Are Social Media and Word-of-Mouth the Same Thing?

I have seen a lot of articles recently in response to a small business survey conducted by Hiscox, a small business insurance provider, which surveyed US small business leaders on their social media usage.  Hiscox found that many of these business owners weren’t using social channels to promote their businesses and products.  In fact, the results of the survey showed that only 12% of the business owners described social media as a “must” and 47% indicated they did not use social media for business purposes at all.  The survey also concluded that 50% of the business owners said that word-of-mouth marketing was essential to their business.  This is where things get interesting…and heated!

People have been going back and forth on blog comments, discussion boards, twitter, etc., on whether or not social media and word-of-mouth are the same thing.  Some say that not only are they the same thing, but that social media is word-of-mouth on steroids, since the reach your message can have is almost limitless.   In a recent article titled “Social Media Marketing and Word-of-Mouth Marketing Are Now The Same”, Steve Olenski wrote “Social Media is not set to become the way to spread word of mouth… it already is!”  Others feel that while social media is a component of word-of-mouth, it cannot be considered the same thing.  Rod Brooks, Board President of the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) said “Social Media is a rapidly growing and highly visible component of word of mouth marketing. That being said, I like to remind savvy marketers that approximately 90% of all word of mouth still occurs offline. So, while I can agree that Social Media is a subset of WOM, it would be very difficult for me to call them “the same”. Word of Mouth is far bigger than social media.”

My question is this: Who cares?!?  In all the back and forth I have read on this topic, there is one common message I keep seeing.  Even if people feel that social media is different from word-of-mouth marketing, they still seem to agree that social media should be used as a tool to achieve word-of-mouth success.  So why then aren’t we focused more on why small businesses continue to shy away from social media, even though they rate word-of-mouth marketing as one of the most crucial aspects to the success of their business?

What do you think?  Is there a difference between social media and word-of-mouth?  Does it matter?  Am I completely missing the mark?

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