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Optimizing Your Website for Word of Mouth

Last Thursday, January 10, I heaped praise on the TOMS Shoes use of strategic cause-related marketing to improve the world, launch their business, and generate terrific word of mouth.

Their appeal is specific, easy to understand, and streamlined. For every pair of TOMS Shoes you buy, another pair is donated to a child who needs them.

I also greatly admired their “shoe drops,” whereby they invite customers to join them in places like South Africa and Argentina… at their own expense… to give away TOMS shoes to kids. TOMS, I wrote, was well on its way to creating a “cult brand,” like Harley-Davidson, Jimmy Buffet, or the Star Trek franchise.

I did suggest there was more that TOMS could do to their website to make it more word of mouth friendly and left it at that.

One person anonymously commented on the post, saying, in effect; “alrighty, smart guy, what would you do to optimize a website for word of mouth?”

Glad you asked.

I would do at least the following:
  • TOMS should add to their menu bar a section that enables easy word of mouth. Call it FOT (Friends of TOMS) or some such, but it should include product photos, shoe drop photos and video, talking points, as well as some kind of email or tell-a-friend function.
  • But remember, the goal here is to help word of mouth spread. So the talking points can’t be in the features/benefits language of marketingspeak. Nobody really talks that way and it won’t get forwarded.
  • Make product and other photos easier to download. Right now the pictures files on the TOMS site are sized for the press, but they’re too big for a blogger/emailer who just needs to drop in a photo and doesn’t want to have to open up her photo editing software first.
  • Make the site easy to bookmark by putting a select number of the icons from the social bookmarking sites; Stumbledupon, Digg, Or whoever is the least-hated among those kind of outfits these days.
  • If TOMS doesn’t already collect email addresses and contact information, it should start. Then TOMS should roll out an email marketing campaign. Each issue should make some reference to the shoe donation and/or shoe drops.
  • If that feels too heavy-handed, then TOMS could open up a Facebook/MySpace page and invite friends. From the Facebook/MySpace page they can do a less pushy kind of email marketing.
  • Whatever TOMS does to motivate word of mouth, they should NOT use money to incentivize people to talk about them. It muddies the waters. To customers someone who has taken money to speak positively on your behalf is a paid spokesperson, plain and simple.
  • When they do shoe drops, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie should strongly consider doing frequent Twitter updates, including photos and maybe video. Mycoskie already blogs about the drops before and after the fact. But Twitter would bring great immediacy to the members of the TOMS fan base who can’t themselves jet off to Argentina or elsewhere.
Finally, it should go without saying that no matter what TOMS does to its website, it will all be for naught if it screws up its customer service or relationships.

TOMS must work at making its customers happy. It’s a cliché that unhappy customers tell two or four or… 67 people (or whatever the number really is) about their bad experience as happy customers do. A digital audio recording of your customer service rep abusing a customer can circle the world faster than you can issue an apology and correct the mistake.

The good news is that the social media also enables someone to pass around the world a story of just how good an experience they had with your company.

I’d bet TOMS already knows that.


Vegas Shopper said…
How timely! I just went through the whole cut and paste thing with the TOM url so I could send it to my eco-friendly son. A "tell a friend" link would be better.
emily said…
TOMS (blake mycoskie) has a myspace. On the company focused page there is a large image with a link to help aid in word-of-mouth marketing.

I agree, however, that this link should be made available on the main web page.

I love love love TOMS. I think what they're doing with its business model is something so revolutionary.
Good stuff. Other ideas could include...

(a) Videos of people using the shoes - perhaps in "unique" ways. (Think "Will It Blend" videos.)

(b) Community - perhaps a forum, or a kind of social networking community.

(c) Competitions. Get friends involved somehow.

Paul Hancox
Converting Visitors Into Customers
jake said…

This is Jake from Blake's office of TOMS.

Blake is really impressed by your comments, and would love to buy you a pair of shoes, and donate a pair on your behalf.

Please shoot me an email at


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