New York, October 24, 2007 – A new survey released today by Burson-Marsteller shows that an increasing number of the most powerful and influential online consumer segment, the e-fluential, is concerned that "advocates for hire" leave biased opinions on consumer Web sites. The majority of these influencers are less likely to purchase a product when they suspect a paid professional has left biased comments about the product on a consumer website. E-fluentials are opinion leaders who shape perceptions of brands, products and services, ultimately driving billions of consumer dollars.
"E-fluentials have gotten savvier about online dialogue since we first identified them in 2001. They are increasingly frustrated about commercial activity on discussion boards and opinion Web sites intended for consumers," said Ame Wadler, Chief Strategic Officer of Burson-Marsteller. "Their mounting concern calls for complete transparency because arousing suspicion among e-fluentials can trigger negative word of mouth as opposed to the intended positive buzz."
The research offers insights to guide online and offline communications with these influencers:
1. Be transparent. Forty-eight percent of e-fluentials say they believe there is commercial activity on opinion Web sites, up from 39 percent in 2001. And, 30 percent of e-fluentials today say this is a big problem as compared with only 20 percent in 2001. However, revealing commercial affiliations assuages concerns. It is the subterfuge that creates cynicism and could result in backlash.
2. Avoid the hard sell. Fifty-seven percent of e-fluentials are less likely to purchase a product when they suspect a paid professional has left biased comments on an opinion Web site. E-fluentials are receptive to new messages from companies, as they enjoy being the gatekeepers of information. However, they are not receptive to direct sales tactics and prefer to be approached as respected opinion leaders in their communities.
3. Substantiate messages with third-party back-up. Seventy-six percent of e-fluentials double-check information with other online sources when they suspect commercial activity on opinion Web Sites. Provide links to consumer blogs and news articles that support the message with credible third-parties.
E-fluentials Talk … Online and Off
E-fluentials' love to talk and they spend nearly one full day (over 21 hours) per week conversing both with colleagues at work (9.2 hours) and with friends and family outside of work (11.7 hours). E-fluentials spend approximately 21 hours online each week:
· Eight hours per week are spent interacting with others and sharing opinions about entertainment and consumer topics such as movies (82 percent), retailers (82 percent), restaurants (75 percent) and celebrities (66 percent), followed by more serious topics such as national and global issues (64 percent), doctors and health issues (46 percent) and local and community issues (45 percent).
· E-fluentials spend seven hours reading email, four hours reading news online and three hours reading discussion boards.
However, these digital divas still spend a significant amount of time using old-fashioned in-person and telephone conversation to get their messages across. Ninety-six percent of e-fluentials talk about good and bad product experiences face-to-face and 79 percent share product news over the phone.
What Do E-fluentials Enjoy? Being E-fluential.
E-fluentials share information for the sheer joy of being "in the know." While they are most likely to tell others about a good or bad product experience simply because they want their friends and family to know about it (94 percent), 72 percent say that "sharing opinions and experiences is part of who I am." An equal number (72 percent) feel it is their obligation to "warn people about problems" with products. A small minority share opinions with friends because they get paid to do so (15 percent) or to get free stuff (10 percent).
E-fluentials also enjoy sharing their knowledge in public forums. Sixty-four percent have offered their opinion at an organization meeting in the past 12 months as compared to only 25 percent of non-fluentials. However, nearly identical proportions – 57 percent of e-fluentials and 56 of non-fluentials have voted in a political election in the past year. E-fluentials distinguish themselves from non-fluentials is in their desire to have their voices heard publicly, but are not any more likely to privately offer their opinions at the voting booth.
E-fluentials Tracked Since 2001
The Burson-Marsteller e-fluential® research series also includes e-fluentials® 2001, Tech-fluentials, Mom-fluentials and Youth-fluentials.
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Burson-Marsteller partnered with MSI International to conduct a survey of online U.S. adults, age 18 and older. A total of 1,000 online interviews were completed in July 2007. Among the respondents, 150 were identified as e-fluentials.
Burson-Marsteller (www.burson-marsteller.com), established in 1953, is a leading global public relations and public affairs firm. It provides clients with strategic thinking and program execution across a full range of public relations, public affairs, advertising, and web-related services. The firm’s seamless worldwide network consists of 57 wholly-owned offices and 46 affiliate offices, together operating in 59 countries across six continents. Burson-Marsteller is a part of Young & Rubicam Brands, a subsidiary of WPP (NASDQ: WPPGY), one of the world’s leading communications services networks.