Nearly one-third (34 percent) of the American public report that they are “tuning out” of social networking sites, with 39 percent of them attributing their tune-out to rude discourse and behavior, according to a new poll released by Weber Shandwick in partnership with its subsidiaries Powell Tate and KRC Research. The survey was conducted in April and asked more than 1,000 Americans how civility affects people’s views of and participation in social media, politics, media and buying behaviors.


“We prefer to communicate through social networks the same way we do in everyday social settings,” says Weber Shandwick’s president of digital communications Chris Perry. “We tend to congregate around shared interests. We want to know who we're talking to. And if there is a difference of opinion, we expect respectful dialogue. If not we tune out. This reality should be top of mind as companies and institutions increasingly operate in social media. It's a personal medium. Same rules of shared interest, transparency and respectful discourse apply.”


According to the survey, 45 percent have defriended or blocked someone online because of uncivil comments or behavior; 38 percent stopped visiting an online site because of its incivility; and 25 percent dropped out of a fan club or online community because it had become uncivil.


The survey asked Americans to rate the civility of 18 aspects of daily life. The public rated blogs more uncivil than social networking sites and Twitter (51 percent vs. 43 percent vs. 35 percent, respectively). Although one-half of the public cited the presence of incivility in blogs, the figure pales next to the much larger 72 percent who view the political world and government as uncivil: the highest percentage recorded in the poll.


Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist and online reputation expert, says: “Incivility can be found everywhere today. Blogs, in particular, are mostly open terrain — practically anyone can comment to a post, often anonymously.  On the other hand, social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, are usually tighter communities with little anonymity and greater accountability for who is speaking.”


The survey revealed that there is a high cost to rudeness and inconsiderate behavior. A full three-quarters (75 percent) of Americans believe that companies that are uncivil should be boycotted. Based on personal experiences of incivility, one half or more of Americans have refrained from buying a company’s products (56 percent), reevaluated their opinions of a company (55 percent) or advised friends and family against purchasing their products (49 percent). 


Says Perry: “The fact that three out of four Americans think that companies should be shunned for incivility has tremendous implications for online purchasing behavior and building online advocates. Among the ways companies can succeed online is to build safe and comfortable communities from the ground up. They need to communicate using the ‘voice of the community,’ engage in civil conversation with both naysayers and yea-sayers, and have a clear identity since anonymity breeds incivility.”