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How to Build a Referral Engine That Works

By Karl Staib.

Producing a remarkable product is good marketing, but even the best products need help in spreading the word.

Movie producers (now) know the value of a good trailer that’s shareable on social media. A teaser to whet your appetite.

Coke hasn’t changed its product in years, but they always put out feel good commercials that remind you why you like to drink it.

Zappos knew that they needed to create such amazing customer service that nobody could stop raving about them, and they passed the 1 billion sales mark — without shelling out the big bucks in traditional advertising.

Your marketing needs to be a part of every product and interaction that you have with a prospect or customer.

But how can you — the small to medium sized business, the independent consultancy, the one-person shop just getting the ball rolling — make this kind of marketing happen?

Let’s take a look at one powerful strategy that always works …

The great content marketing effect

You can create the same effect as the businesses I mentioned above by writing great content.

From informative articles on your site to smart tips on your social media accounts, relevant, contextual content attracts the right kind of prospect to your business, and compels them to share it with their friends.

Social media is a powerful tool, but it needs a lot of support. Most referrals that turn people into buyers come from a conversation.

When asked what sources “influence your decision to use or not use a particular company, brand or product” 71% claim reviews from family members or friends exert a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence. (Harris Interactive, June 2010)

The person who recommends your products to their friends needs the occasional reminder about just how awesome you are. That’s why it’s important to build strong relationships with your customers and stalkers.

When I say “stalkers,” I’m not talking about the creepy guy that hangs out in the corner of your coffee shop while you bang away on your keyboard, getting the right words up on the screen.

By stalker, I mean the people that hang out and devour your content/ideas day in and day out, without buying anything from you. These people are vital to your business. I say this because a lot of them have influence in the social media world and are willing to sing your praises to all their followers.

One reason they do this sharing, is because they feel guilty for not buying from you. And that brings me back to why every company should have a home base (a website that they own and control) that provides free, truly valuable content.

Let’s say you sell BBQ sauce — like self-described “Legendary Bar-B-Q” purveyor Stubb’s. You need to give away recipes on your site, instructions on how to use Stubb’s sauce in all different kinds of dishes.

If you sell ebooks that help small business owners, you need to publicly share the valuable advice that your audience wants and needs.

High-quality content is that “reminder” about who you are and how you help your customer. And when your customer needs you, your name is the one that comes to mind.

Why trust is everything

So much of getting social shares — or referrals of any kind — boils down to trust.

Trust is something that many businesses have forgotten about because of certain preconceptions about how the Internet works. The good news (or bad news, if you’re just trying to slam together crap products) is, we’re getting back to the old ways.

Years ago, when your car broke down, you didn’t go to Yelp to find the best mechanic in the area. You talked to your friends.

Now we can do both.

You can talk to your friends offline and online, check out Yelp and make an informed decision. If one friend loves a certain mechanic but Yelp has terrible reviews, you’ll probably keep searching. If both give rave reviews then you are pretty sure it’s going to turn out well.

Every business should be using these tools to help build trust. If someone talks about you on Twitter you should be there to help. The same thing goes for Facebook, Google+, and the other major social networking sites.

Most important, lead these conversations all over the web by publishing powerful content on the site that you own. Become a trusted source of information and advice in your industry, and your audience will grow, and eventually spread the word for you everywhere else.

Engagement without burnout

When you truly listen to your audience — and regularly deliver the content that they want and need — they’ll connect to your business and ideas in a way that was nearly impossible before the rise of the Internet.

And once that connection is in place, they’ll want to help spread the word. That authentic emotional connection compels people to share your stuff with their friends.

Remember that every person that finds their way into your universe is a potential part of your “Domino set.” The more you build trust with them through publishing great content, the more people will refer that content to their friends, and the more sales you’ll ultimately generate.

The math is very simple, the execution takes time and hard work. Here’s some help to get you started with that.

* Hat tip to John Jantsch for the headline of this post, shamelessly stolen from his excellent book The Referral Engine.


About the Author: Karl Staib is the publisher of Domino Connection. Check out his free course “How to Create an Amazing Product Launch.” You can also find Domino Connection on Facebook, where he shares all kinds of great content and tips.

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