There’s no question that word-of-mouth has always been the best form of marketing.

In fact, when we speak to small businesses most estimate that roughly 90% of their new customers come from referrals.

Word-of-mouth has always worked—and it still works.

It should come as no surprise that 90% of consumers surveyed say they trust recommendations from people they know.

What’s changed, however, is how we can now solicit information from our networks

Sure, we still ask our friends, family, and co-workers for their feedback and share our experiences, only now we’re using technology to do it.

This means that when people talk about your business the discussion is no longer limited to private face-to-face interactions. Instead, these discussions are now often publicly visible—due to the widespread use of social media.

In addition, your customers can post reviews, endorse your businesses through the Facebook “Like” button, and talk about your brand on other social media platforms, such as Twitter, for the entire world to see. Your customers now have a voice that can be heard beyond their immediate circle of close friends and family.

How to leverage this “voice” to help you grow your business

With the addition of this social media megaphone, you as a business owner can drive dramatically more results with a lot less effort. This is because social media enables a different level of customer engagement, one that you can use to encourage and reward customer conversations—conversations that include positive mentions, endorsements, and “likes.”

Plus, it’s much easier, less expensive, and infinitely more fun, to interact with people you already know—your existing customers, clients, donors or members.

By engaging your customers, you make them part of your marketing team

It’s this visible engagement and the positive endorsements that will bring you tomorrow’s customers. Not only do your current customers and fans influence how others perceive your business, they help build the trust needed to get others to do business with you.

Engagement does even more to help word-of-mouth

By engaging you deepen your existing relationships while allowing others to get to know, like, and trust you before they may be ready to purchase from you. Engagement also allows you to stay top of mind with those who may recommend you and/or need your services.

What this evolution of word-of-mouth means to you

If you’ve been hesitant or shying away from getting involved marketing your business online you’re missing a huge opportunity to be who your customers and supporters recommend on a consistent basis.

By using online marketing tools and social media networks to engage your customers and build relationships, you encourage and make it easy for your best customers to drive referrals for your business.

How has social media changed the way word-of-mouth drives business for you? Tell us in the comments.