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4 Ways Word of Mouth Referrals and Digital Marketing Work Together


For service-based businesses, word of mouth referrals are nearly always going to be the top way to earn new customers and grow your business.

Trust is a major factor when people make purchasing decisions, especially in business-to-business relationships. So a friend or colleague’s recommendation can often be the deciding factor. This is how business was done long before the internet or even traditional print advertising.

Even in a highly digital age, relationships remain central to marketing and sales. However, one form of marketing is not inherently better or worse than the other. When used strategically, online and relational marketing can work together in tandem.

1. Pay attention to online reviews

People don’t just listen to recommendations from people they know. Consumers readily seekout online reviews and ratings to get a more objective view of your business.

According to the 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey, 82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses. On average, customers will read about 10 reviews before making the decision to trust a company with a purchase.

One good or bad review isn’t enough to sink your business. But your overall approach to online reviews can impact (either positively or negatively) your growth.

Take time to audit all of your brand’s online listings. Claim the sites you can to ensure that the information provided is accurate. Then, monitor these sites regularly (monthly or quarterly) and respond to all reviews people leave (good or bad).

Online review sites to check

There are dozens more specialized review sites based on industry or service-type.

2. Collect testimonials and case studies

Online reviews are a powerful combination of online marketing and word of mouth. However, they’re not the only ones. Testimonials and case studies that you intentionally collect from your clients give you more control over the content, while still earning credibility.

Set up regular check-in points with customers as opportunities to collect testimonials. For example, you could send every client an optional survey to complete after doing business with you for a year or after completing a major project. 

The feedback you collect can be turned into content for your website or social media posts. Just be sure your customers realize that their words are being used before sharing. Most will (hopefully) be honored, but the goal is to avoid any unnecessary surprises.

Case studies take this to a deeper level by explaining the context behind the client’s experience with you. With their permission, interview the client and write up a summary of the work you’ve done for them. When you publish this, it gives the client something to potentially share with others when they recommend your services.

3. Using social proof and social listening

Word of mouth marketing is the original social media. However, you can use modern social media platforms to encourage clients to refer to your business.

This could start as simply as sharing the occasional post asking if anyone could use your services. “Know if anyone is looking for a new SEO expert? Let us know!” or “We’re here to help with content marketing. Tag someone in a comment if their content could use some help.”

People having conversations online about your brand are less official kinds of online reviews. So practice some social media listening and be active in conversations people are having about you.

Not a huge national brand that has social media users actively talking about you? Create opportunities for people to engage with your social content. Ask open-ended questions to invite a conversation. Or use other platforms like your website to ask people to post their thoughts and tag your social handles.

4. Empower your clients to be advocates

More than anything else, your customers need to want to refer you to others. Any amount of coercion or manipulation will only backfire by making their word of mouth inauthentic.

So your ultimate goal is to find the people who already love your business and empower them to share their voice. Remove barriers (like lack of awareness or busyness) preventing them from shouting your name from the rooftops (metaphorically or literally).

Don’t assume that they know how to best share your brand with others. Write a blog post or create a landing page with content pre-packaged for them to share. Give them some sample social media graphics. Write them a script to email out to their friends. Provide a form where they can share their testimonials.

As you encounter your best clients, point them to this resource. This won’t guarantee that they’ll do anything, but it certainly can’t hurt. And on the occasions that you do get a referral from a contact, take the time to thank them. Send them a note or a small token of your appreciation.

Need help with reputation management?

The overlap between word of mouth and digital marketing is often referred to as reputation management. This includes everything from collecting testimonials to managing online reviews, and the other details mentioned above.

Reputation management is just one service offered by GreenMellen. We’re here if you’re struggling to find the time to start with online marketing, or just need some advice on getting started. 

And if you’re a current or past client of GreenMellend, don’t hesitate to leave us an online review and let us know how much you enjoyed working with us!

About the Author

Robert Carnes

Marketing Manager

Robert Carnes is a freelance writer, published author, and professional marketer. His book, The Story Cycle, is your business's guide to becoming a better marketer. Robert lives in Atlanta and you can follow him on social media @jamrobcar.

View Robert's Profile

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