Slightly altering my thinking, I now think social media and word of mouth marketing may not be the same per se but... they are related for sure. Not like Uncle Earl who gave you socks instead of toys when you were a kid; no social media and word of mouth marketing a lot closer than that on the marketing family tree. 

This is a follow up to an article I wrote back in July Social Media Marketing And Word Of Mouth Marketing Are Now The Same in which I espoused my theory that social media marketing and word of mouth marketing are now one and the same. I made what I thought was a strong, compelling case as to why I believed these two "entities" if you will, were in fact now one and the same. 

I referenced a survey in which 50% of small business owners cited word of mouth marketing as being the one channel they could not do without, compared to just 12% who said the same of social media. I also made reference to a comment left on a Wall Street Journal article dealing with the very same survey...

"...What these business owners... are missing is the fact that Social Media is set to become THE way to spread word of mouth. Facebook is becoming the sewing circle of the future, and if you can get a group of people buzzing to each other online about your business, you can bring in more customers."

Now I agreed completely with the writer of this comment, save for the part about how social media is set to become the way to spread word of mouth as my argument was social media already has become the way to spread word of mouth.

One of the people I heard from following my aforementioned post was a gentleman by the name of Rod Brooks, who just happens to be the Board President of the WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association). In his comment to my post, Mr. Brooks very eloquently stated...

"Social Media is a rapidly growing and highly visible component of word of mouth marketing. That being said, I like to remind savvy marketers that approximately 90% of all word of mouth still occurs offline. So, while I can agree that Social Media is a subset of WOM, it would be very difficult for me to call them 'the same'. Word of Mouth is far bigger that social media."

And upon further review, I think Rod was dead on. Hey, I'm a big enough man to admit when I am wrong. He is right in that social media is a subset of word of mouth marketing. He is right that word of mouth is bigger than social media. 

What Changed My Thinking... 

Well time for one... Like I said I realized that after thinking about this that Rod was right, word of mouth and social media are not the same. They are very much related for sure which brings me to the other reason for my change in thinking. 

It has to do with a survey recently conducted by Tremor, the Procter & Gamble marketing unit that focuses on the so-called "influencer" segment of the consumer base, and word-of-mouth agency Keller Fay. Their research showed that over 90% of conversations about brands occur in person or on the phone while 60% of the survey participants reported a “high likelihood” to make a purchase based on a face-to-face conversation. 

In an article he penned for Forbes, Tremor CEO Chris Laird spoke of the aforementioned findings plus the fact that over 12-month period, respondents had 10 times as many conversations about brands offline as they did online. 

Also sounds like Mr. Laird is a fan of integration, too, if you read between the proverbial lines...

"There is no ‘mouth’ involved when you post or tweet. Digital is important but not sufficient, and brands must strive for that well-rounded plan," said Laird. "Digital is used to drive real world conversations and vice versa.” He also wrote that the results showed the importance of having a "balanced” approach to word-of-mouth marketing, in spite of all the attention on social media, digital media and tactics.

Ok, so I will agree that word of mouth marketing and social media are not the same thing. But I will disagree with Mr. Laird when he writes "there is no mouth involved with a post or tweet" and that "digital is not sufficient." Obviously there is no literal mouth on a tweet or post but there is a brain behind them just as there is a brain and thought process behind a word of mouth conversation. 

Let me ask you this...

Of the over 90% of conversations about brands that occur in person or on the phone, how many have their roots in social media, in the digital space? 

How many of these same conversations never happen if it were not for social media?

My point is, social media and discussions in the digital space are without question driving a lot of offline conversations. I have absolutely no way to validate that other than my own instinct, for whatever that's worth. 

Yes, of course many of these same conversations would still be going on if social media were not all around us... but it is. Whether you are actively social, you surely know people who are. Forget about six degrees of separation... I'm willing to bet all non-social media folks wouldn't have to look very far to find a friend or a friend of a friend who is social media active. 

The Lightning Rod...

While writing this post, I knew I wanted to reach out to Rod Brooks to get his take on all this, to see if he was doing cartwheels over the fact that I had changed my position on the whole social media/word of mouth the same issue. 

I wanted to get his thoughts on the findings of the Tremor/Keller Fay survey, which Mr. Laird spoke about at the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association's Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month before writing about them in Forbes. 

SO: What do you think about my assertion that "social media and discussions in the digital space are without question driving a lot of offline conversations?" Agree? Disagree?
RB: I definitely agree with you Steve. It's a little of the old chicken or egg conundrum... which came first? I suspect we have all started to hear stories of consumers who, due to a face to face conversation, entered into an online engagement and/or purchase with branded products and services. In cases like that, it's what we hear offline that impacts our online behavior and engagement. Similarly, communities of online consumers have formed around interests and activities of countless types. The online conversations that are held in those communities, although less frequent overall, have significant impact and influence on offline conversations and shopping patterns.  In my opinion you have that one right!

SO: What's the #1 thing you would say to ALL marketers and advertisers about word of mouth marketing if you had their undivided attention?
RB: My message to marketers would be to focus on the fundamentals of great word of mouth marketing. I would stress the importance of five essential word of mouth principles, which are:

1. Be Credible - Always be honest and authentic
2. Be Respectful - Always be transparent and trustworthy
3. Be Social - Decide to: Listen, Participate, Respond, and Engage
4. Be Measurable - Define, Monitor and Evaluate success metrics
5. Be Repeatable - Enable your story to be told over and over and over again.

At the end of the day it's all about trusted relationships.  We have had trusted offline relationships for centuries. People trust their friends, neighbors and family members.  Online is no different... but it's new.  The impact will come - and it's already being felt in significant ways.

In our rush to the attraction of the new online tools, marketers must not forget the huge value of the offline relationshps and connections that have been forged over many years and lifetimes.

Now It's Your Turn...

How would you answer my first question to Mr. Brooks... 

What do you think about my assertion that "social media and discussions in the digital space are without question driving a lot of offline conversations?" Agree? Disagree?

Steve Olenski is the Creative Director of Digital Services for The Star Group, a marketing communications firm dedicated to driving engagement with B2B and B2C brands operating in today's hyper-competitive, rapidly evolving digital marketplace. 

Sources: Media Post, Google Images, The Star Group, Social Media And Word Of Mouth Marketing May Not Be The Same But...