NEW YORK/SHANGHAI: Car buyers in China are four times more likely than those in the US to be influenced in their purchasing decisions by social media a new study has found.

The Automotive Path to Purchase Study (TAPPS) by global research consultancy TNS was based on interactive and continuous conversations with over 1,000 US consumers intending to purchase a new vehicle within the next four to six months, tracking their activity throughout the pre-purchase period; an earlier study examined the Chinese market.

It found that just 7% of would-be buyers in the US saw consumer-driven content, whether social media, blogs or forums, as a reliable source of information (although it still had a role to play in narrowing down choices). This contrasted with 31% in China, the world's largest car market.

Describing the US as "a nation of social sceptics", TNS said that traditional media, particularly TV and press advertising, were far more influential. Almost six in ten (59%) US car buyers cited these as their most trusted sources, compared to 43% in China.

The study also showed that TV advertising had a major effect in persuading buyers to consult other sources of information, whether that was a brand's website, a car dealership or friends and family.

But Andy Turton, Global Development Director at TNS, said social and digital channels in the US should not be neglected. "The biggest success stories are where auto brands successfully integrate digital engagement with more of the old-style 'Mad Men' advertising strategies," he stated.

The marques that were doing this most successfully were Japanese, with Honda and Toyota proving especially effective at pulling buyers through from initial consideration to final purchase.

In the past Ford has had some success using social media, as evidenced by its Fiesta Movement, which gave 100 cars to well-connected social media users and had them film themselves completing "missions" which they uploaded for friends. The campaign generated 52,000 tests drives and 10,000 online vehicle reservations.

TNS further established that the dealer continued to play a critical role in persuading buyers to part with their cash in both the Chinese and US markets. Almost four in ten (38%) of US buyers and one quarter (26%) of Chinese buyers said dealers were their most reliable information source.

Turton noted that the US auto market was showing signs of recovery and said "It is only brands that can keep customers engaged throughout the whole buying process that will see these rewards".

Data sourced from TNS; additional content by Warc staff