Survey Says: Who Really Runs the Internet?

More Americans than ever are going online for advice about products and services. But a small group of "influencers" are the ones telling them what to do.

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Control freaks: A small group of Internet users have big influence on the Web, according to new research.More Americans are turning to the Internet to research products and services before making a purchase. But when they look at reviews, ratings and blogs about those items, are they getting a mass opinion or the views of a few? New research suggest it's the latter. Here's a closer look at some of the latest small-business surveys.

If You're Not Online, You're Invisible

According to Online Product Research, a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 58 percent of Americans now go online to research products and services they're considering buying, up from 49 percent in 2004. And the number of people who research purchases on any given day rose from 15 percent of adults in 2004 to 21 percent in 2010. Even shoppers who end up buying from a store go online first to research the products.

And people aren't just researching online -- they're also sharing opinions. Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of the 3,001 adults surveyed have posted online comments or reviews about products or services.

The New (and Elite) Influencers
Even though nearly a quarter of adults are sharing their views online, those who do so regularly are a much smaller -- and more influential -- group, according to The North American Empowerment Online Survey.

The survey assessed "influence posts" (blog posts, blog comments, discussion forum posts, ratings and reviews) and "influence impressions" (influence from people posting within social networks such as Facebook and Twitter). The results: 13.4 percent generate 80 percent of the influence posts, and 6.2 percent generate 80 percent of the influence impressions.

Sounds like a new iteration of the "80/20 rule," where 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your clients. But I think it's too early in the ratings-and-review era for the number of primary influencers to stay that small. So it's key you know what people are saying about you online -- and address their concerns.

Tweeting Into Thin Air?
Most people are tweeting in a vacuum. So say the folks at Sysomos, a social-media analytics company. While some Twitter users generate huge followings and tons of retweets, a new study shows these influencers are in the minority. Sysomos looked at 1.2 billion tweets over a two-month period and found that 71 percent of all tweets produce no reaction (meaning no replies or retweets).

Retweets were especially rare. While 23 percent of tweets get replies, just 6 percent get retweeted. Tweets are also fleeting -- nearly 97 percent of replies and 92 percent of retweets happen in the first hour after a tweet is published. After that, it's nearly impossible to get a reaction.

Twitter can be overwhelming. But I've found that one of the best ways to get retweeted is to be a retweeter. Essentially, it's karmic: You get what you give.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports.

Tags: blogs, Facebook, influencers, Internet, online comments, online influencers, product reviews, Rieva Lesonsky, Survey Says, Sysmos, Twitter, user reviews

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