Burson-Marsteller has identified a new group of opinion leaders: tech-fluentials, powerful influencers who use high-end technologies to accelerate word-of-mouth marketing and turn their product recommendations into sales. According to a new study by the public relations firm, 86 percent of tech-fluentials are asked by family, friends and colleagues for advice and influence these people’s product choices.

B-M says tech-fluentials seamlessly connect their work and personal lives while transmitting information about companies, brands and products. All-powerful chat rooms, web sites, digital cameras, discussion boards and blogs are the tools of the trade for these influencers who can create or change opinions, establish trends, build buzz for a brand and sway stakeholders. 

“Tech-fluentials are self-appointed marketers and newsmakers who try products first and actively network to share their information far beyond the scope of their individual contacts,” says Leslie-Gaines Ross, Burson-Marsteller’s chief knowledge and research officer. “Marketers need to go beyond conventional approaches to target and engage tech-fluentials on an ongoing basis. These information activists require more than the tried-and-true communications approaches.”

Almost all tech-fluentials indicate that quality (98 percent) and function (97 percent)—regardless of price (74 percent)—are the primary factors that influence their technology purchasing decisions. More than three-quarters (76 percent) say they buy technology products based on design and style. And forty-two percent of tech-fluentials say they purchase a company’s products and services after learning about a company’s social responsibility programs.

Nine in 10 (92 percent) tech-fluentials have broadband at home and nearly half live in wireless households (43 percent). By contrast, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 39 percent of U.S. online adults have high-speed access at home and about one percent use wireless technology when connecting to the Internet from home.

Twenty percent of tech-fluentials have smart phones with PDA and e-mail access. According to the Yankee Group, as of October 2004, less than one percent of the U.S. population use wireless e-mail.

Eight in 10 tech-fluentials use new technologies to solve business problems (83 percent) and believe that cutting-edge technology gives them a key business advantage (78 percent).

In addition:

• Eighty-one percent talk about their experiences with a company over the phone or in-person.
• Fifty-one percent of tech-fluentials give feedback to companies through company web sites and thirty-three percent have their own blogs.
•  Forty-six percent of tech-fluentials post messages on discussion boards and 41 percent use instant messaging when relaying information about companies.

“Latest communication technologies allow these public opinion leaders to switch gears from observing corporate initiatives to publishing their views within seconds. Every time tech-fluentials speak up, companies have the opportunity to engage in one-to-one communication with them and earn their support,” says Idil Cakim, director, knowledge development at Burson-Marsteller.

“Reaching tech-fluentials takes more than targeted communications.  It involves one-to-one relationship management.” 

Companies can survey their stakeholders to identify their own set of tech-fluentials, invite them to join affinity groups, host online discussion forums soliciting these influencers’ opinions and take cues from tech-fluentials’ suggestions when creating new products, media plans and social responsibility programs.