Study Reveals Power of Word of Mouth Advertising

Opinion-leading social media users are putting their trust in mainstream media brands over user-generated content when deciding what information to share, according to a new study carried out by BBC Worldwide, Carat, and The Future Foundation.

The study looked at how 9,000 opinion leaders share information in response to brand activity, news, and personal experience in nine countries across a range of platforms, including the web, online social networks, email, SMS, phone, and face-to-face. Opinion leaders were defined as those who regularly spread ideas and opinions across their social networks, with their role being recognised by themselves and others.

The study revealed a series of interrelated groups, each of which is intrinsically important to the flow of information. It highlighted the role of mainstream media in driving the spread of that information. Those groups are defined as:

·        Hub urbanites, who share information via social media and instant messenger, are often the first to start discussing a story and do it to increase their profile, spark a reaction and recognition

·        Email evangelists, who share via email and SMS, have large and diverse networks, reach people Hub Urbanites can't or won't, and do it to educate and inspire

·        Offline influencers who share face-to-face or over the phone and individually have small networks but together make the majority.

According to the study, stories go mainstream when all three opinion leaders start talking.

TV is the main source for all three groups (45pc) when it comes to discovering breaking news, the study found. Radio also plays a key role (15pc).

However, online is increasingly important for early-stage opinion leaders, with 29pc of email evangelists and 30pc of hub urbanites discovering news online. Opinion leaders across all three groups turn to established media brands online when they are researching stories:  74pc of hub urbanites, 66pc of offline influencers, and 61pc of email evangelists say they use major international news sites.

"Our study has shown that it's trusted quality digital media, not user-generated content, that first triggers word of mouth, brand desire, perceived value, and advocacy, and marketers should be encouraged to integrate and spark those conversations themselves in the first instance, (UGC)" said Chris Dobson, EVP and general manager, BBC Advertising.

"This new study challenges some emerging myths around earned media and makes it clear that the Twitterati aren't universally powerful,” said Caroline Vogt, head of insight at Aegis Media Global. “Brands need to think carefully about the who, why, and how of influencers while recognising that face-to-face communication remains incredibly powerful."

The study also found that the spread of word of mouth is largely positive, with 64pc of messages passed on being positive, 2pc negative, and 28pc neutral.

In addition, it reveals that 79pc of opinion leaders place trust in personal recommendations when researching or considering purchasing products.