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The Internet, e-mail and instant messaging are great ways to jumpstart word-of-mouth “conversations.” But just 4 percent of word-of-mouth conversations (which are just short of a “lead”) are ultimately passed off via e-mail, and 3 percent through IM. Another 1 percent start the discussion via chat rooms and blogs. By contrast, an overwhelming 70 percent of conversations occur face to face, and 19 percent happen over the phone. (Face to face is “local,” right?)

The research comes from The Keller Fay Group, a unit comprising veterans from Roper polling and other firms. Keller Fay surveys 100 consumers a day, seven days a week  36,000 consumers every year  on the types of communication they use for word-of mouth-communications. The age range is 13 to 69.

Keller Fay’s Jon Berry says the Internet is a “really important source of what people refer to” when they are talking about buying something  a good precursor activity. “It is right up there with television,” he said. Actually, it is a little short of TV: 11 percent to 9 percent.

While Internet channels don’t really compete with more traditional channels for the actual decision making, online review sites and other types of consumer sites are beginning to register fairly significantly, he added. Even “Gen Y” consumers (i.e., born after 1983) use other means of communication more prominently than the Internet. But for them, the ranking is much closer. While the majority of Gen Y word-of-mouth conversations are face to face (63 percent) or over the phone (17 percent), they are using text messages and IMs at triple the volume of the total market.

Btw: anybody know of a good heat/ac man in north San Diego?

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