Word of mouth has long been considered the best advertising a small business can get. And in today’s digital world, word of mouth is even more important and effective than ever.  But the social media explosion has transformed how word of mouth works.

Social media vastly amplifies word of mouth in a 24/7 system. But many business owners are puzzled about how this works, and what to do.

Basically, it’s about what the social media world calls “influencers.”  Other people listen to what influencers have to say. They come in all shapes and sizes, from a busy mom who’s active on Facebook, to a well-known blogger in a particular industry or profession. Influencers are active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, industry forums and their own blogs or websites.

Influencers are always building their digital networks and social media reputations. They may have hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of friends (Facebook; Foursquare), followers (Twitter) and connections (LinkedIn) that constitute a immense digital word-of-mouth opportunity.

Every single connection is amplified in the digital world. For example, according to LinkedIn, my relatively modest 450 connections link me to an astounding 7.8 million professionals.

Your goal is to identify your influencers, and then – well – influence them to spread positive word-of-mouth about your business.

How to Do It

Here are six tips on how to do that suggested by a leading social media analytics firm Sysomos:

1. First Check Your Own Network

Some influencers may already be in your fold. These might be past and present customers and prospects who already know your business and engage with you on social sites. Remember that customers are highly influenced by what their friends and family do and like. People already in your network can have this kind of influence on their own connections, so reach out to them.

2. Use Google and Twitter searches

This will help you find people who’ve already identified themselves (by the keywords them included in their personal or business profiles) as being interested in your industry or demographic. Don’t forget to search related or overlapping terms as well. You can also check their influencer scores or ratings with services such as Klout.com and Kred.com. But don’t rule out up-and-comers. Even people with small (highly targeted) networks can have big influence.

3. Recognize and Reward Your Best Influencers

Recognition is a powerful tool for influencing your influencers. Everyone likes to feel special in some way, and influencers in particular love to feel like they are “in the know” and have valuable tips or information they can pass along to their own networks. You can foster a special feeling by creating an influencer network (although you don’t have to call it that) and offering them first crack at special deals, news, offers, samples and demos. And social media experts at Sysomos also suggest tapping top influencers for feedback on new products or services. Loyalists will love this – especially if you make them feel they’ve had an impact.

4. Segment Your Audience and Tailor your Tactics

Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Influencer behavior and digital word-of-mouth looks much different depending on the social platform (i.e. Twitter vs. LinkedIn). Twitter updates, for example, should be made throughout the day (but no more than hourly). Facebook updates are generally less frequent – maybe once per day. On blogs and discussion forums, it’s best to try and join in a dialog on a topic of interest. You can gain leverage and be more efficient with your time by “cross-pollinating” some of your photos, tweets, posts and comments across multiple platforms. For example, don’t just post a great photo on Facebook. Also put it on Pinterest and tweet it.

5. Personalize your Approach

Don’t be shy about reaching out to key influences one-on-one. Use the social tools at your disposal to do this, including the direct messaging capability of Twitter, LinkedIn and others, as well as leaving thoughtful and constructive comments on influencer blogs. A social CRM service such as Nimble.com can also be a huge help.

6. Keep up with the Conversation

This requires continuous effort but is essential.  When you become an integral part of the digital media conversation in your industry or profession, influencers will be more likely to mention and recommend you on their own. Sharing thoughts and reactions to industry news will keep people thinking and talking about you.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.