The power of word of mouth

Relationship-building and networking — integral components of strategic public relations and marketing efforts — are effective, affordable ways to build a “buzz.” It has always been important to build positive word-of-mouth PR about a company and its products and services, but in today’s tough economic times, it’s more critical than ever to leverage relationships to maximize business success.

Word-of-mouth PR and referrals are not only integral to raising awareness, generating excitement, driving traffic and increasing sales, having third-party endorsements, especially if they come from well-respected supporters, lends credibility to your business.

Think about how you make many of your decisions. If you need an accountant, you’re probably going to turn to a friend who’s had a good experience, and ask who he or she uses. Or if you’re looking to hire new staff, you’re more likely to start by asking for referrals from respected colleagues to see if they know anyone with the right talent and skills.

Referrals are critical to growing your business and, therefore, it’s important to build strong third-party relationships with partners, investors, customers, peers, vendors and other opinion makers who can “endorse” your company within their networks.

The good news: Networking has never been easier than it is today. Now we have a variety of online resources available, including sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. These social media sites simplify the networking process, allowing people to quickly and instantly reach out to former colleagues, college friends, industry experts and more. We now have instant access to anybody – literally from around the world – right from our computers, PDAs and cell phones.

Building relationships

While there are vast opportunities to network online, it’s also important to build relationships the “old-fashioned way,” by attending events, making phone calls and other “offline” efforts. It’s certainly convenient to network with the click of a mouse, but online networking shouldn’t completely replace your in-person relationship building.

There are a variety of effective ways to build positive relationships, including:

• Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Sign up for groups, get connected and learn all of the features that will help you successfully connect with others. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can build up a solid network of online connections.

• Ask for referrals. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. People are willing to help you, but you have to tell them what you need.

• Attend networking events in your industry and in your town. Meet new people and tell them about how they can benefit from your products or services.

• Talk to anyone who will listen. Not just at business events, but also chat up your seatmate on an airplane, the folks in your running club, the guy with the Golden Retriever at the dog park. You never know how you can leverage that connection to increase your business.

• Be willing to reciprocate. If you rave about your friend’s new wine bar and send referrals his way, he’ll be inclined to return the favor, directing traffic to your business, as well.

• Create and send out regular e-newsletters to your customers, peers, partners, investors and other interested parties so they know what’s going on at your company.

• Schedule “check-in” meetings with important investors, partners and customers to show you care about their relationship and gauge their temperature on how they see things going with your company.

• Implement the old-fashioned power lunch. Or meet a contact for coffee, a drink or even a yoga class. Get together with people you respect and strike up a conversation. And while you’re chatting, ask for their help, support and referrals.

• Remember that simple gestures can make a tremendous impact. Send a handwritten note. Stop by with a cup of coffee. Deliver homemade cookies.

Whether you prefer to do it online, by phone or face-to-face, it is important to make word-of-mouth PR and networking part of your business plan. Leveraging relationships will go a long way but only if you make a point to take action.

Stefanie Guzikowski, owner of Portsmouth-based E & G Public Relations LLC, can be reached at 603-501-0052 or