Consumer information seeking
While there is an abundance of information available, it is important to understand that more information does not necessarily mean that consumers are better informed. Not all consumers are alike and different paths are taken to be informed about food risks and benefits.
For various reasons consumers might be interested in finding out information on a food related issue. There are basically 2 manners to seek information.
Taking notice when encountering information on food (risks and/or benefits). Consumers are continuously exposed to information through a variety of information channels surrounding them. They can ignore this information or pay attention to it. Consumers who choose to pay attention to a specific piece of information can do that in various degrees of thoroughness, ranging from very briefly and very superficially, to very thoroughly and for a prolonged period of time. Think of newspaper articles, television broadcasts, information on social media but also direct contact with friends and family.
Seeking additional information. Consumers can also take deliberate action to find information on food (risks and/or benefits). They can do that at various levels of thoroughness. Deliberately seeking information is nowadays often frequent on the internet. Two elements are important in this respect: the duration of their search and the number of websites visited. Other strategies are personal consultations with an expert or personal acquaintances.
A very important aspect of information seeking is that consumers have to feel able that they will find the information they are looking for. Results from recent studies show that while some consumers only skim the information they find, other consumers stand still to think about what they find. Other findings are listed below:
- The majority of the consumers indicate that it is likely that they would pay attention to information on food risks, in case they would encounter it. The same holds for paying attention to information on the benefits of food products.
- Quite a number of consumer say they would only skim the text to get the general idea. Other consumers indicate that they would continue to think about it and about its implications for their own eating pattern
- The majority of European consumers would search for additional information in case a news items would attract their attention.
- Consumers indicate that they feel able to find out more in case they would like to have more information.
Which channels are used for information seeking?
Most European consumers use a search engine (e.g. Google) to find information on food risks and benefits. Consumers are slightly less likely to use traditional mass media channels and social media play a minor role in information seeking. Consumers start their search by entering a search term into a search engine.
Importantly, the results appearing on the first page of general search engines are most likely to be accessed by information seekers. As a consequence, information provided by official bodies may have to compete against commercial or contested information which might be favoured by search engines’ algorithms. The ranking of the websites can depend on popularity, metadata, page titles and textual content. While reliable and useful information from official bodies is available online, consumers searching for it might not be able to retrieve it because search engines favour other websites.
Community-driven websites like Wikipedia, YouTube and Yahoo! Answers are among the most popular domains in Google for different search queries. However in many cases consumers stay only briefly on those websites and those websites do not appear to provide the information that they were looking for. Wikipedia in particular is generally seen as an interesting information channel. Even among participants who have a low interest in information got through social media, Wikipedia has a good reputation and shouldn’t be neglected by communicators.
Taking notice of information
While social media are not perceived as the best channels for information seeking, their indirect impact should not be neglected. For example, many journalists increasingly rely on social media as a source of information and news. For other consumers who are not inclined to seek information themselves, incidental information acquisition can play a significant role. The growing importance of social media in everyday life has increased the influence and reach of interpersonal sources. The nature of many social media applications is such that friends, family, and peers can dominate one’s social network, thereby giving the information provided by these individuals increased exposure relative to official authorities who may not be included in one’s online social network. In addition, the public tends to rely on food-related information not only from official sources, but also from these lay sources.
To more effectively disseminate information that could be picked up by social networks, it is advised to provide material that is on the one hand user-friendly to spread and on the other hand interesting enough to share through social networks.