Consumers Expect Companies to Interact Online
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Consumers Expect Companies to Interact Online

Almost four out of five (78 percent) new media users interact with companies or brands via new media sites and tools, an increase of 32 percent from 2008 (59 percent). And, the frequency of interaction is increasing.

Paul Holmes

Almost four out of five (78 percent) new media users interact with companies or brands via new media sites and tools, an increase of 32 percent from 2008 (59 percent). And, the frequency of interaction is increasing, too, with more than a third (37 percent) of users engaging companies or brands via new media at least once per week (up from one-in-four last year), according to the 2009 Cone Consumer New Media Study, which explores consumers’ interactions with brands, their engagement with corporate responsibility practices and their support of social and environmental issues.


New media users overwhelmingly believe companies or brands should not only have a presence in new media (95 percent) but also interact with their consumers (89 percent). The majority of consumers are still seeking out companies and brands on traditional Web sites (58 percent) and through email (45 percent), but anywhere from a third to a quarter of consumers want to interact with companies and brands in social networks (30 percent) and via online games (24 percent).


Although consumers still feel companies’ or brands’ top priorities within new media should be to problem solve and provide information (61 percent, up from 43 percent in 2008), traditional online advertising—such as banner ads, targeted advertising—saw a 72 percent increase (jumping from 25 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today) demonstrating consumers increasing realization that marketing messages may accompany the relationship they’ve developed with brands online. Not surprisingly, people are also more willing to engage if incentivized with free products, coupons or discounts (58 percent), especially among the female demographic (63 percent).


When asked about their impressions of companies or brands present in new media, users said they:

·         Feel a stronger connection (72 percent, up from 56 percent in 2008)

·         Feel better served (68 percent, up from 57 percent in 2008)

·         Have a more positive image (74 percent)

·         Are more willing to engage (70 percent)

·         Have an improved opinion when one of their friends interacts (64 percent)

·         Choose to “follow”/”friend”/”fan” because it helps showcase their personality online (52 percent)


“Consumers haven’t yet been exhausted by brand oversaturation in the new media space,” says Mike Hollywood, Cone’s director of new media. “There is still an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to establish a presence and earn a competitive advantage. Based on the growth of user interactions with companies, countless purchase decisions are being influenced by new media. It’s imperative to get on board now that the train has left the station.”


Forty-four percent of American new media users are searching for, sharing or discussing information about corporate responsibility efforts and programs and are highly confident they can have an effect on business.


Sixty-two percent of users polled believe they can influence business decisions by voicing opinions via new media channels. About a quarter have contributed their point-of-view on an issue (24 percent) or contacted a company directly (23 percent), and most want the conversation to be two-way – 74 percent expect companies to join conversations about their corporate responsibility practices happening on new media.


Yet, new media users are even more likely to bypass dialogue for action: 30 percent have made a purchase based on positive information learned about a product, company or brand; and 23 percent have switched brands or boycotted a company based on negative information learned about a product, company or brand.


Consumers are most interested in information that will inform their purchasing decisions. Respondents said they want companies to tell them what is in products and how they are made (85 percent) and provide additional details about information, labels and claims shared offline (e.g., in the store, on the package, in an advertisement) (83 percent).


“Consumers are using new media channels to inform purchase decisions, yet are not always stopping to participate in dialogue,” says Jonathan Yohannan, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at Cone. “There is an opportunity to engage them beyond information-seeking behavior to build a relationship that can be mutually beneficial for both consumers and companies.”


Nearly eight-in-10 (79 percent) Americans who are active on new media believe companies and nonprofits should use these channels to raise money and awareness for causes. And, a full sixty percent have used some form of online or new media to support a cause.


Eighty-five percent of respondents say new media provide them with an opportunity to learn about new issues, and a similar number (80 percent) believe they provide another way to support their favorite causes. They champion important issues in a variety of ways, including advocacy (36 percent) (i.e., forwarding a message to friends), personal behavior change (34 percent) and purchasing cause-related products (23 percent).


Despite new media users’ high level of interest and awareness of causes, their support is not yet being fully translated into bottom-line action. Fewer than one-in-five users (18 percent) have made a donation through new media, and a majority (72 percent) agree that such channels raise their awareness about causes, but do not motivate them to do more to help.


One of the primary reasons for the disconnect may be fear. Nearly four-in-10 respondents (39 percent) said they didn’t trust their effort would actually go to help the cause. Other barriers include:

  • I’d rather spend my time and/or money supporting causes offline (31 percent)
  • I didn’t see any existing results or impacts (27 percent)
  • I felt overwhelmed by the number of causes on new media (22 percent)
  • My favorite issue, cause or organization doesn’t use new media (19 percent)
  • I didn’t understand the tool/application (17 percent)


“Americans are actively engaged with causes on new media, but they’re lacking a degree of trust that takes them to the next level of engagement,” explains Alison DaSilva, Cone’s executive vice president of Cause Branding. “Organizations can overcome this barrier by showing tangible and compelling results, offering multiple consumer touch points and making the bridge to offline activities wherever possible.”

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