(Photo by Ben White via Unsplash)

Think about the last great product, new restaurant or fun show you found, one so helpful or interesting you truly enjoyed sharing it with someone you care about.

For me, it was something simple: A transparent lip liner that goes with any shade of lipstick. Not exactly a life-changing product, but for $5, I found something that solved a problem for me. Within a couple weeks, I’d recommended it to three friends and my own mother. And even though I’d like to think my endorsement is special, the truth is, it isn’t.

But it is incredibly valuable.

Word of mouth advertising is one of the most powerful tools an organization can hope to gain. It’s why restaurants care so much about their Yelp reviews, and why you can slide into the back of an Uber and see a sign that asks for a five-star rating. We are simply more likely to trust someone we know — or even a stranger, so long as they don’t work for whoever would benefit from our business. 

The data backs up this habit. 

Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report from 2015 says 83 percent of consumers completely or somewhat trust recommendations from people they know, and 66 percent said the same for reviews posted online. To put that into perspective, consider that only 56 percent of consumers said they completely or somewhat trusted recommendations from emails they signed up for themselves. 

For more recent data, take a look at the report from marketing firm BrightLocal, which found in 2019 that 82 percent of consumers look for online reviews of local businesses, including 52 percent of 18 to 54-year-olds who said they “always” did. 

“The average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business,” the report said. 

So, what does all this mean? It means that if you’re not considering word-of-mouth marketing or being strategic about seeking reviews for your content, experiences and products, then you’re leaving one of the most powerful methods to secure new members right there on the table. 

Here are some questions to help you understand — and harness — the power of word-of-mouth marketing. And when you’re done reading them, you’ll know why we’d ask you to share this blog post with someone you think may find it helpful: 

— Does your website have reviews? Think about all the products you offer, like an LMS, whitepapers or even conference attendance, and take a look at whether you highlight the experiences of your members who have actually used or attended your products and events. Work in a well-placed testimonial into your marketing materials. Look to companies like Amazon and the Apple App Store for how these reviews can make a real impact. 

—  Are you responding to reviews? If your Facebook page has starred reviews, or if you see users on social media talking about your event, make sure to respond, and do so with genuine care. BrightLocal found that, among consumers who do read online reviews, 97 percent read how a business responds to feedback. 

— Are you highlighting good experiences? One of the benefits of reading your reviews is to find great stories that show how your organization can create real impact. Pick out the real gems, have a conversation with the member who shared it, thank them and then ask if you can publicize their experience more broadly. 

—  Are you asking the right questions? One of the most powerful aspects of associations is community-building, so don’t be afraid to ask your members to recommend your products, membership or events to their friends or colleagues. 

— Are you making it easy? Use special hashtags, and encourage your members to do the same. Not only are you multiplying the number of people producing genuine branded content, you’re quickly expanding the reach of your brand. For example, take a look at the branded hashtags for companies like Coca-Cola’s #ShareaCoke or Always’ #LikeAGirl. For true viral potential, you want your hashtag to mean something real, which means it may not be a direct link to your brand name.  

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

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