Nearly one in five US Internet users (18%) say they have purchased a product because of something they have seen on a social networking website—such as Facebook or Twitter—yet social sites continue to receive low trust and privacy ratings from consumers of all ages, according to a survey from Vision Critical.

Even so, 28% of Internet users age 18-34 say they have purchased a product because of something they have seen on a social networking site.

Below, other findings from Vision Critical's three-country survey on social media.

Trustworthiness of People, Media

Though online social networking sites bring consumers closer to the most-trusted parts of their lives—their family and friends—consumers place little trust in the sites themselves: just 12% say they fully trust social networking sites, while only 8% trust online forums, blogs, and reviews.

Trust is greater toward traditional media channels, such as TV (38%), radio (45%), and print newspapers (33%), but face-to-face encounters with family (80%) and friends (70%) are the most trustworthy.

Concerns About Privacy, Sharing of Personal Info

Internet users are concerned about privacy and the unauthorized sharing of their personal information with social networking sites: 63% of US consumers say they are strongly or moderately concerned about their privacy on social networking sites, and 55% are strongly or moderately concerned about social sites' selling their personal information to advertisers.

However, despite lingering trust and privacy issues, 48% say online social networks are a good place for brands and products to advertise to consumers, and 33% enjoy learning about brands and products via social sites.

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Trustworthiness of Brand Placements

Nearly one-half (47%) of US consumers consider a brand message on a social network most trustworthy when it's in the form of a discussion or recommendation from friends, family, or contacts within a social networking site.

Coupons or special offers are deemed the second most-reliable method of brand and product placement (33%), followed by product photos and videos (22%), sponsorships (19%), and pages dedicated to a brand or product (19%). Traditional banner ads (15%) are the least-trusted type of brand placement among those tested.

"This research suggests that while consumers may have very real concerns about the trustworthiness of online social networks, this emerging medium can still be a fertile ground for marketers and advertisers in terms of brand building, product marketing, and advertising," said Matt Kleinschmit, Vision Critical's SVP of Media.

"The key for advertisers is to successfully navigate the 'public' and 'private' characteristics of social networks, and harness those elements that will facilitate organic brand advocacy."

About the data: Findings are based on a survey conducted by Vision Critical of some 4,000 randomly selected adults—1,007 from the US, 1,022 from Canada, and 2,003 from the UK—from March 3 to 7, 2010.

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