Offline Conversations Still Carry Weight in the Digital Age

Despite the “social wave rolling across the U.S. and the world,” offline conversations, especially those happening face-to-face, still dominate. So says Ed Keller, CEO of word-of-mouth research firm and consultancy Keller Fay Group and co-author of The Face-to-Face Book. Keller spoke about this pattern during the ARF/Advertising Research Foundation’s Audience Measurement 7.0 conference on Tuesday in New York. He also emphasized that contrary to conventional wisdom, offline and online conversations are not really mirrors of each other.

Offline consumer behavior is harder to measure than online, so that’s where diary research comes in. The book’s findings are based on Keller Fay’s TalkTrack monitoring using online consumer panels and a year-round diary approach to interview 700 adult respondents per week about their online and offline conversations, categories, and brands.

The book also incorporates the findings of USA Touchpoints’ syndicated study that asks waves of 2,000 adult respondents to detail their location, activities, social settings, media, and emotions every half-hour for ten days. (Fortunately this was during waking hours only, though survey incentives are provided).

Below are key takeaways.

Offline is where nine out of ten conversations take place. Offline mainly includes in-person interactions as well as phone conversations, both landline and mobile. Online runs the gamut, including email, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and various other social media platforms.

Recommendations from offline conversations carry greater credibility. In this era where decisions are often based on the advice of friends and family, in-person exchanges still rule, Keller found. That’s because they include emotional and non-verbal cues. As a result, offline conversations also lead to higher purchase intent for products and services.

Offline and online aren’t just reflections of each other. Online conversations revolve first around a social stimulus, then a product, and then emotional drivers factor in, according to Keller. For offline conversations, emotional components, whether positive or negative, represent the primary focus and the main reason people talk.

Companies need a people strategy, not a separate strategy for each social platform. As Keller observed, “Brands can’t rely on social media alone at the expense of other forms of communications.” He added, “It’s about the power of stories that engage people, and once they are engaged they advocate for brands.” In the future, Keller said he envisions “advocacy and word-of-mouth becoming key success metrics.”