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Consumers Free to Speak Their Mind Online

For better and for worse

November 30, 2009

Brand marketers know the Internet can be a dangerous place, where they lose control of the message and consumer-created content reigns. That is partly because Internet users now have the ability to create and disseminate blog posts, tweets, reviews and homemade videos around the world. But it is also an effect of the “cyberdisinhibition” the Web provides.

The anonymity of the Internet leads people to behave differently than they do face-to-face. Research from Euro RSCG Worldwide shows that nearly 43% of US Internet users feel less inhibited online, with the effect most prominent among females and users ages 25 to 54.

That can lead to positive and negative behaviors alike. Users are more likely to feel able to meet new people or be empowered to do something they wanted to. But they were also more likely to “lash out” on the Web when they had something to say about a company or brand. One-fifth of Internet users, including almost one-quarter of men, had done so.

US Internet Users' Activities due to the Anonymity of Online Social Media, by Gender, October 2009 (% of respondents in each group)

“The more interactions happen online, with no direct offline contact, the more likely they are to tilt toward extreme behavior. It’s important to blend both online and offline elements,” according to the “Social Life and Social Media” white paper.

Blending elements is important, but marketers should remember that there remains a distinction between offline and online interactions. Just 25.6% of respondents felt all interaction was the same, and about one-half emphasized the convenience of electronic interaction over face-to-face.

Attitudes Toward Online and Offline Social Networking Among US Internet Users, by Age, October 2009 (% of respondents in each group)

The stigma of online socializing is fast disappearing as well. Although only a minority of US Internet users thought online social groups could be “truly social,” nearly three-fifths disagreed with the idea that socializing on the Web was only for “sad, antisocial types.”

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Check out today’s other article, “Small Businesses Raise Search Spend.”


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