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06/11/2009 Asking the Wrong Questions

My grandmother always told me if I asked the wrong questions I’d never get the right answers. I thought of this when I came across an article titled “Word of Mouth Beats Online Recommendations.”

“Aha!” you think immediately. “More proof of Online’s hype.” It’s interesting how much we see this, to be honest, and while some of this comes from old media defensiveness, I think some of this comes from people who like seeing upstarts get what’s coming to them.

The actual study by Mintel, according to the news releases, showed that a lot more people bought something after they heard about it from someone they knew as opposed to a recommendation of a blogger or chat room person. Weirdly enough, people trusted the advice of someone they knew less well, preferring friends and relatives to partners and spouses. I could go on for days about that, but I digress.

What sticks in my craw is asking people if they trust the recommendations of a blogger or someone in a chat room and letting that represent Online Recommendations. It’s as if they asked people if they listened to recommendations from their dentist and doctor and considered that to encompass Word of Mouth.

If you ask the wrong questions, you can’t get the right answers.

Online word of mouth is much more than bloggers and chat rooms (of course, I have no idea what they even mean with chat rooms; it would be good to see more data). Most online recommendations I read come on product pages themselves, like on Amazon.com, or describe different experiences on aggregation sites, like TripAdvisor.com. Neither of these are bloggers or chatters, but I’d be surprised if these recommendations didn’t impact buying decisions more than the online described by Mintel.

And I’m not even getting into something like Facebook and other social networks.

Are online recommendations the be-all-end-all? Of course not. Will online completely replace offline connections and relationships? I hope not. I can’t ever see that happening.

But don’t try to convince me that online impact is minimal using poorly worded surveys to produce dubious results that get sensational headlines.

Doesn’t everyone have something better to do?


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