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Are you getting in the way of your customers?

Everyone knows the old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Words to live by, I suppose, but what if that man lives nowhere near the water?

Social media pros constantly advise marketers to provide tools that enable audiences to share. Whether it’s a “grab this” button on your widget, a “tell-a-friend” option in your newsletter, or a “sign up a friend and get 10% off your next purchase” offer, these tools help marketers identify and convert new customers.

Oft-overlooked, however, is the context of these promotions. Rather than keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for a viral revolution, it’s time to take a hard look at how we suggest our customers share with friends, family and colleagues — and where.

The How: Your message is not as good as theirs
A little case study: SmartBrief benefits from strong viral growth as a result of loyal readership. We have a long history of providing content targeted to readers in a variety of industries, and we encourage our subscribers to share individual stories and forward our newsletters in their entirety. As you may have noticed, we have also enabled our SmartBrief on Social Media e-newsletter with tools to post articles directly to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

While these tactics serve us well, innovation is the key to continued growth — and innovation is not restricted to technological advances. Having studied reader behavior, we are making some subtle, but critical adjustments to our products. When an article or newsletter is forwarded to a prospective subscriber, we go the extra mile to highlight and focus on the “message” from the sender. While we’d love for every recipient to engage with SmartBrief’s promotional messaging, the message from a familiar and trusted source is way more effective. At a quick glance — all of us have these days — a  “Hey Rob, I saw this article and thought you’d find it handy!” converts far better than, “The following is an article from SmartBrief on Social Media, sent to you by Jim.” A simple adjustment? Absolutely. But a strategic move toward empowering the customer and making sure you don’t get in the way.

The Where: Look what I just got!
When it comes to viral messaging, we typically see an all or nothing approach. Either every page of a Web site tells us to share with the world, or users aren’t given any options for sharing interesting things. So, where should we be?

If someone is commenting on your blog, they are obviously engaged, so why not provide an opportunity to send that blog post (along with their comment, of course) to people they know? If someone has completed a purchase, signed up for a webinar or a newsletter, the confirmation page is the perfect location for a straightforward suggestion to share. The folks who have shown interest and taken action are most likely excited to show off their shiny new toy.

Your customers are the best marketers money can’t buy. If you’re mindful of how and where they share, you’ll have true word-of-mouth working on your behalf. Feed your customer—or at least point them in the direction of water.

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