Hastings resident Ed Keller, co-owner of the Keller Fay Group, a market research firm in New York, is the co-author (with his business partner Brad Fay) of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace, which examines the “overrated” importance of social media and the “underrated” importance of face-to-face and word-of-mouth interactions in businesses’ marketing strategies. Here, Keller shares some of their research findings as well as their consulting experience.
What prompted you to research this topic?
I have been working in the field of word-of-mouth marketing for more than ten years. In 2003, when my first book was published, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking tools had not yet been invented, yet there was a big focus on blogs, chat rooms, and other forms of online conversation. Research showed that most word of mouth at that time took place offline, and so my business partner and I started a company to provide ongoing market research regarding offline word of mouth. Our research, conducted continuously since 2006, finds that, even today, more than ninety percent of word-of-mouth conversations take place offline, primarily face-to-face, while less than ten percent are via online tools. In fact, social media itself only accounts for about three percent of the total.
Why do you liken the push by businesses to leverage social media as a modern-day gold rush?
Because everyone is chasing the same thing and hoping it will lead to riches for them—there is a gold-rush mentality with people running fast and furiously to gather up Facebook fans and followers on Twitter without really thinking carefully about how consumers spend their time and what motivates them to buy products and services.
Remember, there was gold in the California hills, and some people did make money. But many who went looking for gold lost their life savings.
What are some tips for business owners and leaders in evaluating when and how to use social media versus word-of-mouth and face-to-face strategies?
Most word-of-mouth about brands is positive, so that marketers have a lot more to gain than to lose if they help to unleash the power of word-of-mouth. Media and marketing play a large role in consumer conversations about brands. In fact, almost a quarter of all conversations include specific references to advertising. While some have predicted the death of advertising, in fact it is often a powerful spark for word-of-mouth and the two can work quite well in tandem. When looked at in this light, it turns out that television is very much a social medium, because more than any other consumer touch point, people talk about television ads when they talk about brands.
In your book, you draw upon a lot of case studies as examples of social media successes and failures, including ones here in Westchester. Can you give an example?
Pepsi placed a big bet on social media a few years ago when they decided to scale back considerably what they were spending on television and other forms of advertising and instead focused their efforts on a program they called Pepsi Refresh. Pepsi’s big bet on social media was praised for its innovativeness, but it didn’t help sell soft drinks. Instead, Pepsi dropped to the number-three brand, behind both Coke and Diet Coke. A year later, Pepsi declared, ‘We need television to make a big, bold statement.’
Is the takeaway any different for small businesses?
No. In fact, it is smaller companies that are most likely to be doing business with friends, associates, and even neighbors, so word-of-mouth is picture-perfect for them. Westchester with its many small villages is made for face-to-face interaction, and people should keep in mind the way people live their lives in the real world as they plan their business and marketing strategies.