You can shout from the rooftops about how awesome your company is until the cows come home, but is anyone really listening anymore?

These days, probably not much, if at all. The old days of marketing, where you push out a message and people gobble it up, are long gone. Thanks to the Internet and social media, most people don't really care about what you--as a company--say about yourself anymore.

So who do they listen to? Their friends. Family. Colleagues. Even total strangers on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. They'd much more believe everyone else before they believe you.

Bill Lee wrote a great article in the Harvard Business Review that says traditional marketing is dead. Instead, he believes customer advocates are the new marketing messengers. He writes, "A better approach is to find and cultivate customer influencers ... [and] build their affiliation networks, increase their reputation and give them access to new knowledge--all of which your customer influencers crave."

I am a big believer in the power of customer advocates. At my company, VerticalResponse, the majority of our customers come from referrals and word-of-mouth, so we know it impacts our bottom line.

We have a few different ways to reach out to our customers and learn what they love about us; they're easy enough for anyone to do.

- We send out an email campaign with a link to a super simple online survey about what they like and don't like about us

- After a good call or account review, our sales and support reps ask the customer to take the survey

- We have a link at the bottom of our weekly email newsletters asking if they want to be featured that takes them to a short contact form

What do we do with their stories? We:

- Talk about them during company-wide meetings, so our employees know how all their hard work is helping real small businesses out there grow and succeed

- Write case studies that are featured on our website and blog

- Include their quotes and pictures all over our website

- Get them coverage in the media, which is great PR for them and validates what we do in the eyes of the press

- Include them in press releases, which brings traffic to their websites

- Give them some love on social media

Last but not least, we recently invited some of our advocates to a customer summit at our office, where our high-level execs got to hear about what they liked and also what they didn't like about our products. (I wrote about it in an Inc. post called What Makes Customers Tick.) It was a great, eye-opening experience and I think they appreciated the candor. Then we invited them to beta-test some brand-new stuff that we still haven't released into the wild yet--insider knowledge that, as Lee mentions, advocates want.

Instead of climbing onto a rooftop and shouting, I believe it's a lot smarter to have everyone on the street singing your praises. What do you think?

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