With the growth of social networks and the ability to instantly tell the world how you’re feeling, we’ve watched power shift from brands to consumers. No longer can companies simply rely on their marketing to do the talking — they now have to rely on what their customers are saying. Why?

According to American Express, the average person tells 15 people about their good experiences and 24 people about their bad experiences. More importantly, a recent report from Forrester showed 70% of consumers trust brand recommendations from friends; but, only 10% trust advertising. Yikes!

The great thing for businesses (and us link lovers) is: this presents a huge opportunity. By giving your customers a good experience, they’re going to talk about you. They’re also going to link to you on their blogs, on social networks and in emails, etc. The key is giving them something to say.

Here are a few ways you can get customers to build links for you:

Say Thank You

One of the first things you learn as a kid is to say thank you when someone does something nice for you and/or when you want to show your appreciation. As a business, a simple thank you to customers can mean the world. With so many poor customer service experiences happening every day, customers want to feel appreciated.

A thank you can come in the form of a discount, a small gift, a handwritten note, a simple email, or even a pre-printed thank you. In fact, I came across this post from Diana Huff, a well-respected online marketer, who recently received a thank you note in a package she ordered from the Container Store:

Container Store Thank You

What did she do? She posted about it, tweeted about it, and linked to their website. All because the company took the time to print out a thank you and place it in the box.

The thing is this isn’t a unique situation. Do a twitter search for “thank you card,” and you’ll find some pretty cool results. It’s easy to do and it’s a great tactic.

When sending a thank you to customers, consider the following:

  • Make it personal. The best thank you comes from someone who takes the time to make it about you: what you did, what you bought, and why it matters.
  • No empty thanks. Don’t say “thank you” for the sake of saying “thank you.” People can see through that. Be sincere.
  • Thank you is enough. Most companies don’t have the budget to send a gift to every customer. The good news is that you don’t have to — a thank you alone can mean much more than any gift.

Just remember, even if only one person talks about the amazing thank you they received, 15 other people likely heard about it. If they wrote about it, shared it through social, or linked to you on their own site… that number is even larger.

Help Them, Help You

There was an article on Marketing Land last week discussing how Bottica, a fashion website, was going to begin using customer submitted photos on their website.

Think about it. Bottica essentially gets user-generated content that acts as a testimonial to potential customers, and it encourages their “35,000 Twitter followers, 50,000 Facebook fans, 50,000 Pinterest followers, 3,000 Tumblr followers and nearly 2,000 Instagram followers” to share/link to their personal photo that is now being featured. Add to that the million plus “fashion blogs“ out there, and I’m thinking that’s a pretty solid link building strategy.

Another great example of a company helping and benefiting from customers comes from 37 Signals, a company which has basically led the charge in customer service and customer promotion:

Happy Customers Page

 The company has a full page of “happy customers“ featuring their photos, their names, and a link to their websites. This page showcases real people, shows that 37Signals cares about their customers, and has over 1,200 links!

When thinking about how you can take a page out of the Jerry Maguire handbook of “Help me… help you,” consider the following:

  • Ask permission. If you’re going to promote a customer, make sure they are okay with it. Not everyone feels comfortable disclosing a tool or vendor they are using.
  • Make it scalable. While you want to help your customers, you can’t spend all your time on their business. A “happy customers” page or the use of customer photos shouldn’t require a lot of time to maintain.
  • Choose customers you believe in. There’s no harm in playing favorites. If you’re going to do any sort of customer promotion, make sure you believe in what the customer sells. Remember, if you are featuring them, it reflects on you, as well. 

Admit When You’re Wrong

While I’d rather you were out there doing awesome things to make your customers happy, there’s always the chance you might do something to make them mad. When you do… apologize.

Apple Maps Apology

 

When Apple Maps started sending people off bridges and confusing oceans and deserts, people weren’t very happy. They didn’t tell 24 of their friends… they told everyone. (Seriously, search “Apple maps fail.”) The company finally came out and apologized; and, while customers continued to talk about them, it was in a much better light.

A few months ago, when Instagram decided to change their terms of service, the Internet was not happy. It took less than 24 hours for the company to respond, apologize, and get the word out to the media.

Even if you aren’t a large company, an apology can still make a difference. A few years ago, a company I was working for raised prices on customers without much notice, resulting in anger and some bad press. After an apology from the founders, customers were happier, and we even got a few links, including one from TechCrunch. 

People, especially those on the Web, love a good apology and are likely to talk about it when they get one. When you mess up, just admit it and say you’re sorry.

If do something that requires an apology:

  • Put it on your website. A public apology on your main site or blog gives you a place to direct media and customers, and it gives others a place to link to.
  • Direct it at your customers. If you did something to your customer base, apologize to them first. Send an email, make a phone call…  whatever. Just make sure they know. 

Target, Target, Target

When I talk about thanking or helping customers, people will often ask where to start. This is actually a really easy question to answer: start with the customers who are more likely to share it with their friends and communities.

Identify customers who already have an online relationship with you:

  • Who are your Facebook fans or Twitter followers?
  • Who are the people in your LinkedIn or Google+ communities?
  • Who comments on your blog posts?
  • Who has linked to you in the past?

Once you’ve identified these customers, start determining who your key influencers are within this group. Tools like Followerwonk, Topsy Experts, and even Klout for Business can give you some insights into who’s influential in a particular topic, where a person is likely to share and more.

By starting with this group of customers, you increase your likelihood of generating links and get a better idea of how effective your campaign is. After all, if these people aren’t talking about it, it’s not likely others will be.

At the end of the day, customers keep you in business and offer you a voice beyond your marketing department. They’re not only great sales people — they can be amazing link builders as long as you give them the right materials to work with.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Week Column

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About The Author: is the Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing Associates, a B2B Internet marketing firm based in Boston, MA. She has been in the search industry for eight years and loves all things Internet-related.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Ty Kilgore

    Thanks for helping us realize that good customer service really boils down to common lessons we learned as children. We many times make things harder than they need to be and a return to basics is needed. Be the type of person you want others to be to you. It has a lot to do with just understand that one point. Thanks for your time and thoughts in writing this.

  • http://casiegillette.com Casie Gillette

    Thanks for the comment Ty! Isn’t that life? Lessons we learn as we’re growing up…sharing, caring, and being nice to people :)

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Amber King

    Our customers are our best marketers that is why need to keep them happy. Appreciation is simple but look what it can give back. Thanks the article Casie. Now customers to thank. :)

  • http://www.itchimes.com/ vibhu satpaul

    Great article really really like it. This is so much for internet marketing companies to real business owners to people who wish to know where all of this is heading towards.

    Simple and easy to understand thank you for putting it there.

  • http://www.mycarzs.com/ mycarzs

    Thank you For Sharing This .

  • http://www.diannahuff.com/ Dianna Huff

    Thanks for sharing my example, Casie!

  • http://www.patrickwagner.com/ Patrick Wagner

    What a great post! I really enjoyed and found a lot of useful information. Thanks.

  • http://bibianowenceslao.com/ Bibiano Wenceslao

    Yep, this just got evernoted and shared. Thanks for the straightforward tips Casie. I think most businesses are missing out on these approaches. The big names may not care much about every individual customer (though they should be if possible and plausible), but SMBs should definitely do so.

  • Nebosh Course in UAE

    Thanks for this great list.

  • http://casiegillette.com Casie Gillette

    Thanks Bibiano! While customer service definitely seems like something small businesses need to focus on more, I think even a lot of big brands are starting to put a lot of effort into it…which I’m great with!

 

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