Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Influence of Active Online Users

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Influence of Active Online Users

Article excerpt

We active online users like to think of ourselves as savvy, hip and influential. We have access to the latest information technology, and more importantly, know how to use it to its full potential. Sure, when we take things to an extreme, we become nerds, isolated from other spheres of life. But used in perspective, PCs and the Internet are empowering.

Just how empowering? Both more, and less, than you might think.

Through their skillful use of communications, the 11 million heavy online users in the United States influence the buying decisions of 155 million consumers both online and offline, according to research by Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm based in New York City.

The company describes these active Internet users as opinion-leaders and has coined a name for them: "e-fluentials."

"An e-fluential is the rock that starts the ripple," says Leslie Gaines-Ross, the company's chief knowledge officer and architect of its research. "Each one communicates with an average of 14 people, so word travels in ever-widening circles, growing exponentially with each successive wave."

Burson-Marsteller's research points to the importance of companies maintaining an easy-to-use, continually updated Web site and being responsive to e-mail. "Remarkable few companies respond very well or very often," she says.

Despite the advent of upstart tools such as instant messaging, e-mail is still the most widely used electronic communications medium. But how influential is it? Not very. You'll likely get more satisfaction using a more traditional medium.

Say you're having a problem with a new product you just bought. You could send the company an e-mail message, spelling out your gripe. Or you could visit a "grievance site" such as PlanetFeedback, at , or, at . These sites typically post your complaint to their site and forward it via e-mail to the company that made the product.

Too often, however, when a company receives your complaint via e-mail, you'll just receive an impersonal, canned e-mail message in response.

Similarly, don't expect to reach a human being when e-mailing your senator or representative if you have a gripe or would like to communicate your views about an issue. Sometimes your e-mail isn't even acknowledged, and when it is, the acknowledgement is typically automated and canned.

The reasons are clear. E-mail is so easy to send, and so easy to send in quantity, that companies and congressional offices alike are inundated with it. …

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