Tell your friends: word-of-mouth is back!

Photo courtesy of Shattered Infinity via Flickr

I was just perusing Stephen Abram’s informative blog (he’s coming to the iSchool on Wednesday!) and was stopped in my tracks by a little detail he points to in this post. Here, he’s looking at some fascinating data from a Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism report released on Monday:

If someone is under age 40, she tends to get the following kinds of local news and information from the following places:

  • Internet: weather, politics, crime, arts/cultural events, local businesses, schools, community events, restaurants, traffic, taxes, housing, local government, jobs, social services, and zoning/development
  • Newspapers: crime, arts/cultural events, community events, taxes, local government, jobs, social services, zoning/development
  • TV stations: weather, breaking news, politics, crime, traffic, local government, and social services
  • Radio: traffic
  • Word of mouth: Community events

Do you see that last bit? That bit I bolded and italicized so you couldn’t miss it? Okay, one more bit of info from the study:

  • Old-fashioned word of mouth is still a factor in sharing local news and information, especially at the neighborhood level for information about local businesses, restaurants and schools. In all 55% of all adults get local news and information via word of mouth at least once a week. Word of mouth is particularly likely to be cited by younger residents as one of their top platforms for community events. Adults age 40 and older are more likely to prefer word of mouth as a source for local politics, local government activity, housing and real estate, zoning, and social services.

Again, boldface and italics are mine.

So, word of mouth is back? What’s that mean?

It makes me think that maybe all this Internet use doesn’t have to lead to social isolation, as some have feared. Maybe it’s social media that’s gotten us back in the habit of connecting with each other. Maybe it’s social media fatigue that’s made us value the actual face-to-face conversations we have with each other, allowing these conversations to have real effect on our choices.

It also makes me think of this creepy story I recently saw on a morning news show, about friends “brand washing” each other, getting paid to harness the power of word of mouth and convince their friends to buy products.

But I’d like to think optimistically. What will this new-old-fashioned trend mean for cultural organizations, libraries, and local non-profits?

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