Can Social Media Really Influence Word of Mouth?

I don’t see a lot of very useful blog posts about word of mouth and believe me I read a lot of blog posts.

I read about ‘the conversations’ people might be having about me online and how I should jump in to influence them, but if you are a smallish business then people don’t actually talk about you all that much – sorry!

I’m not trying to ditch the whole social media proposal – no way – but what I would like to look at is the influence of word of mouth.

When I need to make a new purchase I love to do research. I am perfectly happy to spend time online reading customer, blog and newspaper reviews but when it comes to deciding on something big, I always ask around.

As an experiment I jotted down my last 8 significant purchases(I couldn’t get to 10 – must be the recession!)

Speakers, amplifier, pea shingle, short break, big holiday, dinner for the family, printer and books.

Out of these 8, 6 of the final purchasing decisions were made on the basis of  recommendations from a friend.

When I’m looking for advice on technical things I always go to Steve, he knows a lot about computers and always chooses very good quality stuff – I trust his judgment. I know that Sally likes to eat out and is the best resource for restaurants locally. Lou likes to read and will steer me towards the books her book group enjoyed.

You see I didn’t turn to Yelp or Bizzy or any of the other sites and apps that are frantically trying to corner the market in search and recommendation. I went to the friends I trust and whose taste I know inside out.

And the stats back it up. In a Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey of over 25,000 Internet consumers from 50 countries 90% of consumers surveyed said they trust recommendations from people they know. There are more figures on word of mouth and friend influence here from bazaar .For example;

When asked what sources “influence your decision to use or not use a particular company, brand or product”  71% claim reviews from family members or friends exert a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence. (Harris Interactive, June 2010)

Strangers do exert strong influence too and we have talked about review sites like Trip Advisor before. Hard facts and research should not be overlooked either, for example Which? from the Consumer Association – but increasingly friends are the ones we really trust.

So when friends talk, on Twitter, on Facebook, at the school gate and in the pub, are you really in any position to influence what they might be saying about you? (if you are lucky)

I’m beginning to think that social media wizardry is in danger of getting in the way – it’s actually still old school values that make the difference  – like distinctive customer service, value for money and a quality product.

Social media provides many more opportunities for people to review you, recommend you and talk about you, but you still have to give them something to talk about in the first place.


2 responses to “Can Social Media Really Influence Word of Mouth?

  1. Hi Lucy,
    Completely agree. But, I do see businesses relying on word of mouth and referral marketing without doing anything else to promote themselves. Really referrals should be seen as a bonus to your business and like you say you do need to promote your business too.

  2. Thanks Lucy,
    I’d ad to the important ‘old school’ values you mention as being important: speaking clearly and listening attentively. Without these Social Media influences nothing.

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