Regardless of what type of business you are in, referrals have always been one of the most effective ways to attract more customers. But thanks to the proliferation of communication through social media, word-of-mouth marketing can be put into hyperdrive.


How can you make it as easy as possible for happy customers to promote your business through their social media networks? Nick Westergaard, president of Brand Driven Digital and author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small, and Tim O’Malley, founder and CEO of Social Media Beast, share their insights on this topic.


“Social proof is one of the incredible benefits of social media,” Westergaard says. “When I see that 300 of my closest friends like a business already going out of the gate, that says something.”


Here are two simple but effective tips for improving your referral marketing plan.


Tip 1: Ask

The only surefire way to get referrals is to ask for them, and that is true for in-person or online recommendations. Social media is one way for customers to provide referrals quickly and easily. Heavily promote your social network presence with customers—on your website, your blog, signage in your business, any advertising, receipts and invoices, business cards and email marketing messages. To make this process quick and easy on you, too, schedule referral asks via social media tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social. These scheduled referral asks appear to customers in the form of routine social media posts/content and should include a call-to-action to leave a review alongside a link to your preferred review medium (Facebook, Yelp page, etc.).


Once people start responding with their personal reviews of your business, use the text or screenshot of their review as social content. Each new review acts as social proof that shows prospective customers you have a great business. Consider dressing up customer text reviews with your company’s branding elements (logo, colors, etc.) so that they fit in with the rest of your existing social content.


Encourage customers to share your testimonial posts with their friends for additional reach (and potential new customers!). Although it’s not advised to pay for reviews, you may opt to incentivize reviewing customers through a monthly drawing. For the best and most authentic results from an incentive program, reward customers with a gift card to come back to your business.


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Tip 2: Help Customers Tell a Story

Asking customers to like your business on Facebook or sending them a link to your Yelp page is a start, but you can take social media referral marketing to the next level by adding an element of storytelling. When you can get happy customers to share their stories—not just product stories, but stories about how your product or service has made their life better—it creates an emotional appeal for prospects.


Give customers prompt questions that lead them to talk about how your product or service has impacted their life in a positive way. You might also opt to collect this information through social media by creating and promoting a hashtag like #[YourCompany]Stories. By encouraging the public sharing of customer experiences, you’ll also reach more potential customers.


O’Malley digs a little further into the psychology of the ask and suggests posing the following questions:

  • In what ways do you like working with us?
  • In what ways are we better than our competitors?


Customers should then be encouraged to post their thoughts in a public forum, like on social media or review websites. To make sure this actually happens, it helps to explain the “why” behind it. Tell your customers that their reviews help you get new business and continue to prosper. If you’ve made them happy, they’ll have no problem complying.


Then, create content assets like blog posts and videos that show your happy customers and what they can do to help refer your business to their friends and family. In essence, model the behavior to simplify the request.


When trying to make an impact with referral marketing, the main steps are to ask, model the desired outcome, reciprocate and use social media tools to showcase customer stories to your advantage. It’s not as complicated as you may think, and the results are more than worth the investment of effort.

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