LONDON: More than a third of UK consumers have used social media as a touchpoint to connect with brand owners, new research has revealed.

Fishburn Hedges and Echo Research polled 2,000 people, 36% of which had interacted with a big corporation via this channel, up from 19% in similar research published during August 2011.

This total rose further, to 49.5%, among 18–24 year olds, and hit 44.6% for their 25–34 year old counterparts. By contrast, ratings stood at just 27.4% for people aged 55 years old and above.

"If a consumer puts something on a social media site criticising us, generally we wouldn't respond straight away," said Hash Ladha, deputy MD at Oasis, the retailer. "[We] would only interject if we felt it was appropriate and there was value in doing so."

More broadly, 68% of the survey sample who had already engaged with businesses using these platforms thought social media effectively helped customers "find their voice".

"I wouldn't say we're wary of social media," said Gwyn Burr, head of customer services at Sainsbury's supermarkets. "We certainly respect it – as we would with all direct customer contact in store."

Another 40% of the panel agreed firms would enhance their service performance because of social media, whereas only 7% anticipated that it may worsen due to this medium's influence.

"We make sure we feed back any information we get to other teams," said Alex Pearmain, head of social media at O2, the mobile network. "We need to make sure that the opportunity is capitalised on and all the customers' needs are met."

Elsewhere, 65% of interviewees believed properties like Twitter and Facebook were a better contact point than call centres, falling to 7% for participants taking the countervailing view.

"One of the things that I personally hate is to look at a customer trying to engage a company by Twitter, and they respond back with a number to call. If I wanted to call you, I would have looked up your telephone number," said Warren Buckley, managing director of customer service at BT, the telco.

John Hartley, communications planning manager at HSBC, the bank, also suggested that entering into a dialogue with web users on social media could yield tangible advantages.

"One of the benefits of social media is that you get very immediate and visible feedback. There is a missed opportunity if you don't do anything with it," he said.

Data sourced from Fishburn Hedges; additional content by Warc staff