Referral marketing and word of mouth (WOM) recommendations are the holy grail for both B2B and B2C marketers.

That’s not a huge surprise as 84% of us trust family and friends above all else and 82% of shoppers seek out personal recommendations when making buying decisions.

Up until now marketers, particularly via social media, have done their best to encourage brand and product advocacy and they can see these benefits in action on sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon where consumers rely heavily on the opinions of strangers.

Unless you’re in the very personal business of tailoring or financial advice, which traditionally benefits from personal recommendations, most business are unable to understand, quantify or even reward those who give genuine personal recommendations to friends.

So in a move that seems long overdue, Facebook is changing the game with the release of its recommendations feature which should close the WOM attribution loop (so you know who has recommended you, for what, online).

Now when you write a status asking your friends for advice (as we do frequently) Facebook’s algorithm will pick up the question and suggest you label your post as a request. If you choose to do this, than a new, and very prominent, call-out box will appear in your friends’ news feeds notifying them you’re looking for places to eat in New York or the best places to stay in Tulum.

facebook

And as the recommendations pour in from your trusted peers, Facebook automatically identifies those businesses, places or attractions and plots them on the map so you can see what is nearby and what your friends love about them.

Feeling much more loved and informed, you can then click on each of the business previews listed, clicking you directly through to the business’s Facebook page where there should be a click to buy, book, call or reserve button.

cta-all-phone2

Only Facebook could create such a beautiful user experience, plus it saves time and builds huge trust in the purchase decision.

And the goodness doesn’t stop there! Facebook has also introduced a ‘bookmark’ tab where everything is stored and where you can ask further questions or help out friends.

It is beautifully simple and fantastically useful for both users and brands, particularly if you run local businesses like restaurants, hotels, attractions or retail and service businesses (e.g. hairdressers, dental clinics or salons).

Any business or place of interest that can be placed on a map could benefit from this new recommendations feature, and I wouldn’t be surprised if individual product recommendations started popping up in the near future (e.g. ‘what phone should I get next?’).

So, what can brands do to capitalise on this new online recommendation revolution?

  1. Claim and fully optimise your Bing business listing (which powers Facebook maps) so Facebook can find you and serve up your business as a recommendation.
  2. Populate your Facebook business page, with great images, descriptions, your address and directions to find you.
  3. Add a call to action button so people can easily call, make an appointment or directly buy from your business in one click.
  4. Encourage as many positive reviews for your business as possible. You can do this by contacting your favourite customers; by getting a good star rating from several reviews, you will increase the chances of a recommendation leading to a conversion.
  5. Create an advocacy program so that more people recommend you to their friends. Research shows that 88% of people would like some sort of incentive for making an online recommendation so providing something small (e.g. passing on a discount) for their loyalty and advocacy is worthwhile.

Whichever way you choose to encourage online loyalty and recommendations local businesses need to take Facebook seriously and reap the increasing benefits of being a good citizen because online recommendations just got a whole lot more powerful!