David Meerman Scott has a good post on Web Ink Now that discusses how we try to find reasons to avoid the inevitability of social media. David talks about how we tend to use our own experience (“I don’t read blogs”) or rely on flawed polls (many people don’t know that they are using RSS feeds when they look at Web pages) to decide whether social media is “taking off” yet. David’s insight reminded me of a similar experience I had recently.
I don’t want to identify the conference or the research firm, because I don’t have any need to embarrass anyone, but it was a moment of denial of inevitability on social media. I was getting ready to present to a prestigious conference on public relations when the prior presenter went through some original research that sought to allay the fears of the traditional publicists in the crowd by showing that social media had not really caught on yet. There was a lot of misinformation passing for insight, but my favorite was:
90% of word-of-mouth marketing still occurs offline.
Calling this misinformation is not exactly fair, because I don’t doubt that it is true. I had no reason to question the research methods of the study, or the researchers’ competence or honesty. Let’s stipulate that it’s fact, in the absence of evidence to the contrary. (See ma, I coulda been a lawyer.)
The problem with this statement is the conclusion that most people draw from it:
Social media is not important [yet].
And that conclusion is completely wrong. The reason that it’s flawed is that it equates the impact of online and offline word-of-mouth, which makes no sense.
Think about it. The last time you passed along a tip offline, how many people did you tell? One? Two? Contrast this with online word-of-mouth, where you might post a comment on a blog post or a review of a product or an e-mail to a long list of folks. How many people saw that opinion? Probably more than one or two. Perhaps thousands.
So, rather than counting the number of occurrences of word-of-mouth marketing, we should instead be looking at its impact. But for those of us looking for reasons to avoid social media, we’ll find them, as David pointed out and as I experienced at that conference. If your competitors remain in denial, this strategy might work for you, but I guess I wouldn’t count on that.