Over 70,000 people live in New Westminster, BC, but it feels like a village. Thanks to several active local Facebook groups, we, New Westies, get to know each other, share things, and ask for advice about all kinds of topics, from where to buy something to marriage advice. One of these groups is Eat New West, where I recently noticed a perfect example of low-budget word-of-mouth marketing with stellar results for a local business.
Word-of-mouth marketing for local businesses: A case study
In January, C posted on Eat New West, a group created to celebrate and support local restaurants, that she was craving a specific dish and asking if anyone knew where she could find something similar:
Few people suggested places that might have something. It looked like C wouldn’t find what she wanted, until a few hours later when S, group member and lead chef in a popular local restaurant, saw her post and used his personal profile to help C in the coolest way.
Chef S offered to cook the dish precisely as C described—all she had to do was email him to schedule the special meal at his restaurant. Adorable! Over 50 other members liked, loved, and were surprised by the offer. Some commented on what fantastic customer service that was—especially C:
Days later, C updated her post, saying that chef S recreated the dish for her. More likes and comments about how great the restaurant is followed:
Why chef S’ offer created perfect word-of-mouth marketing
That post made group members who were already customers even more enticed to patronize the restaurant, while those who hadn’t been there yet said they were definitely going to visit it now. Many will tell others about the excellent customer service and how caring their chef is, promoting the restaurant’s outstanding reputation to many more potential customers.
I don’t know if the restaurant charged for C’s dinner. If they didn’t, the cost of the gift—ingredients, labour, infrastructure—was certainly lower than it’d be to reach the same audience through ads. And instead of simply telling people their restaurant exists, as ads do, they got the best result a local business could ask for: super positive word-of-mouth.
The 6,000+ members of the group where the interaction happened are foodies who love sharing their experiences and take the time to discuss local restaurants and write online reviews. Not only will C remember her experience for years to come, but her post will show up whenever someone searches for the restaurant’s name or the food she mentioned. That’s a perennial, syndicated advertisement to the best audience a local restaurant could wish for.
The post is also “goodwill credit” for the restaurant. Suppose something goes wrong and a customer posts a complaint in the group. The other members will remember chef S and the restaurant’s outstanding service and reputation, carefully analyzing the situation and giving them the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping it right away as I’ve seen happen with less-liked restaurants.
And finally, chef S has even more fans in New West now, which will increase his work satisfaction and reinforce his personal brand should he ever decide to open his own restaurant or look for a job elsewhere.
How to use online groups to create word-of-mouth for your local business
Any local business owner can engage on social media to create word-of-mouth for their business. The pandemic motivated many people to patronize small and local businesses, so they’ll likely welcome your participation and spread the good word if they like your service and feel you’re genuine. Check out the tips below to engage smoothly in online groups from you area:
Find the right groups for your business
Facebook is the easiest place to engage in local groups if you’re just starting. To find groups in your area, log in to Facebook, click on Groups in the left column, and type the name of your city or neighbourhood in the search bar. A list of groups will show up; pick the best ones to reach your potential clients and join.
Use your personal profile
Most groups don’t allow company profiles, so join with your personal profile. You want to create a personal connection with the people in your neighbourhood, so you must show up as… well, a person.
Read and respect group rules
On the group page, read the About the group section and look for a pinned post with the rules. Some groups allow promotional posts on specific days, others don’t allow business posts, and so on. Respect the rules to avoid being banned, read older posts before posting, and understand how people behave and interact accordingly.
Adopt a friendly, helping mindset when you engage in groups. Your goal should be to get to know your community and build relationships, not just promote your business. Did anyone ask something unrelated you know the answer for? Answer! Do you own an Italian restaurant but someone asked about Thai food? Recommend that place you like. It doesn’t benefit you directly, but that’s being a nice neighbour and building goodwill for you and your business.
Comment and check the groups daily. Besides building your presence, it’ll help you identify posts where your professional knowledge can be helpful or where you can talk about your service or product organically. Chef S comments often in the Eat New West group—usually recommending other restaurants or answering questions about cooking—so he was already well-known there when he offered S the special meal.
Look for niche groups
Once you’ve dominated Facebook groups, you can expand to groups in other networks, such as Reddit and Nextdoor, a promising network focused on connecting neighbours—it’s growing in New West, and I like it a lot! Depending on your service or product, you can also engage in niche networks, like Goodreads (for writers and book lovers) and BakeSpace (for bakers to share recipes and create cookbooks.) Check out this list with 60 niche social networks for ideas.
Play the long game
The most important tip of all: Don’t engage in groups expecting immediate results—they may happen, but it’s unlikely. Be patient and consistent and the results will come as building a reputation, gaining credibility, and making new friends and clients.
Learn more about Facebook Groups
Facebook Groups are so impactful, The Governance.Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering did a massive study to understand how online groups create opportunities for people to build meaningful communities. They interviewed dozens of community experts and 50 Facebook community leaders and analyzed a 15,000-respondent global survey and Facebook internal data to launch the report The Power of Virtual Communities in February 2021.
I totally recommend reading the report to anyone who wants to use Facebook Groups in their marketing strategy or even simply understand how people connect in today’s world.