How digital changed word of mouth

Attracting new customers is the #1 concern among small business owners, but a lot has changed in how local businesses get foot through their doors. 

In the past, businesses used a proverbial megaphone to attract customers—advertising and other means of “pushing” a message into the community. Today, however, the maturing digital landscape allows small businesses to use a more effective and efficient tool: a magnet. 

If advertising is a megaphone, online review sites are a magnet. They utilize your past customers’ experiences to tell prospective shoppers the #1 thing they want to know: should I shop at this store?

People are naturally drawn to the experiences of other customers, so much so, that 97% of shoppers read online reviews about local businesses before they visit. The power of social proof, neatly curated in online forums, is precisely what’s created a massive magnetic pull toward online review sites like Yelp, Google My Business, TripAdvisor, and Facebook. 

The new age of customer attraction

Businesses have been using the megaphone method to attract customers since the advent of advertising. The key difference between now and then is the speed at which information travels. And since the Internet entered the scene, big businesses have been able to amplify their marketing to reach more customers.

That has all but drowned out small businesses that still rely solely on traditional methods of promoting their business. This is one of the reasons so many small business owners instinctively reach for the megaphone: it’s a noisy, competitive marketplace. They understandably feel that the best way to stand out is to make some noise.

Problem is, when business owners rely exclusively on traditional marketing methods, they’re not only competing against local competitors, they’re also competing against every business and company that also wants the attention of that customer. The $190 billion advertising industry naturally tilts the balance of power in favor of businesses with bigger budgets or more sophisticated marketing teams. 

Until recently, local business owners haven’t had many other options. Surprisingly, online review sites actually favor small, local businesses, as they help direct consumers from online forums to physical businesses nearby when they’re looking to make a purchase soon. 

Online reviews are the new word of mouth

Today, consumers rely on word of mouth more than ever before. And just as the Internet has accelerated the speed at which information travels, it has digitized word of mouth recommendations.

Right now, shoppers can pick up their phone, look up your business online, and within a few minutes, they will have enough information to make a decision about making a visit or not. And today’s consumers are doing more than just reading online reviews; they place a lot of trust in them. In fact, 88% of consumers trust reviews as if they came as a personal recommendation from a close friend.  

Reviews, like word of mouth recommendations, provide future shoppers with the social proof that your business is as reputable as you say. Because, while consumers still want to hear from businesses directly, they also want the social proof of actual customer experiences. A business may claim to make the world’s best chili, but what do the people who’ve already tried it think?

In the past decade, the customer attraction landscape has transformed immensely—so much so that it’s hardly recognizable for many small business owners. While much of that change has made it more difficult and expansive for small business owners to compete against big-box stores and online retailers, we’ve also seen some of the most powerful tools emerge in support of small, local businesses. By leveraging review sites, local businesses are finding new, cost-efficient and effective ways to boost their online reputations and attract more new customers.

While advertising is still relevant, small businesses should use it only after taking control of their online presence and online business reputations. After all, why start with a megaphone when there’s a perfectly good magnet right in front of you?

Take Action

A strong reputation is foundational for businesses looking to attract more new customers. With Womply’s reputation management solutions, you can take control of your online business reputation and increase first-time visits. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

Bonus: Read the small business owner’s guide to online reviews on FitSmallBusiness.com

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