According to findings from a global study launched by TNS, a Kantar company and part of WPP, businesses are wasting time and money trying to reach people online, without realizing that many hate big brands invading their social networks.

The findings were revealed by TNS’s Digital Life study, one of the most comprehensive assessments of how more than 72,000 consumers in 60 countries behave online and why they do what they do.

The race online has seen businesses across the world develop profiles on social networks, such as Facebook or YouTube, to speak to customers quickly and cheaply, but TNS’s research reveals that if these efforts are not carefully targeted, they are wasted on 51% of those online in the Asia-Pacific region.

It found that 57% of people in developed markets globally do not want to engage with brands via social media - rising to 66% in South Korea and 58% in Australia. In contrast, Singapore and Hong Kong ranked the lowest for developed markets in Asia-Pacific, with 43% and 42% of online users respectively saying they were not interested in brands over social media networks. Instead, misguided digital strategies are generating mountains of digital waste, from friendless Facebook accounts to blogs that no one reads. This is combined with the ever-increasing content produced by consumers - the study found that 59% of consumers in the Asia-Pacific region now comment about brands online.

The result is huge volumes of noise, which are polluting the digital world and making it harder for brands to be heard - presenting a major challenge for businesses trying to enter into dialogue with consumers online.

“Winning and retaining customers is harder than ever,” said Arnaud Frade, Regional Director Digital Strategy, TNS APAC. He continued, “Whilst there are obvious and very significant opportunities for brands online, success will only come from a deliberate strategy, considered tactics and careful tailoring, aligned to a market, a channel, a category or even a group of individuals. Getting this wrong and adding to the cacophony of noise in the online world risks alienating potential customers and impacting business growth.”

TNS’s Digital Life study asked consumers around the world whether they actually want to engage with brands on social networking websites - either to find out more or to make a purchase.

Although 60% of people in Asia-Pacific admit social networks are a good place to learn about products, the research shows brands must harness digital more carefully, if they are to use it to their advantage and deepen relationships with customers and prospects.

The study also reveals big geographic contrasts which highlight the risks of brands employing a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't take the needs of different consumers into consideration.

Some fast growth Asian markets, like India, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, or Vietnam, and South American countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Peru or Mexico, were found to be more open to brands on social networks. Just 41% of Filipinos said they don’t want to be bothered by them against 55% of Vietnamese users, whereas 66% of people across fast-growing countries in the region see social networks as a good place to learn about brands. However, even here brands must still plan and manage online engagement carefully to avoid alienating consumers and doing more harm than good, according to TNS.

Arnaud Frade explains: “Digital waste is the accumulation of thousands of brands rushing online without thinking who they want to talk to - and why. Whilst many brand owners understand the value and relevance of the vast online world, many fail to understand the audience they are connecting with. Control is firmly in the hands of consumers. The goal should therefore be to understand your target audience intimately, enabling your brand to connect openly and with integrity. This also means that selecting the right online approach and focusing on efficient messaging are critical to be relevant.”

TNS’s Digital Life study also sheds vital light on why people do engage with brands online. 45% of those in the Asia-Pacific region who were motivated to post comments on companies do so for the simple desire, to impart advice - with Japanese the most helpful online (53%).

Findings showed that more people across the region like to praise than complain online (14.6% vs. 10%). Keeping true to their friendly culture, 23% of Thais and 22% of Filipinos are most likely to praise online whereas the Chinese and Japanese tie at being the least likely in the region to praise online, with just 11% each saying that they would do this, and South Koreans are the most likely to complain about brands online (12%).

Motivations of online commentators, however, can be self-serving with 68% of consumers in this region driven to engage with brands online by a promotion or special offer.

When examining global contrasts, TNS found that consumers in fast growth markets are incredibly keen to spend more time and money online than they currently do - presenting major growth opportunities for brands.

There are, however, infrastructure challenges still to be overcome in these countries before businesses can really tap into their enthusiasm for the digital world. 48% of people in fast growth markets around the world would use the internet more if it was less expensive - including 76% of Indonesian users, 69% of Thai users, and 59% of Malaysian users.

Likewise, while just 25% of people in developed markets globally see social networks as a place to buy products, this rises to 48% across fast growth markets. Some of the most eager online consumers were found in India, where 59% see social networks as a good place to buy products from brands.

When it comes to online shopping habits, Asian consumers are leading the adoption of group buying and purchase via mobile. Almost half (46%) of consumers in China already use group buying tools - in stark contrast to Europe where adoption rates are as low as 6% in Sweden and Finland.

Adoption of shopping via mobile is also high in the region - 34% of mobile internet users in China and South Korea shop on their phone, falling to just 2% in Vietnam.

Arnaud Frade adds: “Across the region, internet access is a source of empowerment as much as it is a source of future trade, none more so than in those markets where mobile platforms are becoming the primary way to get online. Digital Life shows that the power of an effective, considered online presence can enable brands to harness the massive potential of fast growth markets, to deliver superior consumer engagement and very tangible ROI.”

TNS has made some of the key findings from this study available to the public via an interactive data visualisation that can be found at