Sean D'Souza: Word of mouth still works wonders - but now it's gone virtual

Imagine you had a party that got reported around the world. A party that never took place at all.

Here's what the fictional party looked like: "A birthday party invitation posted on the popular social websites Facebook and Bebo attracted some 400 guests and gatecrashers.

"The birthday girl, British 16-year-old Jodie Hudson, and her mother Amanda learned too late the disaster the online invitation would cause to their luxurious Marbella vacation villa. The villa suffered ruined walls, destroyed carpets, and broken banisters, doors and furniture. And apparently they threw a TV into the swimming pool."

As I said: The party never happened, despite reports appearing online and in some newspapers.

But month after month, parties such as this do happen. If you were to trundle along to downtown Auckland you'd find hordes of party-goers. They turn up. They drink. They dance. They socialise. And more importantly, they don't destroy furniture or throw TVs into the harbour.

And the primary source of attraction isn't an email newsletter. Or posters plastered all around town. Or someone making a call to invite you to the party.

Amazingly, it all happens on Facebook.

But surely Facebook is for a younger demographic, you argue.

And again, you'd be way off the mark.

Because savvy marketers across the planet are using Facebook to gain supporters and customers. And contrary to what you may believe, the demographics of Facebook have changed rapidly.

Suddenly, it's your customer that's on Facebook - and he/she is no teen.

But how do we know this to be true?

The biggest reason why Facebook seems to work better than other media is because it's a lot like how you get business offline. If you look at about 80 per cent of your business, you'll notice one striking fact: that chunk of your business comes to you via word of mouth. And that's how Facebook works.

You post your Facebook profile and people find you. God knows how, but they do. And the reason why they find you is because your customer is doing all the hard work. Because it's so easy to put up a page on Facebook, most people do. The next thing they do is populate the page with things they like. And some of the things they like are things that you sell.

Let's look at the examples:
* Gail Martin: Author of science fiction books.
* An Auckland DJ who wanted to prevent bars from closing at 3am.
* Barack Obama, who wants voters to show up - and vote for him.
* SpyBar, which has theme events that attract partygoers.
* The All Blacks, who get support for their Tri-Nations bid.

Let's expand on three of these.

Example 1: SpyBar. In the past, SpyBar used email newsletters to generate traffic to their events. Despite sustained efforts, their email list grew slowly.

This is because it required party-goers to get to SpyBar's website, then register.

Traditional methods such as printing posters and sending physical invitations were costly and time-consuming. Facebook has none of these constraints.

The party-goers were already visiting Facebook regularly, and were just one click away from landing on the SpyBar Facebook page.

Even more interesting is that in almost every case it was the party-goers themselves who introduced their friends to SpyBar's Facebook page.

The result is that whenever Spybar has an event, all it has to do is post the event (and posters) on Facebook. And send a notification to all their Facebook friends. Immediately there's a response. Party-goers have an RSVP mechanism that enables SpyBar to gauge the numbers of likely attendees.

Example 2: Gail Martin - pre-selling science fiction books. Author Gail Martin uses Facebook by accessing science

now it's gone virtual

fiction sites and driving visitors from there to her Facebook site.

This enables her to build a "database of friends". And when a new book is about to be released, she can use Facebook friends to promote her book. to their friends.

All Gail has to do is send out one notification. Then friends take over, telling friends. And the ball starts rolling.

Example 3: Keeping bars open. Last month, Auckland police decided to submit a plan to the city council which would dramatically alter the city's nightlife.

Immediately, an Auckland DJ decided to put together a group on Facebook. The council shot down the idea, but well over 1000 people had already signed in to the Facebook page, ready to protest should they be deprived of their martinis at 3am.

Facebook, as you can see, is a group-building activity. Most pages were initially set up just to meet others online. But that situation has morphed into something bigger.

If you're selling ice-cream, as Movenpick does, you can start up an Ice-Cream Lovers Event. If you're selling real estate, you can do open homes for specific houses online, separating each group based on the type of house they prefer.

So how do you get started?

* Method 1: If you've got an online list.
* Method 2: If you've got an offline list or retail establishment.
* Method 3: If you don't have a list of any kind. Or a store.

If you've got an online list, email them and ask them to be your Facebook Friends. And yes, send a reminder or two as well. That will build up your Facebook list quickly. With an offline list, you can do the same. And make sure that you entice customers with some goodies, so that they go online and register.

But what if you don't have a store or any online list? Well, you simply find other lists. Gail Martin gets traffic from other sci-fi sites. The Auckland DJ simply tapped into bars' lists on Facebook.

Yes, Facebook is just another way of marketing. But what makes it different is the instant word of mouth appeal. That alone should make you investigate.

Note: We're on FaceBook too - for a reason, or Sean D'Souza

Sean D'Souza is chief executive of Psychotactics and is an international author and trainer.

- NZ Herald

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