Most Brand Conversations Happen Offline, But Social W-O-M is Rising

Oct 21, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, a Watershed Publishing publication providing up-to-to-minute data and research to marketers.

Among consumers who sometimes or always recommend brands to others, sharing information face-to-face (80 percent) remains by far the most popular method of doing so, far ahead of e-mail (51 percent) and social networks (39 percent), per results from a COLLOQUY study. Still, recommendations appear to be slowly moving online: the proportion using social networks has edged up by four percent points since 2010 while offline face-to-face conversations have fallen by the same amount. One group appears to be leading the charge.

The study, based on responses from 2980 U.S. survey participants, identifies a subset of consumers dubbed "WOM Champions" — those who are highly likely to recommend their favorite brands and who are also well-connected and communicative — comprising 28 percent of the general population. Among WOM Champions who are also loyalty program members, 60 percent are using social networking platforms to discuss products and services, up from 48 percent in 2010. Half also use mobile messaging to discuss brands, up from 30 percent in 2010.

Forty percent of young adults are WOM Champions, as are 38 percent of core women and 37 percent of Hispanics.

On which social networks can these WOM champions be found? According to the study, although Facebook is predictably the most commonly used site (by 66 percent), Twitter (29 percent), Google+ (25 percent), Pinterest (21 percent) and Instagram (16 percent) are also used by a significant proportion.

The study also found that 73 percent of young respondents find it acceptable for brands to communicate with customers over social media. But when overall respondents were asked what type of social communications they wanted, they not so unsurprisingly listed special perks and deals.

Asked on a 20-point scale to rank how appealing a list of social media behaviors by brands are, the most appealing communication was "Surprising you from time to time with exclusive perks," averaging 12.9 points. That was followed closely by "Alerting you to loyalty rewards options for which you’re eligible" (12.3); "Alerting you to personalized deals or offers" (11.7); and "Inviting you to engage in contests for points/prizes" (11.6).

Scoring lower was "Posting several updates a day" (7.6 points out of 20); "Monitoring your posts of tweets" (also 7.6); and "Encouraging you to ‘Like/Share/Post/Tweet/Pin"’ (7.5). Coming in last was "Tracking your location by mobile device to offer you deals" (6.4).

How do you see social media altering word-of-mouth influence? Can the incentives that encourage WOM brand recommendations across social networks be less deal-driven than typical offline WOM campaigns? Can you name a few incentives that may drive WOM online that typically don’t work offline?

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9 Comments on "Most Brand Conversations Happen Offline, But Social W-O-M is Rising"

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Ken Lonyai

The shift in statistics is no surprise. SM is becoming more entrenched both by its continued existence and by generational shift (young shoppers replacing old). From a peer to peer perspective, SM is as or nearly as comfortable as speaking to one another among the youngest consumers, so it will continue to become a viable means of “WOM.” Unfortunately though, in the shuffle that brands have gone through to figure out what SM is and how to use it, the precedent of offering deals has taken hold as the accepted communication. Brands like HP are well known for using Twitter as a sidewalk sale kind of tool.

So unless brands want to be stuck in sale mode forever or are willing to compete on price, they are going to have to “know” their clientele better, get more creative on how to use social media as a non-perk tool, and delicately establish “meaningful” communication with their audience. A tough trick indeed.

Tom Redd
The issue to overcome as social reaches a platform level – meaning it is a standard for many people to communicate – is trust. Trust in recommendations took time to form in basic ecommerce retailing (remember those days?). Some online advice sites and product reviews were not trusted when marketers started writing the WOM elements for the online retail space. The same applies in the social side. Trust. Being a believer in the concept that the early or older Millennials are past the apex of Millennial chaos and coming back to the normal world, I believe that the strength is still in the face-to-face WOM, and this will rise as the most powerful WOM method, but the trick in retail is for the best retail marketing teams to influence the best WOM people that love to share advice and flip them into promoters of the retailers’ products. Yes, lots of argument on my approach but after all, the social and app noise shows the shoppers will be back to the standard norm of sharing their money, and that norm is trust. Trusting the retailer, the vendor or manufacturer, and the advice that they get from friends or product specialists. Tom…a… Read more »
Dick Seesel

Assuming the integrity of reviews posted online, there is no doubt that sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor have taken the idea of “word of mouth” to a completely different level. It’s true that the user of these sites misses the face-to-face aspect of personal conversations with friends and family, but these sites are powerful points of reference for consumers’ decision-making.

As TripAdvisor in particular evolves from a pure review site to an e-commerce site for hotel booking, it can build upon the sort of data mining and engagement models that companies like Amazon have already mastered.

Max Goldberg

Social media provides avenues for communicating with friends, avenues that could take the form of brand recommendations. People like to share their experiences, both positive and negative, social media provides numerous outlets to do this.

While deals can provide fodder for WOM, customer service can be equally important. No amount of deals can negate poor customer service. By listening to social postings, brands can create opportunities to interact with and delight consumers. They can also learn how to better meet consumer expectations. Meeting, or failing to meet, consumer expectations can create WOM that lives longer than any coupon or loyalty program.

Roger Saunders

The incentives do not have to be that large, at least for the Millennial Generation. The MarketingCharts figure of 80% of consumers share WOM in a face-to-face manner mirrors the Prosper Media Behaviors & Influence Study (MBI) of 19,761 Adults — 87.4% of Adults seek and give advice regularly or occasionally. It’s part of the social link of human beings.

Millennials have embraced seeking advice via social devices – 43% choose to text message, 36.3% make use of mobile devices, 32.7% ask for advice of Facebook friends, and 15.5% are advocates of IM (AIM, Yahoo Messenger, etc.).

An equally high percentage of Millennials give advice via these social tools, with 46.9% saying they text, 33.9% use mobile devices, 26.6% posting their thoughts via Facebook, and 19.4% relying on IM to share their wisdom.

Many of us point out the challenges of engaging the Millennial Generation. They are their, and making use of WOM skills. Many are still trying to get to the on-ramp of adulthood, but they will be there, and WOM online will be part of their practices.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

It is not surprising that so many of the WOM champions are young. Millennials, the original demographic classified as ‘digital natives’, are looking for more than simply deals. These consumers are looking for the opportunity to opportunity to co-create their products, co-create the customer experience and co-create the marketing message. Therefore, marketers need to be focused on listening and responding to WOM champions, who are using social media as the equivalent of the ‘digital backyard fence’.

WOM is not simply about reactions to products and services. It is about the customer and how they feel about your products and service.

Ronald Stack
Ronald Stack
4 years 1 month ago

Social increases the reach and impact of WOM, so it is especially important for brands that are small or need to rely on low-cost channels. Deals are a legitimate way to build awareness and stimulate purchase intention, but ultimately content will drive social WOM. This content can start with the marketer (e.g., info about the product or the space) and extend to other customers (e.g., text and video reviews). Content from both sources can be credible, engaging and actionable, and marketers should try to have both types in the social mix.

Joan Treistman

The way I see it, face-to-face WOM is mostly voluntary. There have been companies that incentivized verbal recommendations, but I’m not sure about their success rate. Social media is saturated with “like me” requests that offer discounts and prizes. I take that as an indication that consumers are not inclined to use social media the way marketers would like them to.

At the same time marketers and media mavens don’t seem to believe what they see online. We used to say that “seeing is believing.” I don’t think that that there are enough incentives to drive WOM online that will make a significant difference in the long run. I believe there could be exceptions.

People trust those they know and with whom they have a face-to-face (or on the phone) relationship. Social media doesn’t offer the same credibility or context for recommendations. In my mind, there’s a similarity with those emails that ask you not to break the chain and distribute the message to 10 of your closest friends. What are the stats on their success rate?

Ralph Jacobson

The potential reach of WOM online campaigns would make offline conversations almost irrelevant… potentially in the near future. I see young adults struggling to keep traditional spoken language alive with all the alternative options to communicate available today. I think this WOM vehicle has legs and the next 24 months, globally, will exhibit its ubiquity.


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