Call it brand sentiment or trust barometer or dark social (for example, you screenshot a tweet and text it to a friend) — it’s all the same. Despite all the efforts and all the software created, you won’t be able to capture all of your word-of-mouth acquisition data.

This scenario happens to me on a regular basis: someone wants to make better coffee at home but doesn’t know what to buy and they’re on a budget. Depending on how much effort they want to put into their first cup of the day, my recommendations range from a drip machine to a manual pourover tool. Maybe they take my recommendations or maybe they keep researching. Either way, when they finally purchase something, chances are that they head to their favorite site and hit the buy button. Unless their path to purchase is all digital, you won’t really know that it was me who sent them your way.

Here’s another scenario: a multi-location cafe has employees that are looking into unionizing. Instead of sitting down with them, the company hires a union-busting firm and leans into scare tactics. If I learn this and the cafe continues down this path, I make a mental note to not recommend it to anyone. I’m more of a values-based consumer and a tiny, tiny drop in the consumer ocean but that’s still one potential consumer lost.

There are quite a few tools out there that measure brand sentiment and trust. They rely on digital data and extrapolate from there. Someone wrote a very in-depth guide to measuring your word-of-mouth coefficient. But no company is going to capture that moment where someone asks where you got that cute top from and you later go and purchase the same one.

All this being said, there are a few known things you can do for making sure your word-of-mouth referrals are somewhat tracked:

  • The easiest is adding a quick survey at purchase or to your email list, “How did you find out about us?”
  • Next is referral codes, affiliate links, and tracked links (such as, this traffic came from X website). Referral codes can be given in-person and affiliate links can be texted to others later. With some sort of incentive, people are more likely to use them.
  • Maintain and build customer trust. This one is the long game. Treat your customers with respect, show that you listen, and imagine that they’re going to immediately post a review after interacting with you. This does not mean that the customer is always right or that you have to succumb to every demand. How you respond in a public forum – whether the review is positive or negative – says a lot about the business. I’m also not making this up. It’s been found that 84% of consumers are more likely to use a business if they respond to reviews. While the stat is review-related, you can extrapolate it to apply to Instagram comments and in-person interactions.

This isn’t meant to be the ultimate guide to word-of-mouth marketing. There are already quite a few of them out there. Instead, it’s meant to make you reflect on what you can do to keep those referrals and how you behave as an individual consumer.