Influential Customers Found in Online Forums, Survey Suggests

A nationwide survey by Synovate finds online forum users are more likely to post reviews, share links, organize offline meetups and proactively recommend a purchase.

According to a nationwide survey conducted Nov. 19-23 by market researcher Synovate for PostRelease, a firm specializing in online forum advertising, consumers who contribute to online forums are "overwhelmingly more engaged" in influential activities - both online and offline - than people who don't use forums. The biggest disparities involved blogs and meetups: those who contribute to online forums are 10 times more likely than non-contributors to also publish a blog, and are nine times more likely to take an active role in organizing an offline event or meetup for a group that originally met online.

Forum-users are 3.5 times more likely to proactively recommend a particular purchase to someone else, 3.5 times more likely to share links about new products, 4 times more likely to post online ratings and reviews, and almost twice as likely to share advice - offline and in person - based on information they've read online, the survey found. In conjunction with Synovate, PostRelease asked 1,000 Americans to choose from a list of activities that could be considered influential in helping others make a purchase decision, and select those in which they participate. In each case, those who contribute to forums are more likely than others to engage in the activity.

The survey found that one in five Americans contributes to online forums. Forrester Research reports that 28 percent of U.S. consumers read online forums - making it the second most popular online activity, second only to watching video. But survey results suggest a forum contributor's influence is not confined to the world of online forums. Results show 79.2 percent of forum contributors help a friend or family member make a decision about a product purchase - compared with 47.6 percent of non-contributors and 53.8 percent overall. In addition, 65 percent of forum contributors share advice (offline and in person) based on information that they've read online - compared with 35 percent of non-contributors and 40.8 percent overall, and 66 percent of forum contributors post online ratings/reviews of products/services, compared with 16.8 percent of non-contributors and 26.4 percent overall.

The study also offers insights about who is most likely to contribute to online forums: Men are more likely to contribute to forums than women (23.5 percent of men say they contribute, versus 15.7 percent of women) and younger respondents were more likely to say they contribute to forums-- one-third of those 18-24 and one-fourth of those 25-34, compared with one in five overall. Results suggest a college education also makes a difference: 20 percent of respondents with post-grad degrees participate in forums and 21.8 percent of those with at least some college said the same, compared with 12.9 percent of respondents with high school or less.

Justin Choi, founder and president of PostRelease, said online forums are great places to find enthusiastic consumers and influential brand advocates. "Forums are essentially online gathering places for people with similar passions, so it's natural that their passion would extend beyond the forum's virtual walls," he said. "The people in forums are often discussing specific products, sharing advice and asking each other for recommendations. For marketers, participating in that discussion is not quite as simple as jumping into a forum conversation - forums have rules about that. But there are tools for connecting in a way that's transparent and relevant."