Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social network sites

by Josh Bernoff 25/8/2009

We just published our third annual Social Technographics Profile in a document called “The Broad Reach of Social Technologies” . The author is Sean Corcoran, with help from out data expert Cynthia Pflaum. The data across North America, Europe, and Asia will be available later today.

Forrester Social Technographics Ladder 2009 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 the behaviors shown in the ladder. We’ve kept the ladder categories consistent to allow us to make comparisons year-to-year, across ages and genders, and across geographies. This provides something that’s often sorely lacking in analysis of online social phenomena: perspective.

The headline: in 2009, 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. In a bit more detail:

  • In the US, 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. If you believe in the future that everybody will be creating or organizing content, we disagree — it’s a matter of temperament, not technology. As for Critics, those who react to content, this group hasn’t grown at all. Looking deeper into the data, this 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 like 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 Web site reorgs and redesigns to include social activity.
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Forrester Social Technographics Profile 2009 Looking at the data by age, we now see that participation among those under 35 is nearly universal (less than 10% 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.

We are now releasing international data at the same time as this US data. A few highlights: Europeans continue to adopt these technologies more slowly than in the US, 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 UK. 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 US. 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 by country, age, and gender will be available later today. 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 this 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. These surveys can help you take that first step.

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I enjoy this notion: “If you believe in the future that everybody will be creating or organizing content, we disagree — it’s a matter of temperament, not technology.” That raises the issue of how we can measure and predict that particular temperament. Doing so would allow marketers to know exactly who they should be targeting when going after influentials, right?

But how can we figure that out? Are there psychographic or behavioral patterns we can find in the data? Thanks in large part to your work, I understand that demographics can go a long way in predicting levels of creator activity, but I’m interested in figuring out the differences within groups.

Is this something that you have looked into?

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2 thoughts on “Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social network sites

  1. Social media is usually thought to be a way to engage younger generations, but the data shows that participation of older generations is considerable and growing at faster pace than that of the younger ones.

    Today a successful digital marketing strategy should always include social media, either in the company’s own site, microsite, etc. or in a social a networking platform such as Facebook, Twitter and the like.

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