European consumers rely on a plurality of media not just to form opinions but also to influence one another, and online advocacy—online user reviews and recommendations—has replaced recommendations from friends and family as the most influential channel for European consumers, according to a pan-European study into the media habits of European consumers conducted by Weber Shandwick.


The survey, entitled Inline Communications, examined the media habits of 4,692 consumers across six major European markets (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom).


Reviews and recommendations from friends and family (20 percent) was cited by all markets surveyed as the second most influential communications channel for European consumer purchase decisions, after online reviews and recommendations (26 percent). Similarly consistent is the importance of traditional media (television and radio, newspapers and magazines) in its level of influence across all markets, with 23 percent of European respondents quoting the mainstream media (broadcast and print) as their principal source of information--although newspapers and magazines are more influential to French and U.K. consumers than those in other key European markets.


With just 9 percent of European consumers citing its relevance, mainstream advertising is found to have the least influence from all communication channels on European consumer purchase habits and buying decisions.


However, while online research is referenced as the most influential channel, the continued importance of traditional media is apparent with 40 percent of European consumers, and almost half (43 percent) of U.K. consumers, not believing what they have read online until they have checked the facts in the traditional media. Further, contrary to popular opinion, traditional media was found to be a major influencer across all age groups, including young people (under the age of 35).


The survey also found that one in three of (31 percent) of U.K. consumers stated that they would be interest in interacting with their favourite brands via social networking sites, while 24 percent were strongly opposed to the concept.


According to Weber Shandwick’s EMEA chief executive Colin Byrne: “The maturing of Web 2.0 has dramatically changed the communications landscape. Our research demonstrates that anyone seeking to influence consumers today can no longer afford to view online and offline separately, or indeed online tools as a mere add-on to traditional PR campaigns: businesses now need to integrate all channels into a holistic communications approach to create advocates who will carry their message—something we call Inline communications.”