Why Peer Recommendations Matter for Your BusinessThere was a time when word of mouth was the best way to spread the buzz surrounding a service or a product to potential customers. Now more than ever, word of mouth advertising has come back into vogue through social media. By harnessing the power of tweets via Twitter and status updates on Facebook, you can inspire your current customers to make peer recommendations to their friends and neighbors, which increases the bottom line of your brand for the long term.

If your company has little or no money available for advertising or marketing, social media represents a powerful tool to get the word out about your product or service. A customer referral from a satisfied patron to his or her friends can carry far more weight than even the most persuasive or expensive advertising. Best of all, you can launch and manage highly effective social media campaigns without blowing your company’s budget.

By encouraging your present customers to spread the word about the great products and services you have to offer, you can save money on advertising, while generating trust among potential customers. As a result, you can concentrate your time, effort and money into producing the best possible products and services. With the winning combination of excellent offerings and trusted peer referrals, your company has a better chance of enjoying a healthy profit margin now and in the future.

Build Trust with Targeted Customers

By recruiting your present customers as ambassadors to promote your product or service, you can generate trust with your target audience. Someone who sees that her best friend or his college buddy thinks highly of your product is likely to be more willing to give it a try, which is a half the battle. After all, no matter how well constructed your product or service, you will not be able to remain in business if no one ever makes a purchase. Quality and service generates loyalty, but positive referrals get customers through the doors in the first place. Offer incentives to your current customers in the form of discounts or freebies, depending on the number of new customers they send to you. Make it worth their time to tell others about your product or service, and before long, you’ll have your own team of brand evangelists.

Spread the Word Quickly

Social media has the power to spread the word about your company’s services or products as quickly as television or radio for far less money than you would spend to air an ad on your local television newscast, let alone a commercial spot for a nationally televised primetime program. A clever social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or YouTube has the potential to go viral, which could result in worldwide publicity.

An interesting example of a viral video is the “Sketches” ad campaign launched by Dove. The short film featured an FBI sketch artist who drew women based on their own perceptions of what they thought they looked like, and then the artist drew another sketch of the same woman according to the description of them from that of a stranger. Surprisingly, the strangers helped produced sketches that were more attractive and realistic than the sketches using descriptions from the women themselves.

Using such a video, Dove was able to make the point that women are overly critical of themselves, which makes them blind to their true beauty. People speaking 25 different languages uploaded the video, and it had more than 114 million views just a month after its release. What made it go viral was sharability. Consumers didn’t just want to watch it; instead, they felt compelled to share it, which made it go viral, and fast. They wanted to share it because it elicited intense emotions in them, and they connected with the message. In addition, Dove executed a precise media plan, launching it in four key markets, the United States, Canada, Australia and Brazil, before rolling it out to the rest of the world. Remember, even if only a relatively few people share the content on your social profile; it still has the potential to become exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of potential customers, all for little or no cost.

Target a Specific Niche

By combining social media outreach with search engine marketing and search engine optimization, you can target your campaign to attract a particular segment of the consumer public. For instance, you may discover that certain types of Pinterest boards draw women in their twenties, or that hosting a Google+ hangout during a sporting event allows fans to interact with one another on a play-by-play basis, along with developing a positive impression of your company. On Facebook, be sure to friend or follow key leaders in your industry. You can also look for companies and people who are relevant to your business to follow on Twitter. Remember to respond to content your colleagues, clients and customers are posting, too. Social media is a give-give situation, so you need to be actively participating on a regular basis to continue.

Although it will take some effort to get started, once you know how to engage consumers with your product or service, you have a valuable tool for brand evangelization. Many businesses can attract customers initially, but what makes the biggest difference in your profit margin is to be able to retain them, and then turn them into cheerleaders for your business.

Jack Bishop is a marketing guru. He frequently writes about modern marketing strategies on small business and entrepreneurship blogs.