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October 21, 2009

Consumers Are Using New Media to Engage with Companies on Issues of Corporate Responsibility
    by Robert Kropp

Survey by Cone finds that an increasing number of American new media users are using online outlets in efforts to influence corporate decision-making. -- A recent survey of American new media users found that 44% "are searching for, sharing or discussing information about corporate responsibility (CR) efforts and programs" via such outlets as social networks, blogs, and online games. The survey, undertaken by Cone, a brand strategy and communications agency, sought consumer responses in the areas of brand marketing and cause branding, as well as CR.

Seventy-eight percent of new media users reported interacting with companies online, up from 59% in 2008. Thirty-eight percent reported doing so at least once a week, compared to 25% in 2008.

Sixty-two percent of respondents to the survey indicated that they believe they can influence corporate decision-making through participation in new media outlets. Twenty-four percent reported that they have contributed to online discussions about CR, and 23% have contacted companies directly. Three-quarters of respondents "expect companies to join conversations about their corporate responsibility practices happening on new media."

Forty-seven percent believe that companies are transparent and honest in addressing CR efforts online. The online venues most often accessed for the purpose of learning about CR efforts were email (27%) and corporate web sites (22%). The findings suggest that opportunities for more interactive venues such as social networks and blogs have yet to be exploited.

"Consumers are using new media channels to inform purchase decisions, yet are not always stopping to participate in dialogue," said Jonathan Yohannan, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at Cone. "There is an opportunity to engage them beyond information-seeking behavior to build a relationship that can be mutually beneficial for both consumers and companies."

Over 80% of respondents want companies to communicate their CR efforts via new media in several areas. Consumers want companies to provide information about their products and how they are mad, and want additional information about product claims made through advertising and labeling. Consumers also want companies to provide forums in which concerns over business practices can be voiced, and to use new media to report on environmental and social issues.

Respondents also indicated that they wanted corporate online presences to include open dialogues with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies, as well as advocacy for social and environmental issues.

The 2009 Cone Consumer New Media Study was conducted online in September, and included a representative sample of 1,048 adults in the US. Of that number, 587 identified themselves as users of new media resources. The margin of error associated with the sample size is 5%.

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