Reaching Out to Conversationalists

One In Three Online Converse With Status Updates

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Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
Forrester just announced an update to its classification of social-media participation. Why? Because, after two and a half years of tracking social behaviors in surveys, one new behavior has emerged. It's the rapid, back-and-forth discussion in environments like Twitter.

In fact, our research shows that even beyond Twitter, people are using social network status updates -- mostly Facebook -- for these same sorts of connections. We call the group that communicates in this way at least once a week "conversationalists."


Conversationalists intrigue me. They're one-third of the online population. They're 56% female. If you imagine that they're just youngsters, you're wrong: 70% are 30 or older. Their household incomes are about $2,100 above the average online consumer, but their level of engagement is sky-high.

The other data we have collected continues the trends from the last two years -- spectators (those who consume social media) are maxing out at around 70%, joiners (social network participants) are still growing rapidly, and creators (people who create online social content) are still growing slowly. These groups all overlap, which is why the total adds to more than 100%. Notice that the number of online consumers not using social is down to 17%, and dropping.

We've created this type of chart to analyze customers at many of our clients. Here are three ways they use it:

  1. Convince your boss this social stuff is for real, and that if you haven't jumped on it, you're late.
  2. Profile your customer base, and see what they're ready for before planning a project to reach out to them. (You wouldn't serve pulled pork at the Jewish community center -- in the same way, don't pitch seniors on Facebook.)
  3. Segment your audience; build different strategies for different segments. (Social is so prevalent now that a single approach for your company is probably too broad.)

Data isn't insight, and it isn't analysis, but it's the first step in any marketing plan. Don't enter the social world without it.

Josh Bernoff is co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at
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