Offline WOM Beats the Online Variety

As brands scramble to get favorable word of mouth on social-media sites, a Harris Poll released this week finds that offline word of mouth — i.e., words spoken by actual mouths — exerts more influence on consumers’ purchase decisions.

In the polling (conducted online in March), adults were queried about their information-gathering process for the most recent purchase they made “that stands out in your mind.” When respondents were asked to identify the various methods and sources they used, 21 percent cited “face-to-face with a person not associated with the company, such as a family member, business colleague or friend.” Another 12 percent said they got such information through a phone call with someone of this sort.

Just 4 percent mentioned getting such guidance via “public online social-networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace.” Another 4 percent mentioned “private social networking sites, such as customer communities.”

True to form, 18-24-year-olds were more likely than their elders to include social-networking sites among their sources of information when considering a purchase. Even in this age cohort, though, communication by phone or in person with family/friends/colleagues was cited three times as often as public social-media sites (48 percent vs. 16 percent). This reflects the fact that the 18-24s had an above-average propensity to gather information face-to-face and by phone — along with their above-average propensity to do so via social media.

Though companies live in fear of being memorably bad-mouthed, the poll suggests consumers are much more likely to act on a positive mention of a brand than a negative one. When respondents were asked to characterize the tone of “the one communication from any source that really stood out before you made your purchase,” 52 percent described it as “highly positive” and another 32 percent as “somewhat positive.”

Few said it was either “somewhat negative” (3 percent) or “very negative” (1 percent), with the rest saying it was neither positive nor negative.

Nielsen Business Media