Consumers have more ways to mine for information about companies than ever before, according to 2012 Digital Influence Index, released by Fleishman-Hillard International Communications in conjunction with Harris Interactive.

The firm’s research found that while the Internet trumps all other sources, including advice from friends and family, the ability to reach consumers with a consistent message across the variety of channels available—such as social channels—is key to thriving in the ever-changing and competitive landscape.

The Digital Influence Index measures several key aspects of consumers’ Internet usage, from media consumption patterns to involvement in social networking to making choices about politics, healthcare and finance.

“We’re witnessing a sea change in process,” says Dave Senay, Fleishman-Hillard president and CEO. “Today, the collective voice of the Internet is eclipsing the persuasive power of family, friends or colleagues when it comes to influencing purchase decisions. Our survey shows the tremendous opportunity that today’s tech-savvy consumer presents. Marketers need to maximize their online channels to make it easy for consumers to interact with and access information about their brands.”

With the addition of India, this third edition of the study now includes Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

For the first time on the survey, Canada reported that the Internet is now more influential overall in purchasing decisions than family and friends. Comparatively, in the US, the Internet rated about equal in importance (46 percent compared with 47 percent for family and friends). The Internet’s greatest sway was in Asia, where the gap between the influence of the Internet and that of family and friends was 9 percent in China (79 percent to 70 percent) and nearly twice that in India (79 percent to 60 percent).

Four other key findings illustrate the breadth of opportunities for marketers to reach consumers via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as through online gaming and game consoles:
• Nearly half of those surveyed (42 percent) currently follow or friend a brand on a social networking site. While the reasons vary widely by country, the overall greatest motivation: to learn more about the brand (79 percent).
• Nearly one in five individuals now looks to Facebook to obtain information about a brand or product.
• Almost two out of three consumers surveyed use a mobile/smartphone to gain information on a brand, product or destination at least three or four days a week.
• Overall, 43 percent of consumers have played a game with other people on a PC, and 28 percent have done so using a mobile device.