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Consumers who have supported cause marketing efforts are most likely to respond to communications via e-mail, websites and social media networks, and most social media users think non-profits should use online channels to raise money and awareness for causes, according to a study from Cone Research.

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However, the 2009 Cone Consumer New Media Study (registration required) – which looks at consumer interactions and expectations with both brands in general and as they relate to non-profits – found that while many are willing to voice their support for causes, just 18% report having backed up their support with a donation, reports Environmental Leader, which said about four in 10 say they fear their money will not actually help the cause, suggesting a disconnect.

In terms of causes supported, about 22% have supported causes related to the environment, which falls behind animal welfare (29%), health and disease (28%), education (23%). More than one in five have supported human rights/equal rights (21%).

Additional findings from the study are detailed below.

Online Interactions Increase

The study found that? nearly eight in 10 (78%) of new media users interact with companies or brands via new media sites and tools, an
increase of 32% from 2008 (59%). The frequency of interaction also is increasing, with more than a third (37%) of users engaging companies or brands via new media at least once per week (up from one-in-four last year), Cone said.

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New media users overwhelmingly believe companies or brands should not only have a presence in new media (95%) but should also interact – to varying degrees -? with their consumers in this space (89%).

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The majority of consumers are still seeking out companies and brands on traditional websites (58%) and through email (45%), but many consumers want to interact with companies and brands in social networks (30%) and via online games (24%), the study found.

“Consumers haven’t yet been exhausted by brand oversaturation in the new media space,” said Mike Hollywood, Cone’s director of new media. “There is still an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to establish a presence and earn a competitive advantage. Based on the growth of user interactions with companies, countless purchase decisions are being influenced by new media. It’s imperative to get on board before the train leaves the station.”

When asked about their impressions of companies or brands present in new media, users said they:

  • Feel a stronger connection (72%, up from 56% in 2008)
  • Feel better served (68%, up from 57% in 2008)
  • Have a more positive image (74%)
  • Are more willing to engage (70%)
  • Have an improved opinion of the company or brand when one of their friends interacts (64%)
  • Choose to follow/friend/fan because it helps showcase their personality online (52%)

Consumer Expectations for Companies/Brands in New Media

Although consumers still feel companies’ or brands’ top priorities within new media should be to problem solve and provide information (61%, up from 43% in 2008), traditional online advertising – banner ads, targeted advertising, etc. – saw a 72% increase, (jumping from 25% in 2008 to 43% today).

Cone suggests that this shows consumers’ increasing realization that marketing messages may accompany the relationship they’ve developed with brands online. Not surprisingly, people are also more willing to engage if incentivized with free products, coupons or discounts (58%), especially women (63%).

Consumers’ preferred company/brand functions within new media also include:

  • Offering incentives – free products or services, coupons, discounts, etc. (58%)
  • Soliciting product/service feedback (49%)
  • Developing new ways to interact – widgets, mobile applications, games, contests, etc. (49%)
  • Entertaining – providing access to premium content (43%)

New Media Users Eager to Support Causes…Just Not with Wallets

Nearly eight-in-10 (79%) Americans who are active on new media believe companies and nonprofits should use these channels to raise money and awareness for causes. And 60% have used some form of online or new media to support a cause, primarily through email (33%), websites (29%) and social networks (27%), the study found.

On a positive note, Cone found that 85% of respondents say new media provides them with an opportunity to learn about new issues, and a
similar number (80%) believe it provides another way to support their favorite causes. They champion important issues in a variety of ways, including advocacy (36%) (such as forwarding a message to friends), personal behavior change (34%) and purchasing cause-related products (23%).

However, despite this high level of interest and awareness of causes, new media users’ support has not fully translated into bottom-line action. Fewer than one-in-five users (18%) have made a donation through new media, and a majority (72%) agree that such channels raise their awareness about causes, but do not motivate them to do more to help.

Cone suggests that fear may be one of the primary reasons for this disconnect. Some 39% said they didn’t trust their effort would actually help the cause.

Other barriers to online financial support:

  • They’d rather spend time and/or money supporting causes offline (31%)
  • They didn’t see any existing results or impacts (27%)
  • They felt overwhelmed by the number of causes on new media (22%)
  • Their favorite issue, cause or organization doesn’t use new media (19%)
  • They didn’t understand the tool/application (17%)

In addition to building their trust, Cone found that Americans are inspired to support a cause through new media when they have the opportunity to choose which issue a company will support (79%). Other motivating factors include: an emotionally compelling cause (77%) that is quick and easy to support (76%), provides incentives for involvement (72%), demonstrates results (70%) and offers additional offline opportunities (66%).

Corporate Responsibility on New Media

Overall, the study found that consumers show strong signs of empowerment, comfort and trust with corporate responsibility communications in new media. Three-quarters of new media users say it is an effective way to learn about CR efforts, 65% believe they know where to look for such information and 47%? think companies are transparent and honest when talking about CR efforts through new media channels.

The study also revealed that consumers are relying largely on Web 1.0 channels such as websites (27%) and email (22%) to explore CR,
indicating channels that foster a dialogue and deeper engagement – such as social networks (15%) and blogs (11%) – are being under-used.

About the survey: The 2009 Cone Consumer New Media Study is a three-part survey which explored new media users’ interactions with brands, their support of social and environmental issues and their engagement with corporate responsibility practices. The online survey was conducted September 11-13, 2009 by Opinion Research Corporation among a representative US sample of 1,048 adults, comprising 503 men and 545 women ages 18+. Respondents who indicated they never use new media sites or tools were filtered out of the survey, resulting in a sample size of 587 “new media users.” Cone defines new media as dialogue among individuals or groups by way of technology-facilitated channels, such as social networks (e.g., Facebook)blogs; microblogs (e.g., Twitter); online games; mobile devices; photo-, audio and video-sharing sites (e.g., Flickr, iTunes,YouTube); message boards; etc. In some instances websites and email also were included.

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