Word of Mouth and Social Media: A Ten-Year Update


Ten years ago I published this piece at MediaVillage about newly released research which shined much needed light on online vs. offline word of mouth. It was conducted by several esteemed marketing professors and was unveiled at a Wharton event. I recently revisited the results and updated them to see just how much things have advanced in a decade as social media has boomed. And to my surprise -- and I suspect to yours, as well -- the answer is, "not as much as you might think."

Social media conversation about brands then -- and now -- is heavily dominated by a select few categories, particularly technology and media. Most categories are very underrepresented in social media vs. real world word of mouth, led by beverages and food/dining.

The 2010 Findings

Seeking to understand how well the then-emerging world of social media reflected real world conversation about brands, the research addressed the scarcity of knowledge about the online/offline dynamic. "This raises a critical concern -- are we searching for answers where the light is? Are the insights we gain from the online data sets relevant for the offline behavior? Are we doing the right thing when we generalize across channels? Are marketing managers doing the right thing when they choose between ... [the analysis of] offline data, and [the analysis of] online word of mouth data, assuming that these two sources are substitutes?"

The headline finding was clear: "Online data does not reflect well the offline behavior. Word of mouth is not channel neutral. One cannot automatically generalize the results from online to offline."



Read the full MediaVillage article, here.

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