burke emphasises the importance of internal change as well as engagement: “I think cable companies traditionally have gotten a wrap — and some of its justified — for doing what they do one-sized-fits-all and not being responsive to customers about complaints.

“And we have never liked to think of ourselves that way, but the fact of the matter is at times we are that way. This is a way to really connect one-on-one with people in a really intimate way. So, it has been a big success.”

Five ways to start

1. Educate everyone.

A joined-up approach isn’t going to work if you have two switched-on members of staff who understand the space while the rest of the company remains sceptical or ignorant. Make sure everyone gets a WOM 101 and spends time exploring social media to understand how and why it is such a powerful resource.

2. Dissolve barriers.

No, unfortunately PR or Digital or Customer Service can’t own this alone. A streamlined WOM process needs to involve every department, from HR (is your recruitment social?) to the product team (so they can incorporate feedback) to the kid in the post room who understands Twitter patois like no-one else in the company.  So sit down and start talking.

3. Crowdsource.

Encourage teams to make their own case for appropriate WOM activity in their area. As long as they submit a clear strategy, identifying objectives and measurements for success, they’ll be the ones with the best insight into what they really need. Then make sure there’s someone to oversee all the ideas so they can fit into a joined-up master plan.

4. Learn the language.

John Bashaw, director of customer service for kitchen and bath brand Kohler who launched the @KohlerTwervice feed in July, admits that “the 140–character limitation was difficult for us at first, because it’s hard to explain our products in just a few characters”.

From the synaptic simplicity of Twitter to the passionate soap-boxing of blogs or the intimate socialising on Facebook, social media’s conversational style can be tricky for people to master when they have their ‘professional’ hat on. Use how you would talk to a customer face to face – not write to them – as your guide.

5. Just start.

Yes, clear planning is important, but you’ll never get a feel for the space until you join the game. Making a mistake isn’t the end of the world; in social media, a heartfelt apology goes a long way, and employees need to learn by doing. As long as your approach has integrity and a clear strategy behind it, the benefits will outweigh the risk.

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