I recently read a very interesting report from the reputable word of mouth marketing research firm The Keller Fay Group. The researchers compared online and offline word of mouth on a number of brands from a variety of industries. Keller Fay has long been talking about the sheer difference in the amount of word of mouth activity that takes place offline vs. online. Their consumer surveys indicate that 90 percent of word of mouth takes place offline, leaving 10 percent to the online world.
I think the world would be a sad place if much of conversation between friends and family took place through computers and few people preferred to meet and talk in person. But don’t think about this statistic to dismiss the value of online word of mouth. According to Keller Fay, what’s discussed online vs. offline can be quite dissimilar. Now, that’s an a-ha moment.
In fact, this new report is that it shows there are no consistent similarities between online and offline word of mouth. People sometimes talk about a brand in the same way, whether online or offline. And sometimes the online buzz is quite different than what’s shared in person or over the phone.
Perhaps we should not be so hasty about assuming that what we see online among influencers and outspoken individuals is representative of what everyone else thinks. We are in an information era where we need to interview people offline about what they think, hear and talk about brands. We also need to scour the Web to see if there are any other issues or dominant opinions.
Which set of consumer attitudes do we believe? Both! While online conversations may be less in volume as compared with in-person conversations, however they stick around longer as search engines catalogue information and make it available through links and cached files. Those who prefer to vent online may have quite different psychographics and demographics than those who would never post their opinions online. Moreover, people can hide behind the anonymity of user names and write in a very direct style online, while they keep their voices low offline–thinking that would be the socially acceptable way.
I think Keller Fay is onto something, but as often is the case, we need more research based on this research. Is there a significant overlap between online and offline influencers? If you’re a leader offline, I would imagine you’re likely to lead online but maybe the Web is not the channel of choice for every opinion leader. And those who find their voice online, why wouldn’t they speak up offline? What would it take for them to be as vocal in person as in digital space?
What do you think?