A recent study shows that only 14 percent of consumers trust advertisements while a whopping 78 percent trust peer recommendations. That number can go up or down depending on the advertising vehicle and message, but let’s look a little more at what this means.

When investigating a new doctor, a car mechanic or a financial advisor, consumers rely heavily on the opinions of their peers and other clients’ feedback. They utilize reviews to decide whether a product or service is worth the cost, their time and, most important, their trust.

So, how do you use social media to increase your referrals? Connect! Create relationships! When a client walks away with a positive outlook, they immediately become brand ambassadors. What better way to market your practice than to have happy clients singing your praises to numerous prospects? Did you recently throw a client appreciate event? Make sure to take photos. Post them to Facebook and tag your clients. If you tag only 10 people and each of those people is connected to 200 friends, then your message has been exposed to more than 2,000 potential clients. This is just one of many ways you can use social networking sites to transform success stories into vehicles to attract new clients. It’s not about “selling” but rather creating a community where clients and prospects can connect, interact and share their experience with your company.

Social media networks have changed the way we communicate with clients and prospects. By utilizing these tools you can better connect with your target market, create stronger relationships and share experiences with a much larger network. Positive client feedback and referrals are powerful, and social networking sites provide a channel to amplify the message to thousands of likeminded prospects. So, continue to talk, connect, create and share.

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Amy McIlwain is a professional speaker on social media and president of Financial Social Media, an online marketing firm specializing in the financial industry. She can be reached through her website at www.financialsocialmedia.com and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.