New age of openness – UK shares more than ever before

2009 sees the emergence of the age of openness according to new research released today by first direct.  The latest research into online behaviour shows that Brits are now catching up with their American counterparts  when it comes to using the web – 79 per cent of the population are now regularly active online.  

More Brits sharing online
Almost 80 per cent are now using social media at least once per month  and over half the UK’s population (53 per cent) are now creating and actively sharing content online, heralding a wave of openness that utilises blogs, video, audio, forums, reviews and comment.  This creation and consumption of user generated content is no longer just the reserve of the ‘Google generation’ (those born after 1993) but is spread consistently across each age group – social media is mainstream!  

Graham Jones, an Internet psychologist who specialises in the way people use the Internet, explains:  “The new-found enthusiasm for sharing details of our lives is actually nothing new; we have been doing it all our lives with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. The difference is that before the advent of social networking sites we could only share our ideas and thoughts with a handful of people.

“Now, thanks to the latest Internet technology (forums, blogs, social networking platforms and websites) we can share with hundreds of people in seconds and the difference today is the majority of us are doing this.  Almost 80 per cent of us are active online , a third use it to let people know what they are up to  and it’s become acceptable to share an unprecedented amount of information about our lives, what we do, who we see and what we buy.  The age of openness is here.”

The first direct research showed the number of people contributing to the web has doubled in the past two years
– 79 per cent of people are active online each month, using social media
– One third maintain a profile on social networking sites
– Almost a fifth (18 per cent) contribute to online forums through comments and a third read online forums
– 14 per cent pass on reviews and articles via the interview
– 41 per cent of over 55s publish, upload and contribute online

The survey also unveiled the reasons why people are increasingly becoming open online.  36 per cent believed it was a sense of helping others and, surprisingly, just three per cent comment and contribute because they feel they are experts .

The trust consumers place on social media
first direct’s research also showed that we’re placing more trust in strangers online in making decisions in our daily lives.  While family and friends remain important in helping to inform purchase decisions (67% of people stated they consulted family or friends regarding purchasing a product or service), more people use comparison websites and online reviews (56%) compared to recommendations from sales assistants (just 25 per cent).

Impact on businesses
The research revealed that, as consumer openness increases, so do our expectations of businesses.  More than three quarters of people (78 per cent) claim they would be more likely to buy from brands that are open and honest .  

But businesses so far don’t appear to be hitting the mark when it comes to transparency.  When asked which companies are considered open, the online giants, such as Google (37 per cent) and Amazon (35 per cent), scored most highly, followed by British institutions such as M&S (34 per cent).  The banking sector had the worst scores for openness  but that’s something first direct is starting to change.

Graham Jones continues:  “As we become more open, so our expectations change towards the way we communicate with businesses.  This new age of openness demands an honest and transparent approach and the rules of engagement are changing.  The research clearly showed that one of the major drivers for people sharing their opinions online was a feeling of power, of having a voice both to promote good and lambast bad customer experiences.  Businesses need to understand this and adapt accordingly.”

Why first direct commissioned the research
first direct commissioned the research to understand the value consumers place on openness, and the expectations of consumers towards businesses in this new age of openness.  

It coincides with first direct’s latest campaign, which sees the UK’s number one bank for customer satisfaction make a brave new move to showcase all consumer opinions online on a new microsite: firstdirect.com/live.  The first time that a bank has made such a move, the site aggregates live comments from five million social media sites.

Lisa Wood, head of marketing at first direct, said:  “The research shows that the banking sector does not score well when it comes to openness and transparency, but this is something that we are keen to change at first direct.  

“Our customers are writing about us all over the web and we want to embrace this, so we’re showing customer comments, good and bad, from websites, blogs and forums for everyone to see.  We’re also encouraging uncensored feedback on a range of issues and we’re inviting everyone to participate in the conversation at www.firstdirect.com/live.

“It’s a move not many brands, let alone banks, would be able to do but this research clearly shows that customers expect openness and honesty in the businesses they trust and recommend.”

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