Sep 01 2009

Pssst: Pass it On!

In today’s competitive marketplace, word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective tools in any online business’ arsenal. Referrals can go a long way toward building customer loyalty and drawing in new clientele. Smart companies know that by perfecting the art of word-of-mouth marketing (or “WOMM”), they’ll make themselves more appealing and accessible to potential customers, as well as to the media.

“Tell a Friend”: A Link to a New Relationship

One of the most effective, yet subtle, forms of online WOMM is the use of an icon or link that enables site visitors to email an article, link, or special promotion to their contacts. Not only does this help spread the word about your products, services, and expertise, it also filters your audience so consumers are exposed to the offerings most relevant to their needs and interests.

Including an “email a friend” link has become an eCommerce standard but, like any online marketing strategy, there are particular ways to implement it more effectively:

  • Consistency is key—rather than displaying the link sporadically, make sure it appears in the same location on every page of your site, from articles to categories to products.
  • If you have long, vertically scrolling pages, you might consider replicating the link at the top and bottom of each page.
  • Remember that online shoppers only see what’s important to them—if your “Tell a Friend” button isn’t in close proximity to the content they’re scanning, it will likely get missed.
  • In addition to the standard placement on each page, consider creative ways to incorporate referral links within your content to speak directly to the user. For instance, you might include a text link such as “Share this special discount with friends and family”, or “Click here to send this article to a friend”.
  • Another strategy is to offer an incentive to existing customers to motivate them to spread the word. For instance, is offering a link to a free e-book download to anyone who uses their “tell a friend” form to refer a new prospect.
  • Within the form itself, give your existing customers the option to create a customized message to send along with the email. The recipient will be more likely to open the email and check out the offer if it’s preceded by a personal note.

But posting the link is just the first step in the strategy. Any potential conversion boost depends on what happens after the email reaches the new prospect that’s just been handed to you. If the click generates a dry, boring message that fails to excite the recipient, it’s not likely to garner you a new customer.

Designing an Effective “Tell a Friend” Email

If your “email a friend” message isn’t increasing your stream of new customers, it may be time to go back to the drawing board and create some more enticing text. There are virtually limitless ways to make your referral emails livelier, more benefit-oriented, and more interesting to prospective customers. Here are some tips for crafting compelling copy for referral messages:

  • Offer a special discount or promotional code. Time-sensitive offers are especially effective, encouraging customers to take action before it’s too late. If the promotion doesn’t have a time frame or expiration date, people may put it aside and forget to come back to it. Including an exciting offer also has the added benefit of making the forwarder look good.
  • Include a line encouraging the recipient to forward the email along to anyone who may be interested in your product or service.
  • Make sure the layout and design of your email is conducive to being forwarded numerous times. Anything that goes “viral” or achieves good WOMM may be passed on to dozens of recipients. If your copy gets broken or misformatted after a few forwards, you run the risk of making a messy or unprofessional impression on new prospects.

Just as importantly, there are two things you should avoid at all costs in your “tell a friend” email:

  • No typos! Make sure your copy is clean and error-free. Even a single grammatical mistake will make your email look sloppy and amateurish.
  • Never spam your mailing list! Customers fill out “tell a friend” forms in good faith that you’ll respect the privacy of their contacts. Send one email, and only one, unless more correspondence is explicitly requested or authorized. It’s perfectly acceptable to include a link in your email inviting the recipient to sign up for your newsletter or mailing list, but if someone doesn’t opt in, don’t contact them again.

It isn’t easy to generate new customers in today’s sluggish economy, but encouraging your existing clientele to spread the word to their friends, family, and other contacts is a great way to get the word out about your business. Just to be sure to follow up with high-quality products, professional content, and superior customer service for an experience that’s worth sharing.

Blue Acorn

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