Latest Forrester report shows ‘Joiners’ still increasing

Forrester has tracked the growth of social behaviour from 2007, when they first named social media participants. Forrester categorises online social behaviours into a ladder with six levels of participation; they use the term Social Technographics to describe analysing a population according to its participation in these levels.

Category ladder

Forrester's social media user categories

They called active, content creators, well…Creators,  comprising13% of online adults who write and maintain blogs, update Web pages or upload video they created, at least monthly.

Critics, 19%, post ratings, comment  on and review content. Collectors, 15%, tag Web pages and use RSS. Joiners, 19%, are active online social networkers.

Spectators, 33%, read blogs, watch video and listen to podcasts. Inactives, 52%, may be online but barely take part in any activity.

There have been increases in more complex social behaviours such as exhibited by Creators but, for the first time, there is a change in the growth trend.  Forrester’s latest 2010 Global Social Technographics report demonstrates that much online social behaviour has plateaued.  Why, and what does this mean to marketers?

Is it sensible to believe that Creator behaviour will ever be universal? Not every person has a burning need to be a reporter, an industry expert, a video producer, a musician, a thought leader, an editor or a broadcaster.  The fact that more than 1 in 5 online adults are exhibiting Creator behaviour is a testament to how social technologies have lowered the bar.

Further growth in Creator behaviour will come much more slowly than in the past.  This will cause marketers and those who produce social tools to focus more on how social content is consumed rather than how it is produced.

In fact, there is already evidence of this trend — look at Twitter’s new Web interface, which doesn’t change how people tweet but instead makes it significantly easier to consume others’ tweets. Look for other social tools to follow suit, offering new ways to make tweets, blog posts, product ratings and other social content easier to find, read, use, save and share.

There is one behaviour that is not plateauing, nor is it likely to stop growing for some time: Joiners. These are people who maintain a social networking profile.

While growth in other behaviours have stagnated, Joiners grew again from 2009 to 2010.  As social media has become a major communication channel for many people, it becomes hard to avoid.  Even those with no intent to share continue to join so they can keep in touch with friends, children and grandchildren. Today, avoiding social networks is about as easy to do as avoiding email — it’s possible, but it comes at a substantial cost in terms of relationships and knowledge.

The fact that Joiners continue to grow means marketers must continue to focus their attention and budgets on social networks in 2011. More people will spend more time and get more information through social networks and, where consumer time and attention goes, so will marketing investment.

Hard-headed reasons for a strategic social media marketing plan

Your customers are not just using social media to access the Internet and engage with friends and contacts: most of them are treating social media as the Internet. Websites may be there  for transactions but, for many other activities, social media is a primary focus. This applies whether you are in B2B or B2C.

LinkedIn changes

LinkedIn is adding several new options for companies and users that follow them

Consumers, and business customers, are making buying decisions based upon what their friends and followers are saying on social media. A recent study from Pingdom notes that, across all age groups, advice being sought is coming from either colleagues or social media sites. If you’re on social media, you have a chance to influence those purchasing decisions.

You can monitor and analyse competitor social media in real time and have very fast insight into marketplaces and trends. Collecting and analysing data in social media is now a mainstream marketing activity and a precursor to your own initiatives.

Your customers are looking for an opportunity to share  your brand with their friends and contacts. If you’re on social media with decent profiles, content and activity, you can give them that chance. A portion of your customers are just looking for an opportunity to become an advocate for your brand or business and social media facilitates that in very simple ways.

LinkedIn is an intrinsic part of many business-to-business manager’s working lives and they are influenced by strong profiles and activity for company and employees. As I write, LinkedIn has announced key changes to the functionality of a Company Page.

Your competitors are on social media but they may be dragging their heels in a series of internal debates about what to do. Steal a march on them: arrive, like Napoloeon did at Waterloo, and catch Wellington in a ball! Don’t, however then split your forces and attack two numerically-superior opponents established in strong defensive positions. And the Imperial Guard? Forget it.

Social media is still evolving but shows every indication it will become the medium through which much of the Web will be accessed, particularly from mobile phones. A younger generation is growing up on social media and older generations are flocking to join them. Planning a relevant social media marketing strategy will give you an early mover’s advantage.

Social media is a cost-effective investment: what you don’t spend in media costs is often made up for with staffing. If your marketing department is overwhelmed and understaffed, consider outsourcing social media to a third party provider.

Return-on-investment? There are arguments about what should be measured but what is not in debate is that nearly everything can be measured. The real skill is extracting numbers that matter and feeding them into a dashboard which aids feddback and decision-making.