Pete Blackshaw – who also was a panelist at Beyond Blogging 2006 last Friday and got to listen to the same keynote address by Ed Keller which promted my last post – has a different alternative to differentiate between the offline word of mouth and the online word of mouth.
In his post he introduces the “2I Framework” – “Intimate” word of mouth, which happens between people who are familiar with one another, and “incidental” word of mouth, which which has no basis in an existing (or trusted) relationship and which is what happens to the vast majority of web based word of mouth. He too argues that the impact of online, search-based word of mouth may go far beyond the power of offline word of mouth, especially when it consists of negative word of mouth. And when negative comments are online – it does not matter whether they came from an “influential” or an “average Joe!”
Again, I do believe that the fundamental question is to understand what stage of the buying cycle the buyer is in when searching for information online or when looking for recommendations offline. If he or she is in the early stages of the buying cycle while surfing for information online – trying to narrow down the list of potential choices to two or three – then online negative word of mouth would have a dramatic impact on that buying decision, no matter how much offline WOM is happening about a given product. Of course, given the recent Yahoo!/OMD study “the role of online research on offline purchases” results, the answer to that question is not that easy if indeed the shape of the traditional purchase “funnel” changes into a “tumbler!”
Pete brings up another good point – that with the increased amount of artificial WOM happening offline, the “trust” part of the equation with friends and family may erode – resulting in people becoming disproportionally influenced by other consumers.
Hey, it’s the “theory of weak links” for WOM!