Do You Trust Someone Virtual or Real?

There is something which I always suspected about offline versus online Word Of Mouth (WOM) marketing. And that is that nothing beats the real thing.

While reading my favourite blog about WOM, which is the Church of the Customer, I came across these interesting statistics through its links. They hail from the US, the world's most wired nation:

"Around 3.5 billion word of mouth conversations take place in the U.S. on a daily basis, of which just 7% take place online via instant/test messaging, chat rooms, email and blogs. The remainder take place offline either face to face (75%) or on the telephone (17%)."


What does this study mean? Simply that despite all the blogging, facebooking, twittering, plurking, myspacing and so on, people still trust somebody whom they can see or hear in a purchasing decision. Well, at least in the US, which speaks a lot considering how 2.0-enabled they are.

A similar study cited by Church of the Customer from BIGResearch shows that those who gave advice are likely to be online researchers, as seen below.

"Do you give advice to others about products/services you have purchased?"

Active online researcher All adults
Regularly gives advice 47.0% 29.4%
Occasionally gives advice 49.8% 63.4%
Never gives advice 3.2% 7.2%

Source: BIGresearch, SIMM 11 (December 2007)

What's interesting is that the study further revealed a similar finding to the earlier report that these folks who are active in searching for information online, are actually more active in spreading the news through offline channels. Email is apparently very popular (it is still the greatest killer app after all), and so are mobile forms of communication like voice calls and SMSes.

However, blogs, facebook accounts and other social media platforms account for a much lower impact in WOM marketing. Have a look below to see what I mean.

After searching, how do you communicate with others about a service, product or brand? (Check all that apply)

Face-to-face 72.7%
Email 63.2%
Telephone 55.0%
Cell phone 35.3%
Instant messaging 17.7%
Text messaging 13.1%
Online communities (e.g. MySpace, Facebook) 11.8%
Blogging 6.8%
Other 1.8%

Source: BIGresearch SIMM 11 (December 2007)

Of course, not everybody agrees with this, including Jackie Huba herself who cited the above studies. She feels that the credibility of the source of information is more important than the medium in which it is disseminated in.

I feel that the above studies would have been better if they have included the impact of forums and discussion boards on WOM purchasing decisions. While I am unlikely to buy something based on just reading one or two blogs (you never know if they are paid sometimes), the likelihood may improve if I visit a forum where many people provide their comments and value added inputs. Those like Epinions, hardwarezone and tripadvisor have been great in soliciting unbiased opinions.

Whatever the case may be, the findings show that people still prefer that person-to-person interaction when sharing good deals (and bad deals I may add) compared to a larger and more faceless crowd. Body language, tone of voice and other subtle signals from a person to person may make one appear more real and genuine. It is much easier for a 40 year old man to impersonate a 15 year old girl online, than offline!

People may also feel that there is a greater tangibility when dealing with somebody whom they can see or hear (voice is still seen to be more personable than text). Feedback is more instantaneous and direct in these one-to-one channels.

Does this mean that blogging has been overhyped as the killer application for WOM? Will this put to rest all attempts to monetize Facebook? What are your views?

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