Igniting User Endorsements

So, how do you get people inspired to talk about you? Above all else, bring to market a product or service that is remarkable in and of itself.

Next, recognize that people already are talking about your stuff, both online and off. Some good, some bad.

While it’s tempting to spend all of your time cleaning up the bad, that’s really tantamount to a futile game of Whack-a-Mole. It’s never ending, and every time you quiet some naysayer down, another appears.

Instead, you want to make effort to facilitate and fuel the talkers who are saying good things about you and your products.

How? This may be the $64,000 question, and in some senses this is the hard part. Please COMMENT on this post with better ideas and I’ll add them to this list.

Let’s get started. In no particular order

  • Make sure your best customers feel in the loop.

Let them in on your company happenings, and even secrets. Think about MacWorld and the way that Apple makes their best customers feel part of the action every January in San Francisco. In fact, those zealots actually PAY to go to MacWorld.

Since you probably can’t organize a trade show, set up an insider status where you can communicate with your best customers and let them in on progress, updates, and preview the latest features of your product or service. Ask for their feedback, and let them feel part of the action. Have them test new versions of the products they already love. Invite them to participate on a user-advisory board. That sort of stuff.

  • Make it easy for them to spread the word.

If you can distill down your core message, that helps a lot. If you can make it easy for them to “share” with their friends, do that. If you do an “email a friend” program, give your users an easy and fun way to personalize it so as to add a human touch. Canned jargon be gone. Just be careful about being too slick about tapping into your user’s contact lists and spamming those folks. No one I know likes to get duped into spamming their contacts.

  • Ask them to talk about you.

Some people are shy, and if you ask (authentically) for people to introduce you to their friends, they will. Just be real about it. If you build a referral program, that’s fine, but be sure to be careful about choosing the incentives for the referral. Recognition is better than reward (see below for more on this).

You need to really do a great job of understanding the motivation of your customers in regard to why they might choose to put themselves out there and endorse your product. They must LOVE it, so that their endorsement is credible and authentic and therefore trusted. Recognize that they satisfaction they get from endorsing your product is from the feeling they have (as mavens) of sharing their expertise or insight on something cool. They are helping their friends, not you. If you introduce any incentives that make them feel like they are working for you, it will not only not work, but is likely to have a perverse effect of turning people off.

What NOT to do.

Don’t ever trick yourself into thinking that financial incentives or rewards – coupons, discounts, gift cards, cash – are a good idea. Ever. It may sound smart, but at the end of the day, the issue is that you get what you pay for. Nothing more, nothing less. And, the point is that endorsements are generally free, and when they’re paid, they lose credibility and ultimately their value in the first place. If it feels like you’re bribing or paying or creating monetary incentives, you’re off track. And, do yourself a favor and never use the word incentivize while you are at it.

  • Set up some community building structure for your zealots to get organized.

Create a place for your customers to openly and publicly talk about what they love and what they hate about you and your products. Let it flow, and don’t censor their commentary. Keep it real. Make it fun for them to participate in sharing their passion and evangelize your stuff. Recognize (but don’t “reward”) the most active contributors with increasing levels of status. Let these mavens feel like the experts that they are. Let them feel heroic.

Sounds hard, right? Lucky for you, there are companies (like lithium.com or getsatisfaction.com) who can set you up with turn-key platforms to build your very own community of zealots.

  • Measure how you’re doing

There’s this great thing called Net Promoter Score that you and everyone in your company should adopt as the #1 metric that you evaluate your success with. It’s also very simple, and there’s no excuse not to make the effort to track your score.

It goes like this. Ask your customers on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they are to recommend your product. A 9 or 10 is considered a “promoter”. A 7 or 8 is considered neutral. 6 or below is considered a detractor. Your score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors (ignoring altogether the neutrals). For a better explanation, Jeffrey Walker’s blog is here to help.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Igniting User Endorsements

  1. Josh Scott

    One item I would add to the list: Let people play Macgyver with your product.

    Try to make your product so that people can do what they want to with it, not just what you want them to…

    If your product is flexible, you will be amazed at what your users come up with and how they extend it to places you likely never imagined. When someone “Macgyver’s” your product, they will talk about it and recruit others with a similar need. User Macgyvering also makes the product feel much more “real” – turns out “real” is a pretty hard thing to fake. Experience suggests that real-ness and “community” seem to be close cousins – the real-er your product is, the more a community is apt to develop and grow around it.

  2. We are thinking pretty seriously about financial incentives for users of our product based on rebates provided for their initial use and for when they refer us to others who become users. The rebate will amount to a discount, but there will still be material payment to use our stuff. I’m not getting what you seem to think is bad about that.

    On providing users with a forum, we are having a good experience with getsatisfaction.

    Brad Porteus owes 1 comment to http://www.market7.com/blog (arguably 2 since 2 things about the post are touched on in this comment)

  3. bporteus

    Seth:

    I think referral programs are absolutely appropriate and worth pursuing. If monetary discounts are where you land, then, rock-n-roll.

    If it were up to me, I think I’d make monetary rewards potentially last. Rather, I’d explore bonusing them some premium features that you are developing – earning them the right to move up your customer curve, and also getting you valuable insights from users who are arguably your most passionate and valuable.

    You simply would much prefer someone pimping Market7 on the basis of how great it is, rather than them hoping for a few bucks back if they haphazardly spam their network.

    My 2 cents.

  4. Our software is fundamental to the video production process and to the relationship between producer and client. So even if it were free, a producer would not play with us if we didn’t seem worthy of trust. And likewise a producer wouldn’t push us out to his/her network of professional relations if s/he didn’t have confidence in us. And even with these sweeteners we’re still charging a few $’00/ project.

    Our feeling is that these funds help lubricate progress in the last few As of which you write.

    You refer to premium features which is actually something we’re inclined to avoid — to justify our not-cheap pricing we want to make every feature and most reasonable capacity projects do-able, to encourage appreciation of our full development effort and maximize loyalty.

  5. Tim G

    You seem adverse to coupons and discounts. Is that just in using them to encourage viral marketing or does that include using them to promote general engagement?

    I’d tend to think they do have value in getting your customers to remember you (top of mind) – coupon emails get opened at a lot more than non-coupon emails.

    If you also see value in the engagement side – where? Do you draw a distinction between coupons and other incentives used to retain stragglers v. encourage leading customers?

  6. bporteus

    Hi Tim,

    Nice to hear from you, and thanks for the comment/question.

    In regard to coupons and discounts, I agree that there is a time and place for those. Particularly in markets where products are similar and differentiated on price.

    The other place I like coupons is for stimulating trial, re-activating lapsed users, or as a “sorry-about-that” for a poor customer experience.

    But, using discounts to drive loyalty is a scary proposition, as it trains your customers to think about the price, rather than the benefits.

    Model yourself after companies that enjoy the highest levels of loyalty, yet rarely if ever offer sales (Apple, Nordstrom, etc.). If you find yourself relying on coupons to get your emails opened, you might have a bigger underlying problem that needs addressing. Be afraid of getting your customers hooked on the crack.

    Also, to be clear, I’m generally opposed to monetary incentives to drive “viral” behaviors. I think you want the viral growth to be driven more organically by the remarkability of your product itself, and the delight of your customer, rather than an artificial motivation which will become quickly transparent to the 3rd party recipient of that message.

  7. Hi Brad.

    Just discovered you by following a link from Copyblogger (I’ve been back and endorsed this site too!). Great stuff here.

    We’ve always given wedding clients a discount voucher plus a referral voucher and I am convinced you are right. When we’ve gone back to past clients with a financial reward for referring us they have ALL WITHOUT FAIL been really embarrassed, and most have refused the reward. I never understood it before this article, but now I realise that I would be embarrassed too, in case my friends thought I was trying to profiteer from them.

    I will now bin the referral vouchers but may increase the value of the discount voucher which they can give to a friend. Thank you!

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