When it comes to purchasing decisions, consumer reviews are playing an increasingly persuasive role in driving buying behaviour. Websites like Amazon, TripAdvisor and Makeup Alley continue to grow in both usage and traffic and a variety of platforms provide forums for feedback on virtually every product and service available, from your local pizza joint to your favourite perfume.

But the widespread adoption and resulting avalanche of new platforms has created a problem for shoppers looking for relevant advice. Sorting through reviews can be overwhelming;  random emojis, grade-school grammar and dubious user profiles can make it difficult to find the information you’re looking for.

In response, a new trend is developing among consumers to pull more relevant reviews from their personal social networks, allowing instant feedback and reducing the volume of reviews while increasing the relevance and source credibility. Think about the number of posts you’ve seen from friends desperate for advice on leaky roofs or car repairs. Social Media networks enable everyone to have their own personal Angie’s List at the tap of a finger.

The increase of consumer-to-consumer polling presents yet another challenge for businesses already struggling to stay relevant online. Direct solicitation of personal recommendations can remove brands from the dialogue altogether, but you can tap into these external conversations by providing customers with convenient tools to do your marketing for you, if and when you can’t be there to do it yourself.

Here are three ways to stay part of the conversation:

Develop your own social influencers.

As social influencers become the next generation of celebrities, brands can stay in the mix by by developing their own. Reward customers who are most active with you online, and switch from passively responding to positive feedback to proactively engaging, building their profile among your other customers. Deepening social relationships will translate into brand endorsements off of your own channels. Reward your influencers for their advocacy where you can see it, and trust that they’ll represent you where you can’t.

For example:

BrandProject Chef’s Plate is rewarding loyal customers by featuring their blog posts and testimonials as part of their Facebook content marketing – strengthening relationships and building customer profiles.

Create shareable assets that make referrals more visible. 

Brands are consistently (if not deliberately) excluded from social dialogue about their products or services, but you can make it more likely that you’ll be included in the conversation by providing a bank of brand assets available for easy integration into referrals or personal reviews. Provide and market multiple and specific product hashtags, integrate consumer stories into your marketing mix, and allow happy shoppers to link back to their published content when providing solicited referrals. These traceable assets will show you who your top ambassadors are, and where these conversations are happening.

For example:

BrandProject Aloha promotes a #MYALOHA hashtag encouraging customers to share their stories on social, and then features them on their website allowing two links back to the product and purchasing platform.

Provide experiences worth talking about. 

Consumers recognize the value of an online endorsement, and are willing to reward brands who go the extra mile with a public thanks.  If you provide an experience worthy of recounting, the chances are good it will end up online. Consumers are, after all, just as hungry for exciting content as brands are, and eager to share unique experiences with their networks. Quick and easy surprise and delight moments can quickly turn into viral success stories for brands who do it right.

For example:

BrandProject Ritual Co., an app which lets you order ahead, and skip the line up at local favourites receives regular social shout outs for the VIP feeling users experience while using the service.