Word on the street: Boosting word of mouth for your local government programs
Looking to breathe some new life into your agency’s services or programs? One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to build awareness and visibility for everything from your parks to recycling programs to libraries and neighbourhood watch meetings is through word of mouth marketing.It’s a fancy-dancy buzzword, but truthfully the concept of word of mouth is one that comes to us all quite naturally. When we love or hate a product, when we’ve had wonderful or regrettable customer service experiences, when we find out about a great offering before our friends, we tell people. Alternately, we listen: Recommendations from our families and friends trump all other forms of advertising when it comes to making purchase decisions.Word of mouth marketing is about harnessing and amplifying the conversations—particularly the positive ones—that people are having about the programs and services we provide.

According to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), all successful word of mouth marketing techniques are based on the concepts of customer satisfaction, two-way dialogue and transparent communications. The basic elements are:

  • Educating people about your programs and services
  • Identifying people most likely to share their opinions
  • Providing tools that make it easier to share information
  • Studying how, where and when opinions are being shared
  • Listening and responding to supporters, detractors and neutrals

Keeping these elements in mind, we have a few tips for jumpstarting your agency’s word of mouth marketing efforts today…

  • Research and listen to community feedback. Not only will this give you a starting point for identifying what people are talking about and how to make your communications most relevant to them, it will enable you to participate in their conversations in hopes of creating more conversations. Track online and offline mentions by supporters, detractors and even neutral parties by listening and responding to all sides. If they’re confused about parking ordinances, answer their questions by posting a link to a FAQ sheet. If they’ve posted photos from a visit to a park, tell them you hope they had a nice time. Don’t over-think it—just be social. Consider reaching out to those who have especially nice things to say by sending them a small gift of gratitude, like a sweatshirt or a tumbler.
  • Engage in transparent conversation. Encouraging two-way conversations with interested parties through blogs and other tools to share information is a great way to spur word of mouth. Consider starting a blog or enabling comments on certain parts of your website that allow for these conversations to take place. Cities like Calgary—which uses a blog to promote its latest initiatives, and Nanaimo, B.C.—which uses Facebook to tout its parks and recreation programs, are both great examples of cities promoting and informing citizens of important programs this way.
  • Encourage communications. Make it as easy as possible for your community members and constituents to spread the word. Consider adding social share options to your website and emails so they can easily link to your information on Facebook®, Twitter® and more. As your agency monitors the online realm, participate in conversations that mention you or your programs and services. Or, create collateral materials that are easily kept and passed along. For example, instead of a bulky brochure, consider condensing your marketing pieces to postcard- or even business card-size pieces, like this magnet, that people can easily grab a stack of, stow in a bag and share when they see an opportunity.
  • Work with influencers. Every community has them—people whose opinions matter, people who are incredibly vocal within your target audiences. Reach out to them and discuss the importance of what your programs or services do and the benefit they have to the community. Inform them and encourage them to help spread the word. Remember it’s a two-way street though: Take good-faith efforts to support issues and causes that are important to these individuals, too.
  • Try co-creation and information sharing. Involving audiences in marketing and creative gets them excited about your efforts and gives them a vested interest in the success of your communications. Elicit feedback online and in person on marketing campaigns, or hold contests that aim to create cover designs for booklets, ads, PSAs or commercials. Also consider letting customers “behind the curtain” to have first access to information and content in order to make them feel special. Encourage participation with fun prizes like T-shirts, grocery totes or camp chairs.

Word of mouth marketing can be a powerful and useful tool in spreading the word of your programs and services. For more information, case studies and tips, check out our Blue Paper® on the topic.

Mcilroy, Megan. “Family, Friends Most Influential on Shoppers | MediaWorks – Advertising Age.” Advertising Agency & Marketing Industry News – Advertising Age. Web. 03 Sept. 2011.

“WOM 101.” WOMMA: The Leading Voice for Ethical and Effective Word of Mouth and Social Media Marketing. Web. 02 Sept. 2011.

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