Brands that use microblogging sites like Twitter to provide real-time responses to the public are winning a higher degree of trust from consumers, according to a study by a leading public relations firm.
Some 75 percent of people surveyed said they view companies that microblog -- sending short, frequent messages on sites like Twitter or status updates on social networks like Facebook -- as more deserving of their trust than those that do not, according to a survey by Fleishman-Hillard, conducted with market research firm Harris Interactive.
The second annual Digital Influence Index study, released at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York, researches the extent to which the Internet affects consumer behavior.
The findings on Twitter are particularly notable in a year where many leading corporations found themselves in crisis mode, from BP's role in the Gulf oil disaster to recalls from Toyota Motor Corp and Johnson & Johnson and a viral campaign against new diapers from Procter & Gamble on Facebook.
What really matters here I think is that the rules of crisis engagement that we've known for years and years still apply, but they still apply in a much more accelerated way, Dave Senay, Chief Executive of Fleishman-Hillard, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Part of the lesson is not to overreact, but also to react with factual information, and don't get beyond what you know, Senay said. And do so not in a 24-hour news cycle, but in minute-to-minute monitoring.
Companies also need to be well set up in the digital world well before any potential problem arises, building a relationship with their customers so that trust can help them manage a crisis, said Brian McRoberts, senior vice president of digital research at Fleishman-Hillard.
Fleishman-Hillard, part of Omnicom Group, provides communication services to companies like Johnson & Johnson and P&G. Its study surveyed 4,243 people in seven countries, including the United States and China, between December and January.
Among its findings, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they used the Internet to research purchases, with close to 90 percent saying the web helped them compare options for packaged goods and electronics and to book travel.
At the same time, consumers were not keen on being influenced by web sources perceived to have a vested interest in touting products, with 76 percent saying they were less likely to trust information from a blogger getting free samples from companies they write about.
Nearly 60 percent see the central role of the Internet in decision-making remaining the same in the next two years, with 39 percent saying it will become more important. However, in terms of company investment, online advertising accounts for about 14 percent of global ad spending.
(Reporting by Michele Gershberg; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)