B-M Asia Pacific digital strategist Charles Pownall tells Marcus Chhan how marketers can leverage on the power of e-fluentials...before it's too late.
They are the most powerful and influential online consumer segment who have the ability to shape perceptions of brands, products and services. Yet results from a recent Burson-Marsteller (B-M) commissioned survey found that e-fluentials' most popular activity was having conversations with people rather than watching TV.
B-M recently commissioned ICR to conduct an online study where a total of 1,000 US adults aged 18 and over were surveyed and 15% were identified as e-fluentials. In terms of Asia, Pownall says, "there has been a proliferation of e-fluentials in many guises, from consumers actively sharing information and views about products in online communities in China, to the emergence of authoritative citizen journalists in India".
"Given that word-of-mouth is generally regarded as trustworthy in Asia, it is even more important that companies listen to what is and is not being said at a local level about them and their competitors, and understand who is shaping opinion, before proactively engaging in the blogosphere," he said.
According to the survey, 61% of e-fluentials believe ‘a lot' or ‘some' of the comments on opinion websites are made by paid professionals but more worryingly for companies who actively practice in posting information on the pretence of being a consumer, the study also found 76% of e-fluentials double-checked information read on opinion web sites and 57% said they were less likely to make a purchase when they suspect a paid professional has posted an opinion.
"If you're entering into this kind of area, there's a real premium on transparency. It is essentially about building trust with your stakeholders over time and therefore you have to build that credibility. The whole pay-for-post thing is a very dangerous phenomenon. So sure get your message out there, but you have got to be absolutely sure what your saying is absolutely accurate," he said.
The survey also suggests e-fluentials are as keen to work with marketers as marketers are to work with them, because this segment tends to see their role as being very much at the centre of things.
"Their chief motivation is really around sharing experiences. They see themselves as the centre of a lot of information which is flying around and they like to play the role of parking that information. It's very egocentric in many ways but interestingly, what the survey shows is that a very secondary motivation for them is to bring about change," Pownall said.
We need not look much further than the recent Malaysian elections to find a case in point where e-fluentials pushed hard for societal or at least political change. As the election unfolded, two prominent bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Tony Pua, who are from the opposition party, were among several successful candidates to have made their names in blogosphere.
"Malaysia is a very interesting example where in an environment where the mainstream environment tends to be very controlled, then u get a lot more activity online and you're seeing that certainly in China and it appears to be the case in Malaysia," he said.
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