The new study, released by Keller Fay's TalkTrack Britain study, an ongoing research program that tracks word of mouth in the UK on a continual basis, found that face-to-face conversations outstrip social media media conversations by a wide margin.
In fact, the study found that the largest conversation motivator is what many social media professionals claim doesn't work anymore — advertising. Right. Almost half of all offline conversations reference media and marketing, with one in five of those conversations referencing traditional advertising.
Business is not as unusual as people think.
The study isn't exclusive to the United Kingdom. The Keller Group conducts a similar study in the U.S.
Even some of the largest brands know social media is powerful but tends to over inflate its own importance. For example, when Keller Fay looked closer at a list of the most engaging brands on Facebook, it found that the numbers behind the numbers tell the real story in the United States.
Of Coca-Cola's 34 million fans, only 56,000 are active (0.2 percent of the total). Disney's engagement is .03 percent; Starbucks, often lauded as a social media leader, is 1.3 percent; and McDonald's doesn't register (only about 3,900 fans can be considered active). Compared to offline engagement, these numbers represent a relatively small percentage of active consumers.
For example, Keller Fay Group notes that Coca-Cola enjoys 880 million offline conversations during an average month, including 442 million active recommendations to buy or try Coke. Disney enjoys 125 million offline conversations. And Starbucks, approximately 119 million conversations.
Compare these numbers to actively engaged fans on social networks, and offline word of mouth outweighs online conversations by a large margin. And the concept that one-to-many broadcasting is ineffective in today's marketplace is one of the largest overreaching statements that can be made.
And programmers that attempt to measure online influence, engagement, and sentiment are often missing the point and misleading companies. Social media doesn't exist in a vacuum, but is better described as one or several touch points as part of a much bigger integrated communication plan.
Social media has several possible functions, all of which reinforce bigger campaigns.
The Keller Fay Group has consistently positioned itself against the grain by claiming that all media is social. It's an unpopular position that we shared almost four years ago, underscored by the idea that all great advertising is a direct conversation with the consumer.
Modified, we might even suggest that all great communication — media, marketing, advertising, or original online content — not only talks to the consumer but can also spark of conversations between consumers. Apple is one of the most pre-eminent marketers in this arena.
It manages to be the second most talked about brand in the United States and third most talked about brand in the United Kingdom. And it captures this position without a formal social media program.
But all this is not to say social media is a dead end. On the contrary, many companies are relatively dysfunctional in their approaches to social media, attempting to prompt people to artificially have conversations about a brand and considering such forced conversations some semblance of success.
The problem is people are not miniature broadcast stations. They don't talk in marketing messages. They don't categorize conversations under brand names. They don't consider how algorithms might read sentiment. Do you know what they do? We do. But we'll save all that for next week.