Online social networking is becoming entrenched in everyday life and is profoundly affecting how US consumers connect with family and friends, shop and interact with retailers and brands, and participate in political and humanitarian issues, according to a recent study from Euro RSCG Worldwide.
The study and resulting white paper, “Social Life and Social Media” (pdf) explore the extent to which Americans have integrated social networking tools into their lives, and also reveal that this integration is causing a simultaneous expansion and narrowing of consumers’ perspectives. One one hand, social networks put the world at an consumers’ fingertips.? On the other, social media’s hyperlocal nature enables them to focus, if they so choose,? on issues, news and people around them.
Another finding from the study reveals that social networking is also causing a rise in what Euro RSCG calls “cyberdisinhibition” – the increased willingness to behave online in ways that wouldn’t be attempted in person. This phenomenon is making users bolder and driving them to inappropriate behavior.
An examination of internet searches for “social media” over the past several years shows the dramatic increase in interest:
Despite buzz to the contrary, Euro RSCG said the study found that online social networking is enhancing rather than deteriorating, relationships among Americans. Though online has not replaced face-to-face – which remains the gold standard, it is working with it to keep people even more connected than ever.
- More than half of respondents (54%) have met new people through electronic media.
- Consumers are engaging in more of what Euro RSCG calls trialogues – multi-way exchanges of ideas and opinions among consumers and brands.
- Consumers are not only more involved with family and friends, but they also have increased their involvement in political and humanitarian issues.
- 40%? agree that social groupings online can be truly social, while only 14% disagree. These figures differ very little across age, gender, ethnic or income groups.
- 28% believe that online social networking enhances their social life offline.
- 58% disagree with the statement that online social networking is for “sad, antisocial types.”
On a darker side, however, the study also found that online interaction through social media leads some people to drop inhibitions, creating antisocial behavior:
- 42.6% of respondents say they feel less inhibited interacting online than face-to-face.
- 20% say they lashed out at companies or products thanks to the anonymity of online interaction.
- 31.5% say that online interaction let them do something they’d been wanting to do.
As a result of the study, Euro RSCG Worldwide suggests five key takeaways:
- Social media are now a vital consideration in any communications strategy in any country where digital media are accessible to citizens and consumers.
- It’s impossible to predict how bits of communication will spread across social media. As most traditional media converge online, communication flows among them, and consumers become messengers.
- The web is worldwide, but its emerging power is hyperlocal. This is the space where what’s virtual (online) meets what’s tangible (offline), with each reinforcing the other.
- Social media enable consumers to be more socially collaborative and to share easily across media types. But users now expect quick responses and clear payoffs. The underlying question is always: What’s in it for me?
- The more interactions happen online with no direct offline contact, the more likely people are to tilt toward extreme behavior. It’s important to blend both online and offline elements.
“Word of mouth has always been the most powerful marketing tool; what social media has done is dramatically increase the scale, velocity and immediacy with which people can influence each other and create the biggest revolution to hit our industry since television,” said David Jones, global CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide. “One of the interesting findings of the study is that it’s the combination of online and offline experiences that creates the biggest impact.”
About the study: Euro RSCG Worldwide commissioned MicroDialogue to conduct a study in October 2009 to map the trajectory of social life and social media usage in the United States. The study asked 1,228 Americans from all online demographics questions about social media usage in the past, present and projected future; about how people interact with, feel about and use social media; about how face-to-face interactions are affected; and about how engagement with local and global political issues has been affected, among others. The research also included an analysis of thousands of verbatims and other conversations across blogs, Twitter and forums.