4 key ways to manage your word-of-mouth image

by Steven Van Belleghem        

Author of “The Conversation Company” discusses ways the news media industry can grow business by effectively managing customer experience, conversation, content, and collaboration.

Click the image to view a larger versionWord-of-mouth is the most effective communication form in the world. 

Information coming from people or sources we trust has the highest influence on our perception of brands, people, and companies. The paradox is that we all acknowledge the power of conversations, but we are not managing it. Because of that, we create a bunch of unused conversation potential.

If you look at the print business, there are two types of conversations that can be helpful. First, there are conversations about advertising. They increase reach for your clients. Second, there is word-of-mouth about the content you deliver. Both can help to grow business.

Four elements help manage word-of-mouth: delivering a great customer experience, managing the conversations, delivering conversation-worthy content, and collaborating on a structural level with your audience.

1. Customer experience: The basis of positive conversations about your company is very simple: offer strong products and decent customer service. These two drive conversations.

If you do them well, conversations will boost business. If you perform even a little below expectations, conversations will decrease business. This is the foundation of a “conversation company.”

Then there is the challenge of integrating online and offline customer experience. Far too few companies supplement their traditional offline customer service channels with the new online possibilities offered by social media.

At the end of 2010, just 6.5% of companies offered online services to their customers. The “conversation company” believes in a total philosophy toward customer experience. The role of social media within this philosophy is to allow a company to react in real time to people’s problems and complaints. 

Companies like KLM and Best Buy (with Twelpforce) demonstrate perfectly how this fits into the overall picture. Other companies, such as Dell, build mission control centres. These centres are covered 24/7 by staff who answer online questions from customers and prospects. 

No conversation is left without a response; everyone is helped. 

I am waiting for the majority of journalists to open up to the crowd. The moment journalists join in and answer critical questions from readers, their emotional bond will increase, leading to positive conversations.

2. Conversation: The “conversation company” manages online conversations in three stages: observing, facilitating, and participating. 

It starts simply by listening to consumer conversations, adding a few relevant comments where necessary. At the same time, the company prepares its content in such a way that it can be shared easily with other interested parties. Clever companies combine these online conversations with their offline activities. 

3. Content: Companies should no longer be concerned with the planning of one-off advertising campaigns, but rather with the global planning and management of their content. 

Your company must learn to think like the publisher of a newspaper. And when you are in the print business, that can’t be that hard, can it? The newspaper with the most interesting content is the newspaper that is read the most. 

Good content is the ideal way to increase your reach.

4. Collaboration: To optimise conversation potential, companies should collaborate structurally with their customers. This increases the average level of consumer commitment.

It is possible to be fairly creative with this. 4Food, a successful hamburger outlet in Manhattan, draws up a new menu every day with the help of its own customers. Using tablets left on the tables, diners can put together their own recipes for the “perfect” hamburger. 

Every new concept is displayed for other customers and best-selling burgers are promoted via Twitter and Facebook. For each burger sold, the recipe-maker receives US$0.25. 

In a similar vein, Procter & Gamble has developed Vocalpoint, a community in which 350,000 mothers help develop new product ideas for the P&G brand. These mothers are also the first users of the new products during the development phase, so they can provide feedback regarding possible problems/weaknesses before the product is finally launched. 

Perhaps the print industry should consider working with co-creation of the news. This could be very interesting for regional news, for instance. Use citizen journalism as an opportunity, not as a threat. 

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