WAKE UP CALL: Word of Mouth Marketing more than Social Media

Social media experts will tell you that social is word of mouth marketing (WOMM). Experienced grassroots marketers may be confused, thinking word of mouth occurs person-to-person in a wide variety of ways, with social offering another venue for that. Now grassroots marketers have the proof to push back on social media experts.

A recent study from the Temkin Group shows post purchase word of mouth feedback will more likely occur via email, phone calls, in person, or directly to the company rather than social media.

Even better when it comes to social channels, while Facebook and Twitter rank fourth and sixth as the most likely venues, fifth are social review sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor.

This makes sense. Why just go to the water cooler? If you’re vested enough to review a product, you would go to where people talk about and research the products.

CMOs seeking to inspire WOMM need to pay attention. If you’re banking solely on Facebook and Twitter, you’ve hampered your word of mouth strategy right out of the gate.

WOMM is more than social media.

Continue making your site, content, and yes, email receipts shareable, but also go further. Give customers different ways of sharing their product experience. Whether it’s unique packaging and collateral customers can share, easy access to the company’s customer service team, or building in store and online experiences to inspire customer chatter, your brand needs to consider how it can empower customers to talk about you.

It’s the overall, integrated customer experience that ensures a wide net of grassroots possibilities.

Five Guys
Five Guys burger image by joo0ey

One of my favorite case studies in Marketing in the Round (co-authored with Gini Dietrich) is Five Guys. Five Guys became the country’s fastest growing fast food chain by focusing on their in-store experience, from the food to the way employees interact with you. This includes dynamic training programs to encourage consistent food experiences and great employee interaction.

Five Guys has built its brand on the reputation it achieved through customer referrals and word of mouth. The media began paying attention, and the high-end burger chain garnered great reviews as it spread out of the Mid-Atlantic.

It’s only in the past couple of years that the company added Twitter and Facebook presences to extend its grassroots presence. Given the company’s Twitter follower count, some social media experts might consider them a failure. Glad they’re not running the company!

What do you think? Is WOMM all social and is all social WOMM?


  • I don’t honestly feel that they’ve ever been separate. We are inherently social and technology is enabling that to happen in new avenues, as you pointed out. Social is no longer restricted to the common channels and extending across our daily lives. WOM has historically been one-to-one while social is positioned as one-to-many, but as social and WOM evolve, they’re becoming synonymous.

    • Social is a media form. That’s really the whole problem with the social is WOMM marketing pitch. People use conversational media for a ll sorts of thing. This study happens to have forms of it rank 4th, 5th and 6th as a WOMM channel. But it also shows the human communications experience is much more complex than just online.

      • And that’s the problem with isolating social in anything. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Businesses make the mistake of isolating as it’s own thing, rather than integrating. Marketers do the same as they pitch businesses. And then researchers do the same when they conduct studies.

  • I think this is a very interesting topic, and I think you’re on the money that “WOMM is more than Social Media.”  However, I think there’s also a few things missing with regards to the data being viewed here. 

    First, I think we all agree that social media is a form of WOMM, although not the end-all-be-all.  We probably also agree that it’s over-hyped in today’s social-, mobile- & tech-heavy society.

    But the data above combines email and face-to-face, when in reality these are 2 VERY different things.  Email, in essence, was the original Social Network… and there’s a prime difference–beyond the use of technology–that this data, graphic and conversation are missing as it relates to email and social media networks: reach.

    When someone tells others F2F about a product or experience, it’s 1, 2, or maybe a handful of people.  They’re not walking down the street telling 500, or even 50, people about their experience. 

    When someone posts to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ (OK, so maybe not Google+), or even email… they’re reaching a group of people.  The average Facebook or Twitter user has ~130 friends or followers, and the more friends/followers one has, the more likely they are to be listened to.

    Granted, not all 130 (or more) are seeing each post/tweet, but the reach of Social Media has far greater — and longer term — reach.  And that’s a big difference this data fails to represent. 

    I can’t tell from the graphic the actual numbers behind this study, but I’d be curious if they also gathered info on the average number of friends/followers a user reportedly had and told via F2F.

    So yeah, I agree, Social Media is simply one facet (and too-often over emphasized) of WOMM, but it’s an important tool none the less.

    • One thing about F2F vs. online is that, I think, those F2F encounters are much more powerful. If someone takes the time to tell me about a product or service in person, I’m 1) much more likely to remember and 2) that much more likely to act upon their recommendation. That doesn’t mean I won’t act upon or remember an online one, but F2F will always be stronger. 
      Is my view skewed somewhat as a marketer? Perhaps. 
      There is a stat from WOMMA (I think) that talks about how sharing spreads. One person talks to 12 people who talk to 4 people = 60 people. Very powerful.

      • Though part of the online influence and power is due to the amount of Klo…er…the nature of your relationship. 

      •  I agree, F2F is more meaningful for me too.  Altho, I think the level of engagement (convo length, topic, etc) likely all relate to whether it’s more memorable or not.  Also the audience. 

        I’ve had numerous folks recommend books to read, places to visit or restaurants to enjoy over F2F convos but I can never remember them later when I’m looking to buy something. 

        When I see something online I like, I have a “Want list” bookmark folder that it gets saved into, and even if I don’t get to it immediately, I’ll see it later and follow-up. 

        But then again, I’m a geek.

    •  You are right of course, and I wouldn’t want to dismiss social. What I would like to do is to encourage a holistic view of the customer experience, and build social in as an important component of that.

      I think Ken made similar points about the way the data is grouped in the chart, too.  Great insights from both of you!

  • Very interesting, after I just published a post on customer dis-service today. WOMM is today what it’s always been. The only difference is that today we can speak directly to the source (who usually doesn’t listen) and others (in far greater numbers) faster, more efficiently, more effectively (really? only if it affects change) than ever before.

    The reality remains: speed of the leader is speed of the game, and when the leader is blissfully ignorant or chooses not to hear, we, as customers, must vote with our wallets to affect any change. Otherwise, we’re part of the problem too. Cheers! Kaarina

    •  It’s funny, I think that JayFrost said it best on Facebook. The speed or social part seems to happen quite a bit after source ignores the customer.  And that’s a shame. 

      I am surprised to see positive WOMM in a competitive light.  It makes me happy to see people say good things online, and not just trash talk.

  • I agree with @twitter-257025239:disqus  – do people *really* preach that the *only* WOMM is social WOMM…? If they do, then yes, they’re wrong. I don’t think social is changing the world of marketing anymore than the telephone or email did (i.e. of course they did – but it’s normal evolution!). But it does create huge immediacy and share’ability – at a level and speed that brands and businesses haven’t experienced before. Companies need to keep their focus on core things like customer service and delivering great product – do that, and the WOMM will happen organically. 

  • Great stuff, Geoff. I think the one difference with social is that when we use it, it can hit more people than an email or a phone call.

    I’m also curious about how the reporting was done. The ubiquity of social these days can lead to serious under reporting. We did a focus group study here where we asked people about their word of mouth behavior, and the types of things they told others about. Negative WOM beat out positive WOM. But what we found was the people talked about telling their friends, and even mentioned using their phone. It wasn’t until we asked them follow ups that the term phone meant a lot of things: call, text, and…post on Facebook. Some even originally said they used their phone to tell friends, when using Facebook was one of the choices we gave them. We had to pry the real answers out of them.

    It’s the difference between someone saying, “A friend told me”, and digging deeper and finding out the friend told them via Facebook or Twitter.

    For some reason, using the Facebook app on a smartphone, isn’t always seen as using Facebook. I’d love to see more of a study on this as we move forward.

    I’d also love to see a breakdown of that first item in the graph, isolating email, phone, or in person from each other. 

    •  Yeah, I agree.  You could lop Facebook, the Yelp/niche site, and Twitter efforts into one category, too.  And then you’d have a more powerful representation, but it wouldn’t be first. I think that’s important. 

      It’s a sociological matter.  Meaning, we’re dealing with deep human instincts. It’s no coincidence that many people won’t say anything, lurkers and wall flowers.

      Tech does amplify the process, but I think we need to better examine the motives and what compels people to talk. I think it has a lot less to do with the power of the tools, and more how each person feels comfortable interacting with others.

  • I am thoroughly enjoying the comments/discussion as a result of this post. So, thanks, Goeff. I agree with your comment about needing to view WOM holistically in all its forms including F2F, social media, etc. The one thing that I think distinguishes social media from F2F WOM is that it has a longer shelf life. By that I mean once you post something (positive or negative) on a social media channel, its there for all the world to see indefinitely. I’ve seen some fascinating studies on long tail marketing for Super Bowl commercials that integrate social.

    •  It definitely has its benefits.  I’m not saying don’t do social, rather incorporate into the larger UX effort.

  • That image almost makes me want a burger. Almost.

  • Yep something I have discussed with many people everywhere in our industry for the last 3 years. I just gave an example on Facebook for Danny about Klout. My mom has a FB account she never posts. She reads posts then calls or emails people and says ‘have you see so and sos new kid?’ etc. And when she buys stuff or is pissed she tells everyone. In person on the phone but never via a social network. 98% or more of human communication is private. And Brands have to know that 98% can be deadly because they will never see it. Focus on great product or service at a good price.

    •  Exactly, then social becomes an option — one of many — to tell their friends.  But you can’t put the cart before the horse.

      •  I view this stuff as icing. I look at the tweets and shares above and I bet your readership is exponentially larger. But why not take the extra right? Especially if buttons or being present on networks is easy.

  • I agree with the general consensus, WOM has definite impact still, can be more important than social, … The one qualifier is age.  The younger generations are more apt to give credibility to social media posts, and to search them out.  The significant value I give to face-to-face is why I believe so strongly in crafted events.

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    […] WAKE UP CALL: Word of Mouth Marketing more than Social Media – social media is not new, it has been called a lot of things, but is still word of mouth marketing. This post points out the power of traditional word of mouth marketing. […]

  • Great post Geoff – thanks for sharing. The best tool my business has used to harness online word of mouth is OpinionAmp. OpinionAmp gets reviews from my real customers and takes those reviews online to the culture and target audience we’re trying to reach with our product. It’s been a wonderful experience – incredibly positive results!

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