February 7, 2012, 4:10 PM

Consumers turn to social networks for product information more than discounts

But U.S. consumers are more interested in deals than are peers in other countries.

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

Consumers who follow retailers or brands on social networks aren’t usually seeking financial rewards—instead of discounts, those online shoppers are more likely to be searching for product information.

That’s according to a new global survey from Fleishman-Hillard International Communications and Harris Interactive. The findings, collected in the “2012 Digital Influence Index,” are based on web surveys of 4,612 online consumers conducted last May and June. The responses came from consumers in the following countries: the United States, India, China, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

Globally, 79% of respondents say they primarily follow companies on a social network to learn more about brands; that was also the leading response from consumers in China, Germany and India. The second most popular reason to follow companies, at 76%, is to receive discounts or coupons; that’s the leading answer in Canada, Japan and the United States. Other top reasons to follow companies on social networks include obtaining exclusive information (73%, and especially popular among French and Indian consumers), giving positive feedback (69%) and generally sharing opinions (67%).

More broadly, the survey measures how the Internet influences purchases. Asked what helps to guide purchases, the Internet, at 66%, beats other methods, which include offline advice from friends, relatives and colleagues (61%), e-mail (51%), television (42%), newspapers (43%), postal mail (37%), magazines (28%) and radio (28%).

“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.”

In the United States, however, would-be purchasers seem to consider their friends, family and co-workers members relatively trustworthy, as 46% of U.S respondents say they turn to the web before making purchases, compared with 47% who consult people they know. By contrast, 79% of consumers in India use the Internet for pre-purchasing information compared with 60% who seek out advice from people they know.

When turning to the Internet for purchasing advice, consumers from all countries are most likely to use the web before buying travel and leisure products (61%) and consumer electronics (52%), the report says. And when using the Internet, more consumers (89%) are going to search engines to find needed information than to brand and product web sites (60%), product review sites (50%), news sites (24%) and forums where they post questions (24%).

In the United States, a relatively high percentage of consumers, 67%, say they would visit brand or product web sites, but search still was king, with 90% of online shoppers going to search engines.

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