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What your customers say about your products, online, can make a critical difference to the future of the business that you run. It can drive sales. It can drive buyers away. It’s a powerful force, and one that entrepreneurs must consider.

“I have found that online word of mouth from the right people can do wonders,” said Lisa Hennessy, owner of Your Pet Chef, in an e-mail. “I recently was fortunate enough to get a new customer that has a very large following. She posted photos of me delivering food to her, of me with her dog, and of the food itself. After two hours, I had three new customers. In 24 hours, I had nine new customers. It’s been incredible.”

As it turns out, Hennessy’s experience dovetails with recent research. A new study from the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business illustrates key concepts about how online word of mouth works. The report outlines word of mouth’s impact on sales, the types of content that work best, when it’s most effective, and what commenters mean the most to brands that consumers discuss. Let’s dig in and examine its findings and break out some key tips for store owners seeking to amplify their own online conversation.

Powerful Talk: How Online Word of Mouth Boosts Business

Online word of mouth, according to the study, creates two primary results: sales and further recommendations. To enjoy the benefits of both, the kind of content your business produces and the material that commenters respond to, should be approached as being deeply connected to their actions. Here are some of their findings:

  • The study found that an online recommendation within the context of a consumer conversation is the only type of online word of mouth that directly impacts sales.
  • Quality over quantity is the rule, in most cases. According to the research, what consumers post online is more important to driving sales than the number of comments posted about any one product or brand.
  • Want to get consumers talking? Brands that can promote or foster conversations that link emotions to a product’s attributes increase their chances of earning an online recommendation.
  • Timing is often everything. Focusing on product details, when a brand has a new item on the market, drives recommendations. But once the product is deeper into its lifecycle, it’s the emotional connections that prompt consumers to pass along a word.

“While we’re just scratching the surface in this area, businesses can greatly benefit from the OWOM dimensions investigated in this research,”said Shyam Gopinath, the lead author of the study, in a release. “Understanding what consumers respond to and what builds their trust in brands gives businesses much-needed data to connect with their intended audiences.”

Fostering Conversations: Online Word of Mouth and Entrepreneurs

“Just as consumers have always done, they listen to what their friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers have to say about products and services, but now they have access to the reviews and opinions of millions of other consumers, and it weighs heavily on their purchasing decisions,” said Simon Tiffen, senior manager of Advertiser Insights at Cars.com, via e-mail. “Seventy-nine percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. So, building your online reputation is now vital for businesses.”

The following strategies are for entrepreneurs ready to get into that conversation. With them, they can equip themselves with perspectives, prompts, and cautions when it comes to online word of mouth.

  • Don’t fake word of mouth for your brand. Even if you’re finding it hard to get consumers talking on your favorite social-media platform, stick with what’s authentic. “The person making the comment matters more than the platform that they make it on,” said Simon Dude Granner, founder of Next Gen Digital Marketing, by e-mail. “The quality of the comment is much more important that the quantity. You can tell when someone is being real and authentic and you can easily spot spam marketers on the Internet.”
  • One critical voice doesn’t determine all of your online word of mouth. When it comes to a bad review or a sour comment about a brand, it’s all right to give the crowd a bit of space — and to assume they’re not new to how recommendations work. “People generally weigh comments intelligently and will dismiss anomalies of experiences, or outliers as they are statistically called,” said Matthew Reischer, lead brand-marketing manager for LegalAdvice.com, in an e-mail interview.
  • Engage when a voice demands it. If you become aware of a strong voice, for or against your brand, within the context of online word of mouth, you can make a good impression by addressing them with empathy and appreciation. In both cases, positive and negative comments, inviting the online consumer to interact with your company in a positive way — a problem-solving way, even — can prompt that individual to spread subsequently good word about your customer service and responsiveness.

Having data that shows how, why, and when consumers trust and share your brand online is one thing. Taking steps to encourage those kinds of connections is something even more specific.

Combining the two can mean progress for your brand in the online conversation. And so, consider what the Eccles report has to say, and then implement the preceding advice and tips from fellow business leaders — they’ve seen exactly how online word of mouth can grow.

 

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