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Ask a brand marketer about word-of-mouth marketing and chances are he or she will talk to you about the internet. After all, with the advent of social media, consumers are most likely going to talk to their friends, family members and associates about your brand online, right?

According to a study by Keller Fay Group, the answer is 'no'. As it turns out, the vast majority of word-of-mouth still apparently takes place offline.

Even amongst teens, who are prolific users of technology and social media, Keller Fay Group says that a whopping 85% of teenage word-of-mouth takes place off of the internet. That percentage is even higher for the general public -- 93%. In both cases, the primary mode of word-of-mouth: good old face-to-face communication.

This may come as disheartening news for brand marketers. Why? It largely dispels some of the contemporary myths about word-of-mouth. The biggest: that the internet is the platform for word-of-mouth marketing.

To be sure, online marketing is wonderful, and for many marketers, social media is now a must-have channel, even if questions over ROI persist. But the notion that you can, for instance, set up a Twitter account or drop a few hundred thousand bucks on a Facebook campaign and not only spark, but control, word-of-mouth, is simplistic and foolish. Yet online, and social media in particularly, almost always dominates conversations about word-of-mouth marketing today.

But as Keller Fay Group's study hints, perhaps that's a mistake. After all, the most effective word-of-mouth takes place in a personalized, one-to-one manner. That best describes most offline, face-to-face interactions. It doesn't describe most online interactions, even on the most social of platforms. A friend recommending a product or service directly to another friend over lunch, after all, is far different -- and far more powerful -- than a friend tweeting a remark about a product or service to hundreds or thousands of friends and followers online.

The simple truth of the matter is that a Facebook status update or tweet is not as social, or direct, as many of us would like to believe. And thanks to all of the chaff that's floating around in the social mediasphere, posting a Facebook status update or tweet is often like sending an email to /dev/null. In short, status updates and tweets hardly represent the one-to-one interactions that serve as the foundation of effective word-of-mouth. Just because online chatter is easy to track and possibly, in some cases, to incite doesn't mean it's more effective or valuable than the offline stuff that can't be tracked or directed.

Perhaps the best advice for brand marketers is to stop worrying so much about controlling when, where and how consumers' brand conversations take place and to start focusing on the reality: consumers will talk about your brand when you give them something worthwhile to talk about.

Photo credit: db photographs via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 September, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

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Matt

I think this article is ignoring the impact social media has on initiating the face to face WOM

almost 6 years ago

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Benn Achilleas

Studies like this are important as they help provide some balance to the importance of providing a good product, service or experience in the first place and giving customers something positive to talk about. The only issue is that they try and play down the power of online by using stats that show the importance of offline conversations.

No one can doubt the value of a one to one conversation with a trusted friend about their experience. No practitioner of digital marketing would ever say that Facebook represent every Word of Mouth(WOM) conversation. I think the value for WOM is in understanding the power of offline conversations for their integrity and the power of online WOM enablers (like Facebook) for their reach. Social media has not changed WOM per se; if I have good or bad service from a brand I will still tell my friends whilst I think of it. The difference is now about how many friends I can tell at once - via a status update - I can then facilitate more WOM online but with much greater visibility. 

So, make sure you appreciate what can be achieved offline and try to bring some of that value and integrity online because that's when you see real impact due to reach.

almost 6 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

A one-on-one offline conversation offline is about as powerful as it gets. That's kinda obvious. But there's way more to it than that...

1. The network effect is in play on sites like Facebook and Twitter. I can communicate a message to a few thousand people via my Twitter profile. Not as powerful as shouting in somebody's face, but we all know how viral marketing works, and how effective it can be in spreading a message.

2. A single tweet may not be enough to move me, but if I see something popping up on Twitter several times then I'm more likely to pay attention to it. This isn't one-on-one WOM, but several-on-one. The cumulative effect of multiple tweets can be rather powerful. 

3. The hardcore TV advertising evangelists will have you believe that they made Google what it is. Nobody visits Google unless they have something to search for. You need a trigger, such as a TV ad. Obviously there's something in that, even if they're overstating the case somewhat. It's the same with WOM. What initiates a WOM conversation? What triggers can you use? I know, for a fact, that I talk about things I see on Twitter (probably too much). Social platforms can help spark conversation and influence perception. 

4. Marketers cannot measure offline WOM with any degree of accuracy. They cannot eavesdrop on conversations that take place behind closed doors. Twitter, by contrast, is pretty much an open house of WOM, and much can be learned by watching what people say about your brand.

almost 6 years ago

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alex@essay.biz

People trust Word of Mouth marketing more than the advertisements, because it comes from a real customer or a person they know. This is helps your product or service gain your customers' trust.

almost 6 years ago

Nigel Sarbutts

Nigel Sarbutts, Managing Director at BrandAlert

OK, I'm neither a teenager or in the US, but I'm VERY surprised to see Ford Chevrolet and Toyota in the list of brands that teens talk about most.

What I don't see in the report or in Patricio's posting is the role of earned media in driving WOM. I see that Patricio is being a little ironic in describing a brand that sets up a FB and Twitter presence and waits for the tidal wave of conversation, but the idea that it's paid for media v. social media hasn't ever been true.

For WOM to fly it has to have at its heart, the new, the unexpected, the thought provoking, the risky to drive it and that 'should' be the role of PR, steering brands into areas where they make waves.

Ironically this kind of behaviour seems to be becoming the province of the ad agencies rather than PR - think Old Spice, Cadburys gorilla, Meerkat and so on.

almost 6 years ago

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Outi-Maaria Palo-oja

I agree with Matt. Social media is often about initializing word-of-mouth in social media itself but also in face to face conversations. The true impact of one message in Twitter or Facebook is huge IF the message is both shared in these media and if it also encourages face to face conversations. Then social media has twofold role in WOM: it is a channel to spread conversation topics or marketing messages in this case to wider audience and second, it serves as a platform for having these conversations. Quite often researchers study only one viewpoint at a time. They only focus on spreading messages or having conversations, but lack a more holistic view of WOM in social media.

almost 6 years ago

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Simon Gornick

Assuming the methodology is only broadly correct, these figures certainly suggest that social media 'sharing' is vastly over-played. It has a million boosters - online of course, so the head of steam it always has is pretty impressive. The fact that brands gain from off-line WOM is good news, but it's good news for big brands. Little guys still have only one way to reach a large audience. And that's - guess what - social media, with all its puff and imperfections.

almost 6 years ago

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Cristian Gonzales

Great insight here. Goes to show that as much as we continue to move forward in our interactions within the digital and social media space, nothing beats the face to face interactions between human beings.

almost 6 years ago

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Robert Faulkner

Whilst we advocate the judicial use of social media in our company I still remain deeply sceptical about the its magical qualities that some people seem to to imbue upon it.

I am glad that the imbecilic frenzy to get on facebook and twitter has somewhat died down of late at least amongst our clients.  A more measured approach is now being taken. 

Totally agree with Chris and Patricio that for WOM to work anywhere then there needs to be something worth talking about. I follow a number of brands on my facebook and I have never been remotely moved to foward anything on to anyone else.  What's more I've started deleting a few as it's just turned into FB social media spam, I include E-consultancy amongst these.

In fact whilst writing I am wondering when the last time anyone reading this forwarded something from a brand on their FB to their network totally altruistically and just because it was interesting rather than a clever link bait story.

Maybe it's just me who's a boring old fart? But I suspect not.

Rob

almost 6 years ago

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InnkeeperVA

I appreciate this article and even moreso the conversation going on after the article, good fodder, thanks everyone!

We do not know our guests until they step foot in our B&B for check in, so the social media and marketing aspect is very important to a B&B today...thankfully we have it and can use it!  

In a nutshell, I like to explain it this way for our business here at The Claiborne House B&B.  We have had a website, sure, but the blog, FB, Twitter gives us an opprty to be more personal, show our character quirky or otherwise.  Gives us a chance to be us, and if most of you know, the innkeeper makes the B&B, not th furnishings!  So this is the FUN part of this biz.  I know I know, scrubbing toilets is supposed to be the fun part.  LOL!

almost 6 years ago

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Usama

Word of mouth is the best way to make customers. And they only come when you produce quality. It doesn't happen in one day but eventually lot of customers will be in line for what you have to provide, assuming there's a line in the internet. Thanks.

almost 6 years ago

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online poker

Online marketing is great and effective for many marketers, as we know social media is widely use for this generation. It dominates conversations, but nothing beats between human interaction. I am in favor of Cristian Gonzales comments, much better if we could deal our marketing strategy through person to person, in that case we could see or we could feel that people we deal with is interested or not, also PR is the most important to encourage everyone.

almost 6 years ago

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