We're a Nation of Joiners, Spectators and Creators

New Data Show Nearly Everybody Uses Social Technologies

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Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
Starting with the book "Groundswell" and continuing now for three years running, we've analyzed consumers' participation in social technologies around the world with a tool called the Social Technographics Profile. The profile puts online people into overlapping groups based on their participation (at least once a month) in a ladder of behaviors, from Inactives, a group that doesn't participate in social technologies, to Creators, who pen blogs, publish web pages, upload video and photos and write and post stories (see first chart below). We've kept the ladder categories consistent to allow us to make comparisons year to year, across ages, genders and geographies. This provides something that's often sorely lacking in analysis of online social phenomena: perspective.

We just published our third-annual such profile, called "The Broad Reach of Social Technologies," written by Sean Corcoran with help from our data expert Cynthia Pflaum. The data across North America, Europe and Asia are now publicly available.

The Social Technographics LadderEnlarge
The Social Technographics Ladder

The headline: More than four out of five online Americans are active in either creating, participating in or reading some form of social content at least once a month (see second chart).

  • In the U.S., social technology Creators and Collectors grew slowly, and Critics didn't grow at all. Creator activity appeals only to those who like to create or upload content, and regardless of the ease of blogging and YouTube uploading, this doesn't apply to everybody. You might believe that in the future everybody will be creating or organizing content, but we disagree -- it's a matter of temperament, not technology. As for Critics -- those who react to content -- that group hasn't grown at all. Looking deeper into the data, that is a result of a small but actual decrease in the number of people contributing to discussion forums. Why? Probably because much of this activity has been sucked into social-network sites such as Facebook.
  • At the same time, Joiner activity exploded, and Spectators became nearly universal. The explosion in Joiners, from 35% to 51% of online Americans, reflects the appeal of Facebook, as both press coverage and invitations from friends suck more of us into social networks. Meanwhile, Spectators -- those consuming social content -- reached all the way to 73% of online Americans, which should end any remaining skepticism about whether this social thing is real. Soon, with the level of social content being put out there, it will be virtually impossible for an online consumer not to be a Spectator. Marketers, if you're not doing social-technology applications now, you're officially behind. We expect a wave of website reorgs and redesigns to include social activity. Looking at the data by age, we now see that participation among those under 35 is nearly universal (less than 10% are Inactives) and even among those 55 and over, about two-thirds are participating. The trend is clear: Soon, if you're online, you'll almost certainly be consuming social technologies.
Forrester profileEnlarge
More Than Four in Five U.S. Online Adults Now Participate Socially

A few highlights from data around the world: Europeans continue to adopt these technologies more slowly than Americans, with about 40% Inactives in the countries where we do surveys. The Netherlands and Sweden have the most participation, Italy has the most Creators, and social networks are most popular in the U.K. For more details, see the summary of Rebecca Jennings' report on social technologies in Europe.

Asian social participation is typically as high as or higher than in the U.S. For example, South Korea, where I'm going next week, has only 9% Inactives and 48% Joiners, as a result of the popular CyWorld social-network site. (The international data are sliced by country, age, and gender. You can even put the data on your own site -- we've made it embeddable.)

In my travels, I've found that marketers have a variety of attitudes about social technologies, ranging from "It's obvious that they're growing" to "It's a flash in the pan." The point of data like these is to provide a real, solid, objective basis for planning and discussion that goes beyond personal experience. No matter who you market to, and in what country, you need to know what your customers are doing. Figuring that out is the first step.

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 blogs.forrester.com/groundswell.
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