Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool for growing your business. One of the biggest challenges--with the greatest rewards--is encouraging your customers to talk about you and your product. Not only to you, but to their peers. With a wealth of digital channels to reach your audience and inspire sharing among them, it's still particularly difficult to navigate creating content that resonates with your customers, to the degree where they're willing to attach their personal brand to your product.

We recently queried our own online community with a simple question: "What would advice would you give to newcomers to our industry (of A/B testing and optimization)?" The goal was simple: To provide our customers with the appropriate spotlight and recognition for their expertise, but also to arm newcomers with a great resource to learn more about optimization and our product. The results were staggering--we were surprised by the volume and quality of contributions. What began as a discussion thread quickly evolved, and we pressed ourselves to consider how we could elevate the community-generated content out of its original form. What we learned could benefit any B2B or B2C marketer looking to capture the enthusiasm and advocacy of their most engaged customers:

Spark excitement by offering something of immediate value

Members of our community are busy. It's a challenge to ask for something of value without offering something in return. To remedy this, we asked our question as part of a contest, with the prize of a pair of Optimizely branded headphones for the top response. The responses were incredibly positive. We received dozens of detailed and well-written responses within days.

Keep the request simple

We asked just one question! Our success was heavily dependent on asking the right question. Before launching your campaign, ask yourself "What's the one question that you can ask that will really get your customers talking?" What question will prompt a wide range of responses, which may or may not be directly relevant to your product?" With this in mind, we were able to collect a diverse set of thoughtful and engaging responses.

Give customers the spotlight

Optimizely's business couldn't have grown to where it is today without fearless and pioneering customers that have built their expertise around A/B testing and conversion rate optimization. Recognizing their successes in this nascent industry and giving them the opportunity to share lessons learned is integral to making them feel appreciated and validating the work that they've done to get their organizations up and running with testing. You can survey your customers for expertise--remember that they're the ones achieving their goals with your product. Not all best practices need to come from you (nor should they!) When you turn the mic to your customer, ask them:

  • How do they use your product?
  • How have they advocated for it among their peers and coworkers?
  • What shortcuts or best practices do they have for using your product?

Position your customer as the expert--you're showcasing their knowledge of your product and industry. The downstream benefit of this approach is that your most engaged customers can become a channel through which you share best practices.

Add value through curation

After providing a forum for our customer-generated content, it was our job to pull it all together in a digestible and delightful format. We used the content generated by our customers to create a multi-chapter handbook, with various submissions categorized and organized by topic area. Web posts with visuals drive up to 180% more engagement than those without. With that in mind, we enhanced the content with headshots, links to share the content, chapter summaries and a fresh visual design.

By adding our contributors' faces and embedding tweetable links in the guide, we improved the shareability of the content. Our customers and partners were some of the first people we reached out to for help with launching the asset, and the amplification aspect of the campaign has been a joy to see in action. This strategy has also been validated by the quantitative metrics and qualitative feedback we've received since launching the guide.

Your customers hold the key to a treasure trove of valuable information. Finding the right tools and strategies to get them talking can be an extremely engaging and rewarding process. Start a project today that inspires customers and helps you reach your customer engagement and marketing goals.

Check out The Optimization Survival Guide to see how we did it.

Shana Rusonis  is a content marketer at Optimizely, East coast transplant, big-dog lover, and cook.

Published on: Nov 5, 2014