When it comes to influencing consumers, many brands are investing heavily on Facebook. The logic: consumers are on Facebook, and they’re talking about us there, so we should be there too.

But according to Microsoft’s Talking Brands survey, which looked at 4,500 conversations mentioning brands in the UK, Spain and France, one-to-one interaction tools like Hotmail and Messenger are more meaningful than one-to-many conversations on Facebook.

The survey confirmed what most brand marketers already know: consumers are talking about brands online. 46% of Messenger users are using the IM program to discuss the products and services they’re planning to buy, and 39% of Hotmail and Facebook users are doing the same thing.

But Messenger, Hotmail and Facebook don’t have the same influence. For bigger ticket purchases which are more likely to be researched (think travel, electronics and automotive), far more conversations are taking place on Messenger.

There, 41% of brand conversations concern such a purchase, compared to only 31% of Facebook. Hotmail sits in the middle, with 36% of brand conversations concerned a potential purchase that is research-driven.

Perhaps most importantly, Microsoft’s survey found that “one-to-one conversations happen earlier in the purchase funnel, where the conversation continues to help build brand knowledge and preference“.

As Microsoft sees it, “It is more difficult to influence people as they progress further through the purchase funnel, as they have already passed the information gathering stage and opinions have been formed”.

While one might question whether 4,500 brand conversations is enough to capture the nuance of brand conversations online and draw solid conclusions, the findings do seem logical.

When considering a larger purchase, most of us are probably more likely to reach out to a friend, family member or colleague directly. ‘Directly‘ is probably more likely to constitute a phone call, offline conversation or online, an IM or email, than it does an interaction on a social network like Facebook.

Of course, brands usually don’t have a voice in direct interactions, which highlights the importance of having a prominent brand position in the marketplace. Throw in a quality product or service, and positive reviews and buzz online, and a brand can increase the likelihood of conversions, even if it can’t control the conversations.