Social sharing has become the modern day version of word-of-mouth marketing, a way for businesses to use their own customers to amplify marketing messages and generate referrals. One-quarter of millennial Internet users has shared digital content via social, according to 2014 survey by ShareThis, and 43% of Internet users say social media chatter has influenced their purchasing decisions.
As always, marketers are looking for more strategic ways to capitalize on this trend and influence the conversations their customers are having on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Rather than letting social sharing happen organically, local businesses are searching for ways to maximize the influence and generate more online buzz around their products and services.
Here are seven strategies for how businesses can do just that.
1. Make it automatic. “For the vast majority of businesses that do not have a lot of social conversations about their brands, encouraging social sharing is, much like the customer reviews business, largely a numbers game. The best way to generate public feedback, apart from providing an amazing product or service, is to simply ask a lot of people for their feedback. The magic is in the process of making this happen in a repeatable way—that means automation. If the employee or owner of an SMB has to remember to do one more thing, like requesting social sharing, its not going to happen over time.” (Ted Paff, Customer Lobby)
2. Get on the right networks. “Business owners should be active where their customers are active. For example, contractors probably don’t belong on Twitter. They do belong on Houzz. Pinterest is great for aesthetic industries. Facebook is very universal, but universal also means less tailored.” (Josh Melick, Broadly)
3. Develop a rhythm. “Once you’ve found the platforms that matter to your audience, the best strategy is not about randomly high-jacking hashtags at opportunistic times like the Super Bowl, but sharing a rhythm of high-quality, relevant content that is meaningful to that audience. Share links to relevant webpages, ebooks, videos, infographics, case studies, and stories. This could be content you create or simply content already published. Follow the people who are following you and engage with them about their content. Let people engage with your content and then make sure you are replying. More than anything, people want value, kindness, entertainment, and inspiration. If your brand can find a way to provide that, either with the company’s values or products, you will attract an authentic audience.” (Holly Hamann, TapInfluence)
4. Ask for authentic referrals. “If your product or service is delivering value and you know you’ve got satisfied customers, it doesn’t hurt to ask them to refer a friend, share their experience, write a review, or upload a photo. Tell them they’re appreciated and that you’d love for them to share their excitement. Referral programs can also be really effective when they’re part of a larger engagement strategy. But success is in the approach. Interrupting is not cool. Jumping on Twitter and demanding a follow back or commenting on someone’s Instagram post by asking them to follow you or share your stuff is just rude. Letting customers know that you’re welcome to their feedback and value knowing them more deeply and would like to engage with them across social will create a natural affection. It all comes down to authenticity.” (Robyn Hannah, PunchTab)
5. Create a reward structure. “I’d recommend moving beyond simply encouraging social sharing to encouraging people to refer new customers. The best way to do that is to create a double-sided reward structure, where the advocate who shares gets a reward when one of their friends purchases through their referral, and the friend also gets a reward for purchasing. It moves sharing from an awareness tactic to an acquisition channel. Extole’s referral marketing platform enables marketers to create acquisition programs at scale using this concept. Customers are coming to expect referrals. We’ve even seen some brands replace their social sharing buttons with referral CTAs altogether.” (Paul Holman-Kursky, Extole)
6. Don’t be awkward. “I always tell my team to think of the social media world like the real world. Twitter is one big cocktail party with a million micro conversations happening all at once. When a conversation peeks your interest, listen in. But don’t be awkward, selfish, or intrusive. If you were at a party and you overheard someone share a story or ask a question related to your field of expertise, you wouldn’t jump in with your URL and a sales pitch. You’d listen, wait for an appropriate moment to chime in, and offer something interesting and relevant. It’s shocking to me that small businesses still try to hijack blog comments with unrelated links to their websites. That kind of behavior should be outlawed.” (Robyn Hannah, PunchTab)
7. Partner with influencers. “Another key strategy that helps brands engage with consumers online is to partner with social influencers who already have the trust and loyalty of that influencer. Small businesses can find four or five authentic influencers who already love their products and work with them to help create and distribute authentic stories and opinions about that brand’s product, values and customers. Research shows that consumers trust their peers more than brands so it helps brands scale reach, views, and engagements.” (Holly Hamann, TapInfluence)
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.