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.