NEW YORK: Brands typically generate very different levels of word of mouth (WOM) in the digital and physical worlds, according to research published in the latest edition of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Brad Fay and Rick Larkin, two authors from Engagement Labs, aimed to establish whether digital word of mouth – the online conversations that get passed along between communities of like-minded enthusiasts – reflect real-world discussions about brands.

And they presented evidence that legacy and digital interactions "are important to brand success, but brands rarely earn the same level of success both online and offline".

Fay and Larkin further propose that, despite the seeming alignment of the two conversation lines, their findings lead to a specific management counsel that "brands need to embrace a strategy that deliberately fosters both online and offline social sharing and recommendations".

Their paper – Why Online Word-of-Mouth Measures Cannot Predict Brand Outcomes Offline – Volume, Sentiment, Sharing, and Influence Metrics Yield Scant Online–Offline WOM Correlations – does not suggest that digital influencers are to be ignored but, instead, treated as different resources.

"Although social media have helped to increase advertiser interest in social influence, advertisers' experiences in online social media likely will be different from what they experience in attempting to leverage social influence offline," Fay and Larkin argued.

In the area of "brand sharing", the authors started with the determination that much of the discussion generally is sparked by marketers.

But, for the month of October 2016, Fay and Larkin discovered "a 23-percent correlation between the online and offline performances. On a weekly-trend basis throughout 2016, however, the correlation was essentially zero: 0.4 percent".

The authors thus concluded, "Consumer engagement with brands' marketing content works entirely independently offline and online".

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff