Posted March 29, 2011 8:54 am by with 6 comments

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this page

I doubt that this really shocks anyone when they are rationally thinking about the power of social media rather than being swept up in whatever hype is coming out of Silicon Valley these days. Despite the social media revolution and the ‘your life will never be the same!’ messages that accompany every new product launch (Color anyone?) there still remains the fact that at least at this point in time people still talk more about brands and products face-to-face more than any other way.

A study performed by Colloquy and reported by eMarketer shows that even amongst the technologically savvy young adult crowd (age 18-25) face-to-face is the most often used method for giving information about products and brands.

This is actually good news for the social media set on one front. It’s fair to suggest that social media often fuels these offline conversations and that is likely to be very true.

What is tough for the social media practitioners to stomach is that once these conversations leave the measurable confines of the Internet the tracking and attribution to social media becomes next to impossible. This is where the SEO crowd has struggled forever in trying to connect the impact of SEO campaigns to sales and conversions. Since there are so many other factors influencing purchase decisions there is no solid line that can truly be connected in most cases thus the frustration by SEO’s and clients alike in trying to pin a true value on the practice. Same goes for social media efforts.

What it seems that everyone wants to know is just how far social media will go in influencing the purchasing habits of people. There is a bit of a paradox here though because that won’t be able to truly be known until the number of people who have grown up with this technology outnumber those who did not. It’s about ingrained behavior vs. changing existing habits. Until there are more people who do technology as second nature it will be hard, if not impossible, to truly understand just how far social media will take the field of marketing.

For sure the future is bright but it is also pretty far off as well. We have a considerable amount of time during the transition from traditional media to the digital age where many old and new sources of influence will play critical roles in the purchasing decisions of consumers.

One thing that is likely to remain though is that immeasurable and invaluable face-to-face communication that people still need and are likely to need for as long as people are people. No matter how much we want to digitize our lives there is something about being in person that cannot be replicated online.

At what point do you think that social media and online interactions will trump the face-to-face recommendation of a friend? Will it ever happen? Is it happening already?

  • I’m curious to know if they included forums in the category of “social media” or if consumers would place forums into this category when answering the question. I find plenty of product recommendations in forums as these are gathering places for people with specialty interests.

    • @Mark – Excellent point. Forums aren’t as ‘broadcasted’ and can be perceived as more personal. I don’t have an answer for your question but I think that there could be an argument for distinguishing between the two options since forums are more niche oriented and less about shouting something to the world. Thanks for the insight.

  • This is an interesting survey, but I’m wary of drawing inferences from these statistics. The apples vs. oranges comparison of face-to-face vs. social media is problematic — we simply have more opportunities for FTF exchanges than social site interactions. Ditto for comparisons between other methods on the chart; it’s a lot easier to make a phone call than to compose a blog post.

    The comparisons between Young Adults and General Population seem more valid. Not surprisingly, young people are more likely to use new media than the general population (although there are plenty of middle-aged people and octogenarians using Facebook and Twitter now).

    It’s understandable that most people would give more weight to a product opinion from a friend than from unknown posters on a ratings/review site — although the latter provide more reach and diversity of experience.

    It will be interesting to see how these stats change over time.

  • The fundamental rule of sales is that People sell People. This is nothing new. Word-of-mouth has always been the best way to drive new business. In today’s world of continuous marketing interruptions, what your existing customers say to their friends matters more than ever before. Face-to-face recommendations may be the holly grail, but the problem for marketers is that it is hard to facilitate and measure. Social Media Marketing is really just a term used to describe the technology behind word-of-mouth marketing in an increasingly socially-connected world. Social media marketing is so powerful because it makes spreading the word as simple as clicking the Like button. More importantly, it also enables marketers to identify their advocates and those whom their advocates are able to influence. That valuable CRM data can be used encourage more peer-to-peer recommendations.

    I don’t think it fair to ask which trumps which. Both are important and both fuel/reinforce the other. Face-to-face is more intimate and therefore may be more effective at influencing the purchasing decision, but social media recommendations are more efficient at reaching a wider audience. Both are important and smart marketers understand that they need to engage their audience wherever they are (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc…). Effectively leveraging the technical channels can lead to more face-to-face recommendations, but if you are not starting or influencing the online conversations, you are likely limiting the potential for more face-to-face referrals.

  • I agree with Mark, the question is not which is better. The more appropriate question is whether or not face to face interactions are improved and increased by social media. Outlets such as Twitter target the influencer out there who will share the information you provide with their sphere of influence, in person.

    Just as it is easier than ever for individuals to publish, businesses have an opportunity like never before to spread their message. Rather than allowing social media to confuse your messages, it should be used to enforce them.

  • amanda

    social media can play a big role in advertising products. since a lot of people are into it the more people are exposed to the products whether they like it or not. online social networking is truly a a great technological innovation.