Brands have spent a lot of time and money working on their social skills. But in digital communities such as Facebook and Twitter, they can seem more like needy hangers-on than actual friends, jumping in on jokes and sometimes grossly misreading the tone of conversations they join, uninvited, in order to promote themselves.

Not surprisingly, consumers are not buying it. According to a study from analytics firm Chartbeat, people are much more likely to pay attention to material on Twitter when it comes from third parties – in other words, people talking about things that really interest them rather than brands promoting themselves.

The study found that when links were tweeted by people not affiliated with the content, those who clicked spent more time on a page than those who were referred to it by the brand (or publication, or writer).

It also showed that third-party referrals led to users coming back to a website more often.

“These readers may engage deeply with content due to the personal connection with the recommender ,” the study found.

The study is applicable for both media companies and advertisers, and is yet another indication that word of mouth matters. People do not like to feel that advertising has an influence on them.

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