Everyone knows the value of word of mouth marketing. It’s a concept as old as dirt, but not something most businesses know how to embrace. The “social web” is a great avenue to allow the people that know and love you (aka, your “Fans”) to promote your business in a fun way.

Fans are basically customer evangelists. These are people who will generate media (primarily online) on behalf of products, services, companies, or anything/one who inspires them.

In order to generate a posse of Fans you need to make sure you’re ready for them. You need to provide them with a tool kit that allows them to easily promote you – so create a plan for attracting Fans. Oh – and this goes without saying – you’d better make sure you DON’T pay them. First of all, most of these folks don’t like to get paid. Once you pay them they feel like they’re an “employee” and now promoting you is an obligation (a.k.a. a job) as opposed to a personal desire.

Below are some tips for attracting and keeping Fans/Customer Evangelists:

  1. Post Community Guidelines: If you have an online community, blog or other social site – make sure you post a “Community Guidelines” section where you spell out the guidelines for posting/sharing on your site. I personally like Flickr’s guidelines.
  2. Seed Your Community with Love: Seed your community with people who already know and love you – and you only need 15-25 people to get things going. This group will set the tone for your community. They’ll also take pride in ownership of your community and police it for you – so when/if someone talks crap about you or your products, they will be the first to stand up for you.
  3. Reward your Fans: Do this in ways that make sense for your business (remember, no money!). For example, provide free samples of your products to this group, ask them to talk about your product on your site, blog, community, etc. Invite them to grand openings, product launches, product research sessions, etc. They need to feel their contributions are valuable.
  4. Transparency is Paramount: It’s extremely important to be transparent and authentic. It’s important other potential fans don’t think you’re paying people to say great things about you. That’s not a slam dunk, that’s more like a body check! Honesty is the best policy my friends!
  5. Provide them with a Tool Kit: Just like you would give a sales person a tool kit, you should do the same with your Fans. Examples include, sharing your company goals with them, provide them with the embed code so they can easily share your videos and widgets on their own social sites, share results with them – let them know their efforts are paying off!
  6. Be ALIRT: By this I mean, Ask, Listen, Implement, Respond and Thank. This needs to be a 2-way relationship. Don’t just take, take, take from this group – you’ll piss them off and they’ll drop out of the game. Ask them what they think, listen carefully to what they say and repeat back so they’re sure your heard them correctly (this can be done on- or off-line by the way), Respond to their needs. Make sure you’re interacting with them and responding to any questions they have. Ignoring this group is the kiss of death. And lastly, Thank them in as many ways you that can think of!
  7. Part of Your Team: This may be one of the most important tips of all – Fans need to feel the love. They need to feel they’re part of your team and not some separate entity that you use and abuse.  Invite them to meet new clients with you, share challenges, successes and results with them, promote them (and by this I mean, feature them on your community, or write about them in your blog). This is money in the emotional bank for Fans.

Oh – and have fun!

[originally posted on Caroline Cumming’s personal blog]

Caroline CummingsCaroline Cummings

An entrepreneur. A disruptor. An advocate. Caroline has been the CEO and co-founder of two tech startups—one failed and one she sold. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs realize their full potential and learn how to step outside of their comfort zones to catalyze their growth. Caroline is currently executive director of Oregon RAIN. She provides strategic leadership for the organization’s personnel, development, stakeholder relations, and community partnerships. In her dual role as the venture catalyst manager, Cummings oversees the execution of RAIN’s Rural Venture Catalyst programs. She provides outreach and support to small and rural communities; she coaches and mentors regional entrepreneurs, builds strategic local partnerships, and leads educational workshops.