Most entrepreneurs realize the importance word of mouth (WOM) marketing has on their business. And most would agree that it’s one of the most effective forms of marketing available to small business owners. But is today’s social media really the new word of mouth marketing?

Defining WOM. Word of mouth marketing is unpaid marketing done by communicating or sharing of information from one person to another. Traditionally, WOM has been spread offline by neighbors talking or calling a friend and discussing something that was seen on TV or in a magazine. Over the years, countless studies and surveys have shown people trust WOM referrals from friends over paid advertising.

The rules have changed. Today’s social media have changed the rules of the traditional marketing game by taking the messages out of the hands of the advertisers and putting it into the hands of the consumers. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social bookmarking sites, it’s now easier than ever for consumers to spread word of mouth by using their keyboards as well as personal interactions.

A form of WOM. Social media has to be considered at least a form of word of mouth marketing. Has it replaced traditional WOM marketing? No. For now, word of mouth is still bigger than social media. In fact, a recent survey by the Keller Fay Group, a word of mouth agency, claims that 91 percent of respondents’ information about brands came as a result of offline phone or face-to-face conversations. Their results contend that only 7 percent of word of mouth conversations about brands happen online.1

Where does the conversation begin? What the survey doesn’t mention is how many of those conversations were the result of content seen online. Especially since Nielsen reported that Americans spent 81 billion minutes interacting with social networks and blogs in 2011 and Experian found 91 percent of today’s adults claim to use social media regularly.1,3  After all, who hasn’t started a conversation with a friend or neighbor about something they saw online? Yes, offline word of mouth is still bigger than online word of mouth, but it’s clear that by the sheer numbers and time involved that online will continue to gain ground rapidly every year.

Social media amplifies WOM. Friends and neighbors will probably always talk offline about that new restaurant down the street or what company they used to paint their house. The difference is, with social media, they’re also able to spread word of mouth faster and with a far greater reach than offline ever could. Social media allows word of mouth to be amplified and seen by far more people and in far more places. Plus it allows others to view the conversation days, months and even years after it took place—try all that with traditional word of mouth marketing.

Modern WOM. Social media is definitely a powerful, modern form of word of mouth, but it will never completely replace traditional word of mouth. The fundamental sharing of information of WOM is still the same with social media, but the tools available allow it to spread faster and farther than traditional WOM ever could. That is why it is more important than ever to make sure your business is involved in both offline and online forms of word of mouth marketing.

1 – Source: Keller Fay Group survey 2011
2 – Source: Nielsen, The Digital Revolution (April 2012)
3 – Source: Experian – The 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report

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