As marketers, we know that word of mouth is a marketing force of nature. Study after study confirms that consumers rely on their peers when deciding what to purchase. The idea is simple – loved products are seemingly contagious.

For years, top minds in digital media have tried to replicate this natural consumer behavior through marketing automation software, behavioral targeting algorithms, and paid channel advertising platforms. As we endlessly chase technology however, we often forget that there’s more to the story – that we can’t replicate word of mouth.

The fact is that virality doesn’t happen as a result of luck.  Loved products aren’t contagious. The attention that a brand generates is in fact, earned.

Create a product that people love, and they’ll talk about it. Build something awesome, and people will come.

Actually, no.  That’s not right either.

Great Brands Need a Visibility Boost

The digital ecosystem is more competitive than ever. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Online content is proliferating. Brands are competing with one another for the same sets of eyeballs, and consumers? They’re bombarded with more information than they can physically consume – they have no choice but to ignore commercial emails, online ads and overtly promotional messages.

According to user experience research from Jakob Nielsen, banner blindness is becoming the norm rather than the exception. In other words, people are hard-wired to ignore things that look like ads.

Social Interactions Drive Visibility

Consumers may be ignoring ads, but they’re paying attention to their social media circles through channels such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn:

  • Research from Zuberance points out that audiences trust their peers more than advertising -- 81% of shoppers say posts from friends on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook directly influence their shopping and purchasing decisions.
  • Peer endorsements and word-of-mouth driven reputations are especially important among millennial-aged consumers, a group whose spending power already exceeds  $200 million and will eclipse that of boomers by 2017.

A big challenge that marketers face, however, is that social media platforms aren’t designed for direct transactions. They’re optimized for discovery, engagement, and sharing. Even though some platforms like Facebook have robust advertising ecosystems, the fact is that people aren’t necessarily in a ‘buying’ mindset when they’re browsing their social feeds. But they are when they're on a shopping site. What if those sites could incorporate more social features. After all, we want advice when we're right there 'in the moment' and read to buy.

Final Thoughts

Marketers, it’s time to think with your consumer brains. What tools would make your life easier as a shopper? What role should social media play? Is social selling the future of e-commerce? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.