Thursday, April 17, 2008

Social Media Participation

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff recently published their segmentation of social media participation in their Groundswell Blog. I’m sure it’s also in the book, which is now available and I look forward to reading. (I saw a copy about a week ago, but the owner wouldn’t even let me hold it because he was afraid I would abscond with it!). I’m not a shill—I like their work and Forrester has admittedly been kind about letting me use material in my books through the years and I appreciate that.

But back to their Social Technographics ladder of participation, which does a good job of identifying segments. Not surprisingly, Inactives and Spectators make up over 80% of all Internet users. This is “new stuff” and most people are just interested in what’s going on.

I can support this through personal experience. I run a blog for a non-profit organization; the primary target audience is donors but we publicize it to all our members and it gets a lot of search traffic. So the majority of the regular readers are older, upscale adults. I’ve tried for over 2 years to make it an active, participative forum. I’ve explained how to comment, encouraged people to comment, asked questions and asked for people’s experiences in posts. When I’ve been with a group in person, I’ve encouraged them to contribute. Nada. I just can’t get them to contribute to the blog. They do email us and tell us how much they enjoy the blog and how useful they’ve found some of the posts!

So my point here would be twofold. First, this whole social media thing is in a very early evolutionary state. Some people will move up the ladder, and as marketers we can encourage them to participate in ways that will be mutually beneficial. I’m guessing that as time goes on and more companies join in, that encouraging participation will take more and more incentives, so I’d keep looking for what works, how much you have to spend, and how much ROI you get. Second is my hypothesis that a lot of individual people will stay on the bottom two rungs of the ladder permanently. The upper rungs will become more populated with younger demographics, but a lot of older Internet users will be happy to just observe.

The second point is to understand your segments. The chart that Charlene included in the original post makes the point that the segments do behave differently with regard to Internet activities and even brands chosen. Understanding where they are on the participation ladder is key to what social media activities you include in your marketing plans and how you execute them. So think carefully about your own target customers as you enter the brave new world of social marketing!
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