Companies, including banks, rushing to create Twitter feeds and Facebook and Google+ pages, have been warned that the majority of people have no interest in 'engaging' with 'brands' via social media.
After a sluggish start, banks around the world have rushed to adopt Twitter, Facebook and YouTube over the last two years, with mixed success. This week Google+ opened up to businesses, creating yet another social media channel to exploit.
However, a massive survey of 72,000 people in 60 countries carried out by research consultancy TNS suggests firms should be wary about how they use the new communications tools at their disposal.
It found that 57% of people in developed markets do not want to engage with brands via social media - rising to 60% in the US and 61% in the UK. This means that "misguided digital strategies are generating mountains of digital waste, from friendless Facebook accounts to blogs no one reads," says TNS.
Despite the scepticism, social media is seen as a valuable tool by people who use it, with 54% saying that Twitter, Facebook et al are a good place to learn about products and 47% saying that they comment on firms online.
The most popular reason for commenting online is simply to pass on advice, cited by 46% and, perhaps surprisingly, more people like to praise than complain online (13% compared to 10%).
The research also reveals big geographic contrasts, highlighting the risks of brands employing a catch-all approach that doesn't take the needs of different consumers into consideration, says TNS.
People in 'fast growth' markets are far more open to brands on social networks, with just 33% of Colombians and 37% of Mexicans saying they don't want to be bothered by them.
While just a quarter of people in developed markets see social networks as a place to buy products, 48% do across fast growth markets. Some of the most eager online consumers are found in India, where 59% see social networks as a good place to buy products from brands.
Matthew Froggatt, chief development officer, TNS, says: "The online world undoubtedly presents massive opportunities for brands, however it is only through deploying precisely tailored marketing strategies that they will be able to realise this potential. Choosing the wrong channel, or simply adding to the cacophony of online noise, risks alienating potential customers and impacting business growth."
Recent research from Corporate Insight shows that financial services firms are addressing the issues raised by TNS, becoming more sophisticated in their use of social media channels, with many banks now using multiple profiles on Twitter and Facebook to target different audiences or provide specific services.
However, the negative power of the medium for banks has also been demonstrated in recent days, with online communication a key factor in spreading disillusionment and encouraging participation in Bank Transfer Day.