Is Social Media a Good Measure of All Consumer Conversations?

Published by Ed Keller June 14, 2017

With social media, consumers have more channels through which they can share opinions and advice about the products and services they like and those they don’t. Of course, brand marketers are eager to measure these conversations to understand what consumers are saying about their brands. But, in new research from Engagement Labs, we discovered there’s a danger to this approach. If you’re only measuring social media conversations, you’re not likely to be getting the full story.

This week, I shared the findings of our research at the Advertising Research Foundation’s 2017 Audience Measurement Conference. Over the last year, we conducted an extensive analysis of the relationship between offline and online word of mouth, looking at conversation data for 500 U.S. brands across diverse product and service categories on a week by week basis.

There were three compelling questions on our minds. We wanted to know: 

  • Can social media really predict the much larger conversation happening in real life?
  • Does it accurately reflect consumer conversations about brands more generally?      
  • And, is it truly a mirror onto the harder-to-measure conversation happening in real life, through face-to-face conversations at home, work, and during social interactions with friends?

You may be surprised to hear the answer to all three questions is NO. In fact, our research showed little to no correlation between social media and offline WOM conversations across four dimensions: volume, sentiment, sharing of brand content, and engagement by influencers.

Thus, if marketers and researchers only listen to what people say in social media, they’re hearing just part of what consumers are saying. Our analysis demonstrated that these channels work independently, which means marketers must create strategies and tactics optimized to the strengths of each. Check out my ARF presentation for more information. 

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BTW, you can read the full details of our research here, for a limited time, in a recently published article in the Journal of Advertising Research.