LONDON: Twitter or Facebook users are more likely to follow brands than celebrities, a new report has found.

The study, from the Internet Research Bureau (IAB), research company Opinion Matters and social media agency RMM, revealed that 20.3% of social networkers are following brands, whereas only 13.4% follow celebrities.

The UK-based study surveyed over 1,000 internet users, and found that the most popular uses of social networking sites are for viewing photographs of friends (55.9%) and planning social arrangements or getting information about events (34.8%).

Generally, engagement with brands was not found to be a mainstream activity amongst social networkers.

Only 12.7% of the survey respondents claimed to give organisations feedback using social networks and only 11.2% watch branded content material such as TV commercials through the sites.

Broadcast media in the UK has become a significant factor in encouraging social networking activity, with almost a third of those surveyed (32.6%) regularly watching TV or listening to radio programmes featuring tweets sent by viewers or listeners.

Russell Goldsmith, digital and social media director of broadcast communications at broadcast specialist markettiers4dc, suggested that brands take advantage of this trend.

"The fact that listeners and viewers of programmes on commercial and BBC networks are hearing presenters using quotes from celebrities, politicians or sports stars made on Twitter as part of their shows will help to encourage more consumers to engage with Social Media," he said.

"It's therefore imperative for brands to use this opportunity to communicate with their customers via these channels, especially as such a large percentage of our sample want to hear what they have to say by following them – they are, after all, the potential advocates of those brands."

The use of social media as a way of commenting negatively on product performance or customer service remains unpopular, with only 7.7% of people complaining about a brand on a social network or forum.

Of that 7.7%, less than 40% received a rapid response from the firm in question.

However, of those who had been contacted by the brand in question, a large proportion (77.8%), were left with a positive impression.

Amy Kean, head of the IAB social media council commented: "This survey uncovers the fact that whilst complaining about brands via social media isn't yet a mainstream activity, around 60% of these comments were left unanswered.

"As consumers become more acquainted with using social networks to try and get in touch with brands directly, it's important that businesses are at least aware of the negative conversations that take place.

"Even though responding to each and every complaint is not always relevant, being armed with this information could prove invaluable to feed into the overall communications strategy."

Iain MacMillan, managing director of social media agency RMM, also pointed out that organisations' engaging directly with people in social media spaces "isn't yet mainstream behaviour."

He added: "Around 20% of people surveyed have followed or liked an organisation, only 11% have provided feedback and less than 4% have had a question or complaint responded to, in social media.

"However, there are a number of organisations showing how it can be done and achieving great results – and we can learn some great lessons from them."

Data sourced from IAB; additional content by Warc staff