The modern version of word-of-mouth referrals is Facebook's "Likes." It's everywhere - you can like just about anything at any time on the internet and can then have your personal thumbs up broadcasted to your entire network of friends. We all learn that if someone doesn't like something, they will tell 10 people. If they like something, they generally don't say a thing. Facebook has changed all that. If you like something, Facebook will make sure everyone knows about it. Marketers are just beginning to harness what this means. As usual, nonprofits are lagging behind.
Here's the danger of not paying attention to who likes you: you are missing an entire audience of people championing your cause. Give your constituents the opportunity to like you. Have an up-to-date Facebook page. Use the new tools to embed into your website so people can share their support of your message and broadcast it to a far greater audience than you could reach independently. Encourage people to like your blog and then repost the message via their own Facebook page. It's a viral form of personal recommendations that has a really wide reach.
People trust other recommendations. Whenever I book a hotel room, purchase a product, or look for a service, I seek out the section on websites on references. That feedback is honest, often blunt, and generally spot on. Sites like Amazon, Hotels.com, Orbitz, CNet use these personal recommedations brilliantly. Don't buy a product before reading them. Better yet, take some time to give your own feedback and help others out. Your opinion is valuable; speak out.
Twitter's Retweet (RT) functionality is nothing more than someone say, "Hey, I like this...check it out." I am more likely going to read an article that I've seen RT'ed by friends that I trust. There is something very flattering to see a tweet you've posted get picked up and rebroadcasted to their own network. It gives credence that your message is important, worthy, and valuable.
In the May 31, 2010 issue of Time Magazine, there was an article entitled "Philanthropy Roundtable." It featured various philanthropists and nonprofit leaders and sought out their opinions on fundraising and the spirit of philanthropy. I was struck by a comment made by Sanjit "Bunker" Roy, founder of Barefoot College. His organization works in Africa training rural women to be solar energy engineers. He shared some thoughts on grassroots communication, "The best way to communicate is not a telephone or a telegraph. It's tell-a woman....Word of mouth really is the best way to communicate."
Why is word of mouth so effective? Because it comes from someone you trust. It provides opportunities for honest, unprovoked recommendations. It's organic and not created by a marketing firm or clever campaign. It comes from someone who has truly been impacted. Testimonials are a powerful way of getting your message to new donors, followers, fans, volunteers, clients, employees, etc. Are you giving people something positive to talk about? Do you encourage feedback on your Facebook page? Do you provide the ability for fans to like something on your website and share it with others? Are you creating forums for people to share their thoughts? Do you ask for honest feedback? Are you sharing valuable information that those already networked with you can share with those who are not?
Grassroots organizations need to provide grassroots methods of communication. The good news is that social media and the internet have made this simpler than ever. It's up to you to simply take advantage of it.