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(EMC)—Big Fuel, a full-service social media and branded content agency, and Zuberance, a social marketing company focused on brand advocates, recently co-hosted an interactive panel discussion in New York City titled How to Turn Word of Mouth and Social Media Into Sales. The panel featured top marketers from JetBlue, Microsoft, Big Fuel and Zuberance, and was moderated by Advertising Age. Here’s a recap of the dos and don’ts of word-of-mouth marketing and brand advocacy that were covered at the event:

The Dos
1. Listen to your customers.
Give them a chance to invest in your company with their wisdom, thought and feedback. During JetBlue’s spring leadership conference, the company tweeted to its 1.6 million followers, “What would you say to JetBlue’s leadership in 140 characters?” The replies were posted on the screen in front of every officer and director of the company.

2. Systematically identify your advocates. Use the “ultimate question” to identify brand advocates: On a scale of one to 10, how likely are you to recommend our brand or service to a friend or colleague? Those who answer nine or 10 are considered advocates. Microsoft’s SMB leverages multiple channels to identify advocates, including Facebook, Twitter and its SMB Advantage newsletter.

3. Be relevant to your audience. Consider the “6 a.m. test.” What’s important to consumers when they wake up? Be relevant to your audience on their agenda and tap into their interests. A great example of this is a recent campaign from Kotex called “What Fits You?” In its effort to reach a younger audience, Kotex interviewed thousands of female college students at 15 different campuses, asking them to discuss what they’re passionate about. The hyper-localized video content was shared not only within the social networks of the individual colleges, but was also used for targeted commercials and on-site displays. Kotex was able to sell a year’s worth of product in about two months as a result of the campaign.

4. Create a place for engagement. A community that facilitates engagement and dialogue among its advocates should be your goal. Microsoft has created a community where its advocates and experts can talk amongst themselves and lend each other help with product issues. Company advocates offer their help because they like to be recognized for their expertise and they’re passionate about Microsoft.

5. Make your message easy to spread via word-of-mouth. The key to energizing word-of-mouth marketing is to make it easy for your advocates to recommend your products and/or services. They’re already evangelizing you in the offline world, so encourage them to make these recommendations on the social web by giving them the tools to write reviews, create testimonials and share offers with their network. Remember, your advocates are present across various channels, not necessarily just in one place. Focus on engaging them where they are, not forcing them to engage where you want them to be.

The Don’ts
1. Don’t give influencers special perks. Don’t do anything for influencers that you wouldn’t do for all of your customers. Brands shouldn’t be giving away freebies to people based on the size of their following on the social web.

However, brands can align themselves with certain influencers in order to gain credibility, which allows them to gain entry into a consumer pathway and to build advocacy through the influencer channel. Deliver your message across the social graph through both influencers—i.e., individuals with a substantial social following such as bloggers—and advocates (who may or may not have a Twitter or Facebook account).

2. Don’t pay customers to advocate your brand. Not only is it not needed, it’s wrong to make brand recommendations a quid pro quo. The last time you recommended a movie, hotel or restaurant, were you paid? However, it’s appropriate to acknowledge and thank advocates for being such valuable customers. One way to do this is to recognize and increase your advocates’ status and reputation within the circle of your brand as a result of their loyalty, similar to how frequent fliers are able to board flights first.

3. Doing nothing isn’t an option. By not recognizing and engaging with your advocates, you run the risk of converting them into detractors. Social media allows everyone to have a voice. You need to be listening and engaging across channels.

4. One size doesn’t fit all. Don’t launch a social media program because you feel you have to keep up with everyone else. Take the time to strategize and focus on what you’re trying to achieve in your social marketing efforts. What value are you providing your audience?

5. Fail fast and fail forward. Don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast, which is one of TiVo’s mantras. Make sure you truly understand the reasons for your failure and learn from them. When you find a social media tactic that works, move it from experimentation to optimization and push down on the accelerator.

Cara Fuggetta is marketing manager at Zuberance, a social recommendation website. Cara can be reached at or on Twitter at @CaraFuggetta.