United Airlines, Wells Fargo, PwC – just a few companies recently hit with reputational issues either captured by social media or led by conversations in social media. Social media fueled corporate reputation crises are becoming an everyday part of the news cycle. A new survey from APCO Insight reveals some interesting trends on the U.S. public’s perceptions of the power of social media.

Changing Habits of the Public:  Starting the Day with Coffee and News Social Media

The results of an online survey of 1,013 adults from June 12-13, 2017 indicates that social media is becoming the public’s key channel for information on current events and often the source they consult first thing in the morning. For about a third (28%), checking social media sites is the first thing they do each day when using their smartphone for the first time. Moreover, just over half (54%) of the U.S. public says they often get news on current events from social media sites – just slightly more than those who say the same about newspapers/news websites (45%). This data suggest that in good times or bad, a company needs to be aware of the changing times and ways in which their stakeholders are consuming information and staying informed.

Who is Driving the Conversation?

Our survey also reveals that the U.S. public feels empowered to use their smartphone or social media to document or talk about a company wrongdoing – presenting a potential risk to any company’s reputation. Roughly three-quarters (77%) in our survey agree with the statement “my smartphone empowers me because it allows me to take a video or photo of a situation I may experience or witness.” Another 62% say they will say or post something on social media if they hear about a company doing something that they think is wrong. Documenting with video or posting something on social media is becoming a primary method consumers are using to “fight back” against perceived societal wrongs. For any company – consumer-facing or not – this capability opens-up the company to the possibility of any issue quickly spiraling out-of-control.

The Opportunity

The findings from APCO’s survey expose a silver-lining of this shift toward a ubiquitous presence of social media. Our results indicate the public perceives social media as a direct line of communication to a company, as well as a source of influence on their opinions. About two-thirds (69%) agree that social media gives them a direct line of communication to talk to a company and a similar proportion (68%) agree that the information they see about companies on social media influences their perception of the company.

While social media poses a potential risk for any organization, companies that use social media effectively are facilitating an open and influential channel to stakeholders that matter. 

The Research

APCO Insight conducted an online survey of 1,013 U.S. adults from June 12-13, 2017. Margin of error =  ±3.1%.

Q1. Please rate your overall impressions of the following industries 

 

Negative (1-4)

Neutral (5-6)

Positive (7-10)

Computer/Internet

14%

21%

65%

Food & Beverage

14%

24%

62%

Retail

17%

27%

56%

Automobile

19%

25%

56%

Finance/Banking

26%

26%

48%

Cruise Line

26%

26%

48%

Pharm

30%

23%

47%

Oil and Gas

30%

24%

46%

Airline

27%

25%

48%

 

Q2. Please rate your overall impressions of the following companies.

 

Negative (1-4)

Neutral (5-6)

Positive (7-10)

Southwest

20%

26%

54%

American Airlines

25%

24%

51%

Delta Airlines

24%

25%

51%

United Airlines

30%

23%

47%

Jet Blue

24%

28%

47%

Virgin Airlines

27%

28%

45%

Spirit Airlines

31%

27%

42%

 

Q3. How often do you get news on current events from...

 

Often

Sometimes

Hardly Ever

Never

Television (Local or cable news sites)

64%

25%

8%

4%

Social media (Twitter/Facebook)

54%

24%

11%

12%

Newspapers/News websites

45%

35%

14%

7%

Radio

35%

39%

17%

9%

 

Q4. On an average day, when you use your smart phone for the very first time in the day, which of the following, if any, are you most likely to do first?

 

Percent

Check social media

28%

Check personal email

25%

Do Internet search

8%

Check news websites

8%

Check Work Email

8%

Look at online banking apps

6%

Stream a movie

5%

Other

12%

 

Q5. On average, how often do you post, comment, or share something about a company on social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook?

 

Total

Daily

41%

Weekly

20%

Monthly

10%

A few times a year

9%

Never or almost never

21%

 

Q6. Please indicate if you agree or disagree with the following statements.  

 

Agree

Disagree

My smartphone empowers me because it allows me to take a video or photo of a situation I may experience or witness

77%

23%

Social media gives me a direct line of communication to talk to a company

69%

31%

The information I see about companies on social media, influences my perception of the company

68%

32%

If I hear about a company doing something that I think is wrong, I will say or post something on social media

62%

38%

Twitter is the best way to get a response if I have a consumer complaint

55%

45%

 

Q7. Which are you most likely to believe/read/pay attention to?

When someone posts something NEGATIVE about a company on social media

25%

When someone posts something POSITIVE about a company on social media

75%

 

Q8. Some people have heard about these events, but others have not. How familiar, if at all, are you with the following events?

 

Familiar (1-2)

Unfamiliar (3-4)

The April 2017 incident on a United Airlines plane when a passenger was forcefully removed

88%

12%

Wells Fargo employees created millions of fake bank accounts in customers’ names

75%

25%

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) accountants botching the announcement of the winner for best picture at the Academy Awards (Oscars)

70%

30%

Mylan pharmaceutical’s price hike of its EpiPen anti-allergy device

74%

26%

The potential for medical devices (such as pacemakers, insulin pumps, implanted defibrillators or others) to be hacked to steal medical/personal information or harm patients

58%

42%

 

Q9. Do you recall if you….

Only read about United Airlines forcible removal of a passenger

23%

Only saw the images of the United Airlines forcible removal of a passenger

29%

Both (read about the incident and saw the images)

48%

 

Q10. Given recent events involving the airline industry, how likely are you to book a flight for your next trip?

Much more likely

26%

Somewhat more likely

14%

The events will have no impact on my decision to book a flight

36%

Much less likely

14%

Not at all likely

11%

 

Q11. Which of the following airlines are you most likely to fly and least likely to fly on your next trip?

 

MOST LIKELY

LEAST LIKELY

American Airlines

27%

9%

Southwest

20%

11%

Delta Airlines

15%

9%

Jet Blue

10%

14%

United Airlines

14%

22%

Virgin Airlines

7%

11%

Spirit Airlines

5%

19%

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Katie Sprehe

Kathleen Holzwart Sprehe, director with APCO Insight, has extensive experience conducting opinion research in more than 50 countries around the world. Read More