In today's world of mass communication and widespread social media usage, it's important that middle market firms don't lose sight of how valuable word-of-mouth marketing remains. Midsized firms should continue to train employees on how to encourage communication through word of mouth among customers, prospects, and any points of contact in order to drive up customer retention. Consider the following:

Valuable, personalized information goes a long way toward keeping customers interested in your brand

  • In the current age of social media, your average eighteen-year-olds have already had more conversations with more people than their grandparents have had in their entire lifetimes, according to digital marketing firm 1000heads.
  • Even though more people are communicating on social networks than ever before, this doesn't mean that everybody is willing to share information. A study by researchers from several universities published in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology shows that a significant percentage of people are reluctant to share product recommendations across social networks.
  • People aren't as comfortable expressing opinions to their whole network of contacts as they would be talking to close family and friends, and the majority of people aren't willing to take as much stock in the opinions of others on their networks as they would from those of their friends and family. According to Nielsen's 2013 Global Trust in Advertising report, eighty-four percent of surveyed people say that they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family more than any other form of marketing.

Successful word-of-mouth communication does not have to be literally face to face; it can occur through any social channel (in person, on the phone, e-mail, social media). It doesn't need to be with a customer, either. What's important is that a back-and-forth conversation is generated from any interaction between a person who represents a brand and a person who is interested in that brand. You want employees to take the lead when it comes to these interactions by possessing a passion for and knowledge of your company's product or service and its particular niche. The goal is to get the brand in question to stick in the mind of anybody that comes into contact with it.

Some midsized firms that have recently been recognized as an NCMM-designated Company of the Month employ a philosophy that puts a major focus on conversations with customers and potential customers. This is separate from the core product or service of the brand. Such companies as Noodles & Company and Red Frog Events offer, alongside the product or service that they're selling, an enjoyable, immersive experience that encourages word of mouth.

  • The employees that drive customer interactions need to be passionate about their brand. At restaurant chain Noodles & Company, this is a key component to successful communication. "The individuals working [here] are really foodies," says President and COO Keith Kinsey. "They care about food and what they are selling . . . [and] we make sure [our employees] find value in [serving others]."
  • At Red Frog Events, an organizer of music festivals and unusual athletic competitions and races, VP of Operations Stephanie Mezzano says that recruiting people who care about the firm's mission is the top criteria for growth, especially because of the strong benefits of customer word of mouth. "We pride ourselves on giving every one of our participants top-notch customer service from the first time they register for one of our events to after the event where we're continuously asking them for their feedback." This underlines how spirited interactions with customers encourages them to share their experience with others.

All companies use social media in an attempt to reach out to customers, so firms need to distinguish themselves from others in their use of social networking by going above and beyond basic advertising. Social media should be used to offer valuable information to customers that is tailored to their individual needs.

  • NCMM-featured company Anytime Fitness took a big step toward providing extra, personalized information to customers by creating, an online support system that features tracking programs for workouts and diets for members, along with a forum for people to communicate tips with each other. Anytime employees form a big part of those chats, advancing the conversation with useful information when they see an opportunity.
  • High-performance blender maker Vitamix went down a similar route. The midmarket firm's employees are tasked with creating conversations with both customers and curious, potential customers to help them use different ingredients along with Vitamix's products in order to maximize their health and enjoy some variety while doing so. The promotion of this type of engaging interaction with consumers fosters a high potential for growth. Vitamix has grown by a whopping fifty-two percent over the past year and has its word-of-mouth strategy to thank. "In order to navigate through our growth . . . we had to change our business model. As people were becoming more aware of the impact of what they ate had on how they felt, we realized we needed to be where people were looking for solutions," says Jodi Berg, president and CEO. "We have a philosophy that we aren't actually hiring a new customer when we sell a machine, we are hiring a new salesperson."

Brand enthusiasts — customers and employees alike — who deliver interesting, personal information create memorable human connections that encourage people to share with others. People are far more likely to broadcast their customer experience if they have been presented with something valuable. The more engaged fans of your brand that you have on your side, the more likely that enthusiasm for your product or service will spread across the multitude of social avenues available today.

Should midsized firms with limited resources and personnel hire employees to focus solely on customer interactions through social networks? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Rob Carey is an NCMM contributor and a features writer who has focused on the business-to-business niche since 1992. He spent his first 15 years at Nielsen Business Media, rising from editorial intern to editorial director. Since then, he has been the principal of New York-based Meetings & Hospitality Insight, working with large hospitality brands in addition to various media outlets.