Word of mouth is one of the oldest (and most effective) forms of marketing. But, does it translate into the online world? Ultimately customers trust the opinions of other customers more than what brands have to say. So, it’s your job to ensure you’re encouraging and leveraging word of mouth marketing to build brand awareness and trust with potential customers. Luckily, the rise of electronic word of mouth means reaching new audiences at scale is easier and more effective than ever before. Keep reading to discover what electronic word of mouth marketing is, how it differs from traditional word of mouth marketing and a stack of practical ways you can leverage this in your existing marketing toolkit. What is electronic word of mouth? How do you decide which product or brand to buy? No matter what we’re shopping for, you want to make sure we’re picking the best option on the market. So, you do your research. You might jump onto Google, read a few customer reviews and even browse through the brand’s social channels. Why? Because you want to know what other people think about this product or brand, and whether they’d recommend it or not. And that is exactly what electronic word of mouth (EWOM) is all about. It’s a way of scoping out previous customer’s opinions online and seeing what they think about a product or service we want to buy. Instead of relying solely on a brand’s website or marketing materials (that will only tell one side of the story), electronic word of mouth gives us a more honest, candid perspective. It covers everything from reviews to testimonials and even social media posts and provides an unfiltered version of how other customers feel about this brand. The goal of EWOM is simple: for consumers to help other consumers make an informed purchase decision. And here’s why it matters: 88% of people trust online reviews from other consumers just as much as they trust recommendations from their family and friends. The more we trust a brand, the more likely we are to shop from them. And for businesses and marketers, leveraging EWOM can set your business apart (without the need to spend thousands of dollars on advertising). With just 33% of businesses actively seeking out and collecting reviews, there’s a huge opportunity for your brand to proactively encourage and leverage these value pieces of social proof to impact your bottom line. What are the core components of electronic word of mouth? There are three key components that make up EWOM which work together to influence brand perceptions and ultimately drive conversions. These key components are: The message The channel The receiver Let’s break each part down. The Message This component of EWOM is all about the specific piece of content created by your customers. In most cases, it will be a rating, review or testimonial that reveals how they feel about your product, service or overall brand experience. Unlike the rest of your marketing toolkit, you have no final say over what message is distributed to the world through EWOM. Instead, your customers have the ability to speak freely about their experience (positive or negative) with your brand. While this can be a helpful tool to build trust with new customers, it can be a double edged sword (but more on that in a minute). The Channel Next up, we have the tools your customers use to share their message with the world. In the case of EWOM, the channels available to your audience typically include: Reviews on your website (such as leaving a review on your eCommerce store) Third-party review platforms (such as Trustpilot or ProductReview.com,.au) Online forums or communities (such as Facebook Groups) Social media platforms Each tool offers different ways for users to share their experience with your brand. Some might use a star rating system while others might offer open-ended questions and text boxes. The Receiver Finally, we have the person on the other end of the review: the receiver. This will typically be potential customers that are researching your brand and looking for an honest perspective on your products or services. Their goal is to understand the general sentiment towards your business: Do other people like and trust this brand? What is the true quality of their product and services? Are there better options to choose instead? These three components of EWOM are what make this type of marketing so effective. EWOM gives potential buyers the opportunity to hear from hundreds of past customers and learn whether this product or brand is really worth their money. By offering opportunities for your customers to share positive experiences with your brand online, you’ll be able to boost your appeal to potential buyers (without having to invest in traditional advertising). What are the stages of electronic word of mouth? But it doesn’t stop there. When it comes to EWOM, there are three key stages you need to know about: Creation Exposure Evaluation As a marketer, it’s your job to learn each stage of this process to find strategic ways to boost your chances of your brand generating positive EWOM and maximise the impact of any good reviews and testimonials you receive. Stage 1: Creation Naturally, the first step of this process is all about your customers sharing their experiences with your brand online. While this might seem straightforward, you still have an important role to play in generating this EWOM. Because what’s the point of your customers having great opinions of your brand if they don’t have any way to share them at scale? After a customer purchases from your brand, you need to have a plan in place for them to share their feedback online. This could include: Sending out a follow-up email that encourages them to rate the product or service they’ve purchased Prompting them to leave a testimonial or Google review once you’ve wrapped up a project with them Encouraging customers to share their product to social media using a branded hashtag The easier you make it for your customers to leave reviews or post content to social media, the more likely you’ll be to generate positive EWOM. Stage 2: Exposure Next up, it’s time for you to put these pieces of social proof to work. Once you’ve started receiving these reviews, ratings and testimonials, you need to find ways to broadcast these to your audience (and potential customers). That means you need to design your digital presence to include EWOM as a key social proof point. Not sure how to do this? Here are a few practical strategies to get you started: Embed product reviews or ratings onto your website or eCommerce store Add a testimonial carousel to your website’s Homepage Leverage user generated content across your social media channels The more visible this EWOM is to your audience, the bigger impact it will have on your bottom line. Stage 3: Evaluation Last up, we have the final step in the process: evaluation. This is how potential customers make use of your EWOM and decide whether it’s credible and relevant to their purchasing decisions. When conducting research for a new product or service, each customer is looking to solve a specific problem. Perhaps they want to know how reliable your product’s sizing chart is or if it’s worth spending more on a premium option (rather than opting for a cheaper solution). Basically, to succeed at the evaluation stage, you need to offer opportunities for your audience to filter through your EWOM with ease. That means allowing your audience to: Sort your reviews or testimonials by star ratings (both good and bad) and even by specific keywords Understand more about each reviewer (such as their age, location or their clothing size) to filter by the results most aligned with their potential purchase Assess the credibility of reviews by using trusted third-party sites that vet potential posters and weed out any untrustworthy sources Why does this all matter? The better you understand the way EWOM is created and distributed, the more strategic you can be about how to encourage and leverage this user-generated content from your customers. How does EWOM differ from regular word of mouth? You’ve probably heard about traditional word of mouth (WOM). In fact, it’s one of the oldest forms of marketing – with the earliest definitions dating back to the 1960s. In a nutshell, WOM is all about how individuals share their opinions of a product or service with other individuals. It’s a type of interpersonal communication that uses face-to-face conversations to promote products and services. The key here is that WOM has the ability to share consumer behaviour and change people’s attitudes towards specific brands, products or services. And instead of gathering information from the brand itself, WOM allows past consumers to educate potential consumers (usually friends and family) about what they liked (or didn’t like) about the brand. The key characteristics of traditional WOM include: It’s focused on person-to-person contact and happens in offline settings It’s transient and the message is only communicated in a face-to-face conversation It’s reach is limited and is usually one person sharing their opinion with another person It happens between existing connections (such as friends, family or coworkers) So, what are the key differences between EWOM and traditional WOM? Credibility: WOM uses existing relationships between the communicator and receiver (more credible), while EWOM uses anonymous relationships (less credible). Privacy: WOM conversations are conducted in real time (more private), while EWOM can be received by anyone (less private). Diffusion speed: WOM uses a slow distribution of messages from one person to another, while EWOM allows the quick distribution of messages at scale. Accessibility: WOM is limited to one-to-one encounters (less accessible) while EWOM allows for one-to-many encounters (easily accessible). With that in mind, the main benefits of EWOM over traditional WOM include: Broader reach: each review or testimonial can be seen by hundreds if not thousands of potential customers. Lasting impact: these pieces of content live online for months or even years and can keep converting customers across long periods of time. Research at-scale: rather than relying on one opinion, EWOM makes it easier for customers to understand broad sentiment towards a brand in minutes. However, there are drawbacks to EWOM to consider too. While EWOM can be an asset, it can also be a liability. Some studies have shown that consumers pay more attention to negative reviews and information than the positive ones. As a marketer, it’s important to have a plan in place to navigate poor reviews or negative commentary about your brand online. By proactively responding to these pieces of feedback in a practical and constructive way, you can retain your brand’s perception online and safeguard sentiment towards your products and services. Regardless of whether you’re using traditional WOM or EWOM, the benefits are the same for your business: it offers a unique opportunity to better understand your customers needs and improve your service or offering to respond to their feedback. What are the benefits of EWOM marketing? So, what impact can EWOM have on your business? Let’s look at the key benefits of this marketing channel and explore how it can move the needle for your business. It can boost your businesses’ bottom line without making a dent in your marketing budget: by turning your customers into brand advocates, you can organically boost sales and increase conversions at scale. It can foster a thriving community of advocates: the more engaged your customers are with your brand, the more likely they are to recommend your brand to others online. It can increase your customers’ lifetime value: did you know it costs 5x more to acquire new customers than to re-engage your past purchasers? By creating referral or loyalty programs (more on that later) you can boost the sentiment of your EWOM and build a sense of loyalty with your brand that will encourage customers to shop with you time and time again. It can lift your brand trust: recent stats from HubSpot reveal that 75% of customers don’t trust adverts, but 90% trust their friends and family instead, and 70% trust online reviews. So, by harnessing the power of EWOM you can increase the chance of customers trusting and choosing your brand. How to leverage electronic word of mouth marketing Now you’ve got a good handle on what EWOM is and how it operates, let’s arm you with a stack of practical tactics to leverage EWOM marketing for your brand. Encourage online reviews This first tip is all about inspiring the creation of EWOM. By having the right technical infrastructure in place on your website and social channels, you can ensure every customer who shops with you is able to craft meaningful EWOM for your business. So, how can you encourage your purchasers to leave an online review? The first step is to decide what specific action you want your customers to take: Do you want them to leave a product review on your eCommerce store? Do you want them to rate their overall user experience with your brand? Do you want them to craft a detailed review on a third-party site? Do you want them to document their experience on social media? Once you’ve got clear on your end-goal, it’s time to set up the frameworks to make this process simple and seamless. That means ensuring: Your eCommerce store offers easy opportunities for customers to leave a review Your email marketing follows up purchasers with reminders to rate their experience Your social channels (such as Facebook and Google MyBusiness) are set up to encourage reviews from customers With the right tools in place, your customers will be more likely to generate positive EWOM on your behalf and build powerful social proof for your business. Leverage user-generated content What happens when a customer posts about your brand on social media? Whether they snap a photo of your product, film an Instagram Story showcasing your brand or include your business in a Facebook video, you need to have a process in place to leverage this user-generated content (UGC). No matter how you use UGC, this is what you need to know: UGC is one of the most powerful forms of social proof and can help you build trust and win new business in a cost-effective way. So, let’s look at some practical ways you can harness the full potential of UGC: Reshare transformation photos that show the before and after benefits of your product on your social media channels Combine a series of related pieces of UGC into a punchy TikTok or Reel Add high-quality pieces of UGC to your eCommerce store to show how products perform in real-life situations Pepper UGC into your next email marketing campaign to help drive sales for your products and services The key with UGC is to ensure you’re redistributing it to your own marketing channels to ensure potential customers see these valuable pieces of content. Develop an influencer marketing strategy Speaking of powerful EWOM, a great way to shape the sentiment of conversation about your brand online is to leverage the power of influencer marketing. By aligning your brand with high-quality influencers, you’ll be able to: Reach new valuable audiences without investing in social media advertising Build powerful trust, authority and brand awareness Generate new high-value pieces of content that you can leverage and reshare The key to succeeding with influencer marketing is to have a clear objective in place before you engage an influencer. That means clarifying: What audience do you want to reach and who is best placed to connect you with them? What key message do you want the influencer to communicate? How are you going to review this influencer content before it goes live? With a clear brief and approval processes in place, you can ensure you’re selecting the right influencer for your campaign and protecting your brand’s image on social media. Craft a referral program Incentivising EWOM can be a practical step to generate a solid bank of reviews, testimonials and UGC. And one of the best ways to do that is through a referral program. And here’s why: recent research shows that 84% of satisfied customers are willing to refer to a product or service, but only 29% actually do. So, by creating a referral program you can give happy customers a ready to recommend your brand to their friends and family, and reward them along the way. Some practical ways to incentivise referrals include: Offering discount codes Earning gift cards or store credit Receiving exclusive prizes or products With a strong referral program, you’ll be able to encourage customers to share their experience online with their network and boost your brand’s reach to new, high-value audiences. Use and promote memorable hashtags Last, but not least, is a practical way to curate and encourage the creation of UGC: hashtags. Throughout both your online and offline marketing, it’s a wise move to have a clear branded hashtag for users to add to their posts about your brand. Why? Because this helps you to collate and review all your UGC in one handy place. But there are a few important steps to making sure your hashtags have the maximum impact, including: Making them simple and easy to use: avoid too many characters or tricky words that users might forget how to spell. Using capital letters to spell out each word: this will help users to find and use your hashtags in their UGC. Tailor them to your brand: adding your brand name into your hashtags will ensure only relevant posts come up under this hashtag. So, there you have it. When it comes to electronic word of mouth, this is a powerful tool for building trust with potential customers online. By understanding each stage of the EWOM process (from creation to distribution), you’ll be able to use these powerful pieces of social proof to boost conversions and sales for your business.