Conversation vs recommendation

Nice piece from Neil Glassman draws a distinction that I think has escaped many of us between conversation and recommendation. As the author himself says, he thought of social media as a platform to directly scale up word of mouth (WOM) marketing. But the synergy that looks so obvious doesn’t happen. In fact, says Glassman, compared to the effectiveness of what takes place offline, surprisingly little WOM is generated on social media.

My sense is that while there is plenty of talk being pushed into the media, that content is then not, for the most part, being transmitted-on (or more specifically picked up) in the way that it is when WOM is in full flight.

Glassman himself hints at why. People, he says, participate in social media to interact with friends and like-minded strangers about things that interest them. Social media marketers, on the other hand, engage with their customers hoping to encourage them to spread the word. The first interaction pivots on “us” – about the things that “we” share, which means ownership exists. The second is about turning “mine” into “yours”. It’s about encouraging people to take ownership.

Glassman continues, “It appears that as much as social media has changed our networked world, it hosts only a small bit of the conversations about brands, products and companies. Not what social media marketers talking amongst themselves would expect.”

One observation on the difference between WOM and social media did surprise me. While 20% of WOM conversations are triggered by media/marketing, half of all conversations about brands have references to media/marketing, and positive experiences trigger more WOM than negative.

We share what we enjoy – no surprises there. But we share what we enjoy most effectively when it has affected us personally. In other words, we convert mere talk into active endorsement when we have emotional skin in the game. By contrast, Glassman observes, most people on social media networks are passive. They’re talking, passing time.

The key aim for people engaged in social media is bonding and the subject matters they discuss are just part of the conversation. This may make them less inclined to endorse a product or an idea. By contrast, WOM focuses on shared subject matters because people talk about they have in common, so they are much more likely to recommend something that they think the other person would like.

Key message for brands: until people see your brand as part of their world, they may talk about you but they are less likely to recommend you than most marketers would like to imagine.


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