December 11, 2001, 12:00 AM

Even retail web sites aren`t just for sales, study says

People who influence others rely on company web sites for information about the company much more so than they rely on online magazines and opinion sites.

How important is a web site apart from its ability to sell product? Very, says a new report commissioned by public relations agency Burson-Marsteller and conducted by market researcher RoperASW.

“Company web sites are the most frequently trafficked online information source by e-fluentials, a powerful group of online influencers who affect millions of consumers` purchasing decisions,” the report stated. “Across a wide variety of sectors -- technology, retail, finance, pharmaceutical, and automotive -- company web sites (85%) were found to be more widely used than online magazines (62%) and opinion sites (55%) as sources of Internet-based information among e-fluentials who advise on companies and products. These findings constitute a wake-up call for companies to proactively manage their relations with online customers.”

"An e-fluential is the rock that starts the ripple," said Chet Burchett, president and CEO, Burson-Marsteller U.S.A. "Each one communicates with an average of 14 people, so word travels in ever-widening circles, growing exponentially with each successive wave. Our new research shows that an estimated 11 million e-fluentials reach 155 million U.S. adults with their messages. "

The reports states that on average, highly influential Internet user relate a positive experience to 11 people, but a negative experience to 17, a 55% difference.

These influential people are receptive to e-mail from companies they know, the study showed, indicating the role played by familiar brands in e-mail viral marketing campaigns. In fact, 90% say they have read unsolicited e-mail from people or web sites that they know.

Results are based on a random sample of 525 consumers identified as influential from a panel of 100,000 U.S. households.


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