Word of Mouth marketing is exactly what it sounds like, people sharing their experiences and information, their excitement about a product or brand. It really is the oldest medium and the most used throughout human history. In fact, the reason other communication channels were adopted is because people started talking about them and sharing their benefits.
“Word of Mouth marketing is exactly what it sounds like, people sharing their experiences and information, their excitement about a product or brand.”
WOM has the ability to expand the reach of a brand or message exponentially. Consider Gladwell’s illustration in The Tipping Point. If one were to fold a regular piece of paper 52 times, it would reach to the moon. Stop. Go back and read that sentence. This is a ridiculous idea but an incredible reality. Small things matter; folds 12 and 34 matter because of their power to double the current thickness. That’s the same social phenomenon that helped the gospel spread in every century. People matter because they’re made in the image of God, but they also serve as the most natural and effective method of sharing information.
Hearing from friends and family isn’t only natural but we often trust it more.1 We’ve become sensitive to advertising as a culture. We immediately know when someone is trying to sell us something, so we put up defenses or tune it out. Primetime commercials are louder than the shows they appear during because people leave the room. Yet when we hear trusted sources advocating (or warning against) a particular product or experience, we take that to heart. This reality has pushed two things to the forefront: content marketing and social proof.
Content marketing is the process of getting information to your audience. The content itself is from the realm of your experience and expertise, related to your service, and designed to create value and build trust. For the Church, these are explanations of the gospel, the Christian life, and defenses for the faith. Content is king in the digital economy, regardless of what form it takes, because it proves the value and credibility of an organization. They’re working for you before even being hired. It’s a new kind of prospecting where organizations give away work as a portfolio of their knowledge and skill to gain a following and clients. Social media are the distribution channels for whatever content is made.
“Social proof is crowdsourcing reliability.”
Social proof is crowdsourcing reliability. Amazon and Youtube provide reviews, likes, comments, and video view counters to show how other people have to reacted to a video or product. These become in-the-moment feedback from real people that let us know if something is trustworthy – instantaneous word of mouth. Social proof extends word of mouth to the likes and reviews people have on Facebook, their reviews on Yelp, and the number of followers on Instagram. Here’s a real-life example: think of the last time you saw a line out and around a building for food. You might have had two thoughts: (1) I don’t want to wait in that line, and (2) I want to try that food. Seeing crowds of people line up for tacos is what caught my attention and intrigued me, then I tried them and became an advocate.
Encouraging Word of Mouth
Digital media has helped word of mouth grow past face-to-face conversations. Social media lets people “share” content from brands to their own feeds. This helps people curate their own digital persona by empowering them to share the things they like and find meaningful. This is also the most common form of digital word of mouth we can find. Here are some of the best practices to help utilize digital word of mouth communications for churches:
Create content. Facebook has made it their mission to unite communities. This happens when people create content and conversations that articulate who they are, what they do, and what they value. Posting photos and videos from your church give something for people to congregate around online. Members can share anything you create and add their own commentary to it. Developing artifacts helps people get involved in the mission of the church in between Sundays and within their own social circles. Fans can’t spread your message if there isn’t one, so create content.
“Fans can’t spread your message if there isn’t one, so create content.”
Ask. Build the call to share into your posting strategy. Whether in the video or the captioning around it, people are more likely to share something when asked to than when it’s just assumed they will. You can see this in the most successful Youtube strategies; they often take a quick break from the normal stream of their content to ask for a like or to subscribe. Likes, subscriptions, and sharing are part of the social economy and give audiences the opportunity to show their loyalty.
Ask some more. An influencer is someone who is popular within a niche community. They can be well-known because of their expertise, their seniority, or their connections, but all influencers are such because they have large followings who trust them. Brands often reach out to influencers and pay them for advertising or reviews; podcasts like Doctrine and Devotion have been sponsored by companies like Audible and Missional Wear. Your church can reach out to specific people and ask them to share or give a review. The best people to ask are your staff and church leadership. This doesn’t mean they share everything posted by the church and her ministries but develop a regular habit of sharing naturally.