BEIJING: Many consumers in China are now building social media communities which incorporate their friends and favourite brands, a study has found.

Ogilvy One, the interactive agency, partnered with China Polling, the research firm, to conduct a self-completed online survey of social media users in the country.

Among the 60,989 respondents who filled in at least part of the study, 83% had accessed one of these portals during the previous day.

Within this, 5,000 people answered every question and the final 1,519 featured netizens met this requirement alongside having logged on to a Web 2.0 site in the last 24 hours.

The most widespread activity for this group was modifying avatars – the on-screen characters which represent consumers – on 93%.

Elsewhere, 87% followed their friends/products and distributed links, 84% played games, 80% utilised geo-location tools and 71% had customised their homepage.

Chat service QQ was the most common way of sharing information spontaneously, with Baidu's Baike, a rival to Wikipedia, and social network Renren claiming the top spots when sharing was "planned".

The internet was also awarded a rating of nine points out of ten in terms of its usefulness for researching potential purchases.

"Being with friends" delivered a total of eight points on this measure, and the ability to listen to, and influence, the opinions of others received seven points.

Some 71% of the panel had watched ads on video platforms such as Youku and 43% had signed up as fans of specific products.

More than 60% had searched for products, 59% frequently viewed official websites, 51% had downloaded apps to a mobile phone and 49% read corporate blogs.

Four of of ten participants recommended goods on the web, 38% attempted to dissuade their contacts from doing business with firms they did not like, and one third post reviews.

Similarly, 27% of people had made a purchase after a positive experience on the internet, which boosted consideration for 42% and encouraged the spread of favourable word of mouth for 13%.

In all, 26% of the Chinese social media population are "initiators", a cohort that is typically male, relatively affluent, exhibits high digital literacy and engagement with brands, and regularly start online conversations.

A further 29% are "commentators" that react to existing discussions but rarely begin them, and 45% are “gawkers” that "read and observe".

While 60% of "gawkers" awarded virtual goods an equal standing to physical alternatives, 52% said copycat offerings were of the same standard as the originals, and a slim 51% majority trusted advertising,

Scores in all of these areas were lower among "commentators" and continued to decline for "initiators", who displayed a preference for genuine products but did not see ads in a complimentary light.

Nearly three-quarters of "initiators" were members of Renren, compared with just 60% on QQ, Baidu Baike on 59% and Youku on 51%.

Overall, 74% of the sample would be willing to pay a premium for high-quality items, 71% liked buying unique goods, 70% enjoyed trying new products and 62% thought brands acted as a medium for self-expression.

Data sourced from Ogilvy One; additional content by Warc staff