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34% of Americans Dropping Social Networks, Mostly Due to Incivility, Survey Says

Saucy blog comments can spell trouble for companies using social media networks.

In a poll released today by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, nearly one-third (34%) of the American public report that they are "tuning out" of social networking sites, with 39% of them attributing their tune-out to rude discourse and behavior. The online survey was conducted in April and asked more than 1,000 Americans how civility affects people's views of and participation in social media, politics, media and buying behaviors.

The survey is self-serving, since Weber Shandwick works with companies to help them formulate messages and communicate with consumers. Still the results are interesting, as they show a sensitivity to courtesy and tone that one associates with more genteel times and earlier generations.

Among the findings of the survey:

* 45% have defriended or blocked someone online because of uncivil comments or behavior

* 38% stopped visiting an online site because of its incivility

* 25% dropped out of a fan club or online community because it had become uncivil

The survey asked Americans to rate the civility of 18 aspects of daily life. The public rated blogs more uncivil than social networking sites and Twitter (51% vs. 43% vs. 35%, respectively). Despite one-half of the public citing the presence of incivility in blogs, this figure pales next to the much larger 72% who view the political world and government as uncivil — the highest percentage recorded in the poll.

Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick's chief reputation strategist and online reputation expert, said: "Let's face it. Incivility can be found everywhere today. Blogs, in particular, are mostly open terrain — practically anyone can comment to a post, often anonymously. On the other hand, social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, are usually tighter communities with little anonymity and greater accountability for who is speaking."

The survey revealed that there is a high cost to rudeness and inconsiderate behavior. A full three-quarters (75%) of Americans believe that companies that are uncivil should be boycotted. Based on personal experiences of incivility, one-half or more of Americans have refrained from buying a company's products (56%), reevaluated their opinions of a company (55%) or advised friends and family against purchasing their products (49%).

"The fact that three out of four Americans think that companies should be shunned for incivility has tremendous implications for online purchasing behavior and building online advocates," says Chris Perry, president of digital communications, Weber Shandwick. "Among the ways companies can succeed online is to build safe and comfortable communities from the ground up. They need to communicate using the 'voice of the community,' engage in civil conversation with both naysayers and yea-sayers, and have a clear identity since anonymity breeds incivility."

"In today's society, behavior is critical in setting an example but so is how behavior is communicated. Tone matters as much as what is being said," remarked Gaines-Ross.

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