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Segmenting Participation in Social Computing

Why do consumers gravitate to Web 2.0 social computing activity, and what keeps them engaged? The answer to this question is somewhat complicated, because it really depends on how you segment the market.

To better understand social computing adoption, Forrester Research benchmarks consumers by their level of participation in social computing behaviors. They call this method Social Technographics.

Forrester's benchmarking method takes into account current social computing technologies like blogs and social networks, but it's also flexible enough to incorporate new technologies as well.

The key to their methodology is understanding how consumers approach these technologies, not just which ones they use. The six rungs on the Social Technographics ladder are:

Creators: These are online consumers who publish blogs, maintain Web pages, or upload videos to sites like YouTube at least once per month. Creators, an elite group, include just 13 percent of the adult online population. Creators are generally young -- the average age of adult users is 39 -- but are evenly split between men and women. Their participation in creation activities is varied -- just 14 percent do all three activities while another 19 percent participate in two creator activities.

Critics: These online consumers participate in either of two ways -- commenting on blogs or posting ratings and reviews on sites like Amazon.com. This level of participation isn't nearly as intense as being a Creator. Critics pick and choose where they want to offer their expertise and often use another blog post or product as the foundation for their contribution. Critics represent 19 percent of all adult online consumers and on average are several years older than Creators. Two-thirds of them post ratings and reviews, but only 22 percent comment on blogs and rate or review Web site content. Four out of 10 Critics are Creators as well.

Collectors: When users save URLs on a social bookmarking service like del.icio.us or use RSS feeds on Bloglines, they create metadata that's shared with the entire community. This act of collecting and aggregating information plays a vital role in organizing the tremendous amount of content being produced by Creators and Critics. Collectors represent 15 percent of the adult online population and are the most male-dominated of all the Social Technographics groups. More than two-thirds tag pages, while more than half use RSS.

Joiners: This unique group has just one defining behavior -- using a social networking site like MySpace.com or Facebook. Despite the current hysteria about social networks, people who are primarily Joiners represent only 19 percent of the adult online population and are the youngest of the Social Technographics groups. They are highly likely to engage in other Social Computing activities -- 56 percent also read blogs, while 30 percent publish blogs.

Spectators: This group of blog readers, video viewers, and podcast listeners -- which represents 33 percent of the adult online population -- is important as the audience for the social content made by everyone else. As a group, Spectators are slightly more likely to be women and have the lowest household income of all the Social Technographics groups. The most common activity for Spectators is reading blogs, with only a small overlap with users who watch peer-generated video on sites like YouTube. It's important to note that Creators can also be Spectators, but that many Spectators fail to climb higher up the participation ladder. In all, 31 percent of Spectators do not engage in Creator, Critic, Collector, or Joiner activities.

Inactives: Today, 52 percent of online adults do not participate at all in social computing activities. These Inactives have an average age of 50, are more likely to be women, and are much less likely to consider themselves leaders or tell their friends about products that interest them. While they don't participate, they are affected when the activity of others -- for example, in blogs or online consumer generated videos -- is covered in the traditional news media.

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