Study reveals Australian businesses missing valuable opportunities to connect online

Nielsen’s 2010 Internet & Tech Report found that Australian Internet user spent 17.6 hours per week online. Now we have taken the temperature on the online communication in Australia and how companies seize this opportunity

Nielsen's 2010 Internet & Technology Report found that the average Australian Internet user spent 17.6 hours per week online last year, up from 16.1 hours in 2008. When it comes to social interaction, the report also revealed that the internet is now the preferred method to communicate with friends – overtaking the mobile phone – as 44% of Internet users favour online for communication (up 11%).

Now we have taken the temperature on online communication in Australia. A new study has revealed that many online brands are failing to maximise opportunities to engage with website visitors by not effectively integrating social media components, online communities, blogging or 'sticky' and personalised content.

Highligts in the study show that:

  • Sports and Telecoms companies like to engage, but Retail and Utilities are failing to maximise their interaction with site visitors
  • Only 18 % of companies feature a community on their website
  • 44 % of companies advertise their Twitter account directly on their homepage
  • Just 20 % have a blog that is updated on a regular basis

According to the study, which was made public today, only 18% of the 80 leading companies investigated feature a community on their website and regularly updated blogs feature on only 20% of sites. This is a lost opportunity to the organization, since company blogs are great for a number of reasons, as outlined by E-Consultancy.

Ironically, two of the most consumer-focused sectors whose websites are largely revenue-generating – Retail and Utilities – were the worst performers in the study, failing to effectively integrate content, community, commerce and communication to engage visitors and potential customers.

The Engaged Web report analysed 80 leading companies, many ranked by Hitwise as being the most visited in Australia, spanning eight vertical sectors - Telecoms, Charity, Retail, Sport, Travel, Public Sector, Finance and Utilities - and scored them against a matrix of criteria for an in-depth assessment of their online engagement strategies. The criteria assessed a wide range of different components that make up an engaging website including engaging content, multimedia content, personalisation, social media and communities.

The study revealed some steady themes across the various industries. Telecoms and Sport fair well when it comes to featuring online communities and blogs, however Retail is the weakest sector in both categories. While across the board 98% of sites use rich media content, sporting sites again lead the pack - though supporting text isn't as impressive with just five per cent of all sites presenting copy that is engaging and easy to read for website visitors.

Australian companies appear to be embracing social media with 44% of companies advertising their Twitter account directly on the homepage and 34% drawing attention to their Facebook fan page. Telecoms and Travel are strong in encouraging online interaction with their visitors and customers by participating in discussions and answering questions, while Retail and Utilities disappoint on this front. Across all companies in the study, just half of a per cent regularly upload information and news to share with the community.

In terms of more traditional engagement methods, the vast majority of sites don't make it easy for site visitors to contact them or get help with contact details that are hard to find. When looking at engagement channels being promoted on the website, a phone number was the most commonly advertised (90%), followed by an email address (64%) and a web form (58%). But a mere 1% of the brands offer a much more interactive experience through live chat.

Comparing the results to the study on UK websites, companies in Australia clearly push their social media activity more on their websites. In the UK, only 15% of the companies advertise their Twitter account directly on the homepage.

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