One of social media’s key attractions to marketers and researchers has been the prospect of providing access to authentic conversations and opinions of consumers, as both a marketing channel and a research platform. Marketers have opportunities to amplify and measure consumer conversations on social media platforms, with an assumption that these conversations, in turn, will drive positive business outcomes.
Key questions remain top of mind:
- Does the visible conversation happening in social media accurately reflect consumer conversations about brands more generally?
- Is digital word of mouth a mirror onto the harder-to-measure conversation happening offline, through face-to-face conversation at home, at work, and during our social interactions with friends?
- If consumer conversation is an iceberg, then social media is the visible “tip” above the ocean surface, whereas offline conversation is the largely invisible portion that lies beneath the surface. In this analogy, can the social media tip of the iceberg predict what is a much larger conversation happening in real life?
The answer to all three questions, according to a growing body of research in this area, is no.
In practice, marketers should assume the online and offline conversation channels work independently of each other, and they should formulate strategies and tactics optimized to the strengths of each. This is not to say that marketers who are successful in social media cannot apply lessons learned to offline conversation, and vice versa. One should not be treated as a substitute for the other, however.
Brad Fay and Rick Larkin. Why Online Word-of-Mouth Measures Cannot Predict Brand Outcomes Offline. Journal of Advertising Research.
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