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Quest for the Gullible Consumer of Advertising


eMarketer estimates there were about 116 million U.S. user-generated content consumers in 2008, along with 82.5 million content creators. Both numbers are forecast to climb significantly by 2013.

Clearly, today's marketer must understand the various activities that constitute digital content creation and consumption. And, to appreciate the complexities of the content ecosystem. But, is it really possible to describe a quantum leap in culture by simply applying new persona labels?

In a 2008 Forrester Research attempted to segment user-generated content participants into the following groups:

Creators: Those who make social content go.
Critics: Those who respond to content via reviews, comments, forums.
Collectors: Those who aggregate and organize content using RSS feeds, tags and voting sites.
Joiners: Those who gather around social communities.
Spectators: Those who consume user-generated content but do not respond to it publicly.
Inactives: Those who neither create nor consume social content.

eMarketer believes the segmentation approach raises more questions than answers. Do critics and collectors create content by generating reviews, comments and lists, or are they simply reacting to content posted by others? Are joiners actually part of a content exchange if their main interest in social media is to use online networks for interaction and communication?

eMarketer says that marketers need to break free from traditional paradigms and accept "a fluid exchange of marketing information" across multiple media. That means instead of trying to control brand messaging, marketers must be prepared to share control with their customers and prospects. Piece of cake, right? Hardly.

It means marketers should encourage their customers to post feedback, even if those efforts put the marketer's product in a harsh light. And, it means marketers should tailor their campaigns to people who fall into all those gray areas that defy simplistic labeling.

Frankly, I now believe that all areas of digital media are beyond the scope of traditionally myopic segmentation practices. Over time, as most of the population becomes a prosumer in some shape or form, the whole basis for legacy marketing and PR methodology will be obsolete.

The notion that marketing is all about the process of finding an uninformed, impressionable, somewhat gullible and un-opinionated consumer will become pure fantasy. Perhaps that quest is already a lost cause, cast aside by all but the most naive marketers among us.

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