Do your residents and their families feel motivated to share their positive experience about your community with their friends and networks? Word of mouth marketing can be a valuable asset and should not be ignored. Learn more about how to turn your customers into evangelists for your community.
Did You Hear?
In today’s socially connected world, a positive—or negative—engagement with a brand can take on a life of its own when consumers feel motivated to tell others about their experience with a product or service. This may happen during a conversation with a friend or with a larger group of people via Facebook, Twitter, Yelp or other online social channel. You may know this friend-to-friend sharing as word of mouth public relations or consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketing. I think of it as organic brand evangelism. Whatever the name, it’s powerful.
While some companies have a love/hate relationship with word of mouth communications (love it when the chatter is positive, hate it when it’s not), savvy marketing teams understand the upside and potential for turning occasional detractors into enthusiastic brand evangelists.
Build a Word of Mouth Program
Here are three approaches to encourage a word of mouth program:
1. Treat Others the Way You’d Like to be Treated
It’s really pretty simple—be nice, be ethical and act with integrity. Fortunately (or unfortunately), this behavior can surprise people—and surprise prompts conversation.
Evidence of a good example is in the letters A Place for Mom receives from families every day. A large majority of the letters are from families thanking us for our help. They say they were prompted to write to us because their Senior Living Advisor became like a friend, or went above and beyond to help, or was a great listener or provided great information that enabled them to move forward with a decision. In addition to having the opportunity to share these great messages on our website and with other families, they’re a daily inspiration for the entire staff at A Place for Mom and a real-world reminder of our mission and values.
Families say good things when they experience good things. When a family receives great service, or is treated exceptionally well, the tone and content of their letters and conversations with others will be positive.
2. Give People a Reason to Talk
Andy Sernovitz, the author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, lays the reason out pretty clearly.
“Nobody talks about boring companies, boring products, or boring ads. If you want people to talk about you, you’ve got to do something special. Anything. If you are boring, you’ll never get a moment of conversation. Your word of mouth will fall flat on its face. (Actually, it will just fade away, unnoticed.)”
Afraid you don’t have anything to talk about? Get the appropriate teams together at your organization—possibly public relations, marketing and business operations—to share information about what’s happening across the organization and brainstorm ideas.
Here are some questions to get the conversation started:
A. What’s getting positive feedback from residents, families, vendors and the broader community?
B. What’s coming up that can be announced, shared publicly and touted on your social channels?
a. Is your community offering a new service or line of products to help residents?
b. Have you won any awards?
c. Is your community known for something or someone?
d. Has an employee done something above the call of duty?
e. Do you have an employee, or group of employees, that has been with you for years? Why?
f. Have you hired someone with notable credentials? What have they inspired?
C. What can be celebrated with your residents and their families?
a. Are you approaching a major milestone for the company?
b. Are you approaching a major milestone for a resident? (birthday, veteran status, tenure at community)
c. Do you have residents with unusual, awe-inspiring stories?
Create a list and then look at how you can make any of these items more interesting and buzz worthy, such as developing catchy titles, using creative photos, finding ways to engage people beyond the senior community, or taking something you’re already doing to the extreme.
I saw the value of this type of brainstorm firsthand. At a marketing team meeting at APFM I learned we used Facebook to poll our followers on the most desired amenities for a senior living community. The ability to bring a pet was one of the most popular. This insight sparked excitement and collaboration across the marketing team, which initiated a PR campaign to tout the benefits of pets for seniors and to highlight communities within our provider network that had house pets, offered pet therapy and/or allowed residents to keep pets. In addition to our press materials, we created complementary material for our website, including numerous blog articles, a guide to pet-friendly senior living communities, and provided an opportunity for people to share photos of their pets. This effort drove interest and conversation among our employees, our Facebook followers, the families we serve and with national news media. Almost two years later, we are still considered the go-to source for information on pets and senior living. And it all started with a simple Facebook poll.
3. Embrace Consumer Reviews
A forum where people are invited to openly share information and opinions about your company can be intimidating, but the opportunity to gain insights on what pleases or displeases your residents and families should overshadow that fear. If you don’t know something isn’t working, no one is working to get it fixed. According to the World Alliance for Retail Excellence & Standards (previously known as The National Association for Retail Marketing Services), 95% of unhappy customers will return if an issue is resolved quickly and efficiently.
If gaining insight on existing customers isn’t compelling enough, consider the opportunity to earn new customers. According to McKinsey & Company, a word of mouth recommendation is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions, and the influence is greatest when consumers are buying a product for the first time.
When SeniorAdvisor.com first started educating senior living providers about online consumer reviews and ratings, the reaction was mixed. Some providers were excited and immediately saw the value in not only hearing firsthand feedback from consumers, but also in having the ability to quickly and directly respond. Others were nervous about the possibility of a negative review and concerned about having resources to stay on top of the feedback.
Identifying a dedicated resource to stay on top of reviewing and responding to comments is a key factor when making the decision to embrace online reviews. As with offline customer service, the speed of response and the tone of engagement are very impactful and can go a long way to override a negative impression, build trust in the brand and influence future behavior. This is true for the person who took the time to post a comment and/or provide a rating as well as for those consumers simply reading the online conversation. In fact, a 2012 study done by Reevo, a social commerce company, found that 68% of consumers trust reviews when they see both good and bad scores.
In addition to winning and keeping customers, feedback from consumers can have a broader impact across the company and can be used to influence a variety of business decisions, including marketing and public relations strategies, customer service practices, employee training and other key functions.
Back to the Brand
Guy Kawasaki, the former chief evangelist of Apple and author of 12 books, writes about the Art of Branding. His following statement about public relations reinforces the value of word of mouth.
“Brands are built on what people are saying about you, not what you’re saying about yourself. People say good things about you when (a) you have a great product and (b) you get people to spread the word about it.”
Today’s socially connected consumer has high expectations for a brand, low tolerance for mediocrity and an aptitude for sharing opinions. As you begin fostering and monitoring word of mouth programs, have patience, listen and be flexible. As you learn what’s working and gaining traction, use that information to reinforce the positive behaviors of your staff, to influence brainstorming for new ideas and to proactively engage with consumers online.
Do you have a word of mouth success story to share with other communities? Share them in the comments below.