Why Are Social Behaviors Plateauing?

Since 2007, Forrester has tracked the growth of social behaviors.  For years we’ve seen increases in more complex social behaviors such as Creators—those who generate social content including YouTube videos and blog posts.  But for the first time, we’re seeing a change in the growth trend.  Our latest 2010 Global Social Technographics report demonstrates that many social behaviors have reached a plateau.  Why, and what does this mean to marketers?

There is not a single answer to those questions.  The reasons span things as complex as human nature and as simple as Web site usability.  For example, is it sensible to believe that Creator behavior will ever be universal? Not every person has a burning need to be a reporter, an industry expert, a videographer, a musician, a thought leader, an editor or a broadcaster.  The fact that more than 1 in 5 online adults in the US are exhibiting Creator behavior is a testament to how social technologies have lowered the bar, since these tools have allowed more people to create and distribute their ideas, opinions and creations than was ever possible in the past. 

Human nature changes gradually, so further growth in Creator behavior 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 behavior 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 behaviors 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 for others.  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 marketer investment. 

Forrester will continue to track changes in Social Technographic behavior. Perhaps in 2011 we’ll see Creators again increase, but this will depend less on how humans change and more on how companies, brands and social technologies do. 

If you are a Forrester subscriber, you can get more information from the new report, Global Social Technographics.  Others can get additional information about the US Social Technographics ladder by reading Jackie Rousseau-Anderson’s blog post, “The Latest Global Social Media Trends May Surprise You.” 


"Is it sensible to believe

"Is it sensible to believe that Creator behavior will ever be universal?"

Interesting question - not everyone desires to be a reporter/writer/etc. but when the basic "how to succeed in a digital world" guidelines are shouting quantity and timeliness, it seems that they feel forced to. My guess would be that creating content poorly and not seeing a return on the time (and money) invested is what is leading to the plateau.

And I agree with you - enhancing the ease with which content is discovered and digested is becoming the differentiation... Which is probably why the joiners are increasing steadily. Great article and thanks for the quality data!

The plateauing growth of garage bands

"Creating" on social networks may be relatively new as a digital phenomenon, but it has many real-world analogs. Forming high school garage bands (especially those that do their own material) is just one I can think of off the top of my head.

It's only because online Creating is such a visible and measurable phenomenon that there should be surprise when it plateaues.

Most people in high school did not form a garage band, nor perform publicly in any way. There was even a subset of non-artist peers who looked at these creative souls as odd and embarrassing exhibitionists -- more to be shunned than envied. I'm guessing the percentages of each group hasn't changed much over the decades.

Numbers of Joiners, on the other hand, haven't plateaued yet because the cost of entry is so low and the value of joining is growing with the network effect; Just about everyone wants to go to a weekend party if they know most of their friends will be there. Joiners don't have to attempt to be "original" -- just be willing to join the conversation, or at least listen in and look interested.

Although this number will stabilize as well, it appears it will continue to grow for quite a while.

Augie, I agree with you that this means brand marketers should continue to focus attention and dollars on observing behavior at the digital "parties" their customers routinely attend, as well as (possibly) enhancing what goes on at the parties or even finding non-weird ways to contribute to them -- ever aware that our brands could be perceived by the most skeptical of Joiners as something akin to party-crashers.

Odd and embarrassing exhibitionists

I long ago got used to being thought of as an "odd and embarrassing exhibitionist." :)

Thanks for the dialog!

Cutting through the noise


Nice post, in my mind this is THE challenge that marketers will be facing more and more and social media starts to mature: How to help the audience cut through the clutter.

While I agree that the evolution of consumption tools can alleviate some of that pain, we need to watch out so that social media does not become email marketing

Social Media Clutter


You are absolutely right--cutting through the clutter is going to be vital. One my peers, Nate Elliott, is researching a report on this very topic. Watch for it to by published in the next month or two.

Thanks for sharing!

Augie, thanks so much for sharing these valuable insights from your latest report! I agree with both you and Jackie that businesses must now focus on taking a more strategic approach moving forward...I guess we'll have to wait & see:)

Good article... what you are

Good article... what you are suggesting is that social media is moving more towards an approach that values how information is consumed vs. how it is produced. Fundamentally this is a positive change. Now customers will begin to get what matters to them... vs. the current Henry Ford model of you get a black car or no car. Anything that helps companies to focus on what customers need or are trying to achieve is a positive change!


the creative plateau and content curation

Recently did a post on the relationship between the creative plateau and content curation - the trend that is emerging as content creation plateaus. http://ow.ly/2M9Qe

Content Curation

Your blog post makes excellent points, but I'll bet your mum knows what a blog is!

An innovative approach for content creation

Very interesting data. My company, Bulbstorm, is working to keep content development on the rise with our Idea Challenges application for Facebook. We see amazing engagement by “creators,” but the key is having an innovative approach (which, in our case is asking for their ideas). The app encourages user-generated content creation by rewarding fans with prizes for sharing ideas and voting and commenting on others’ ideas. Even the “joiners” are rewarded for participating, when they vote and comment on ideas. Check out a demo of our app here: http://www.bulbstorm.com/blog/2010/promote-your-brand-on-facebook-take-a...

the creation tools have not

the creation tools have not changed much and the blog remains the ideal tool. so those that wanted to create have already jumped in!

i hardly think of facebook or linked in as creator tools, supplementary yes, but not as "the" tool

great post! thanks =)

New Social Media

Social media is in its infancy, and as with gravity, everyone will soon be communicating with everyone. Followers. Creators. Joiners.
Social media signage will make people more and more aware of what is going on around them - and on the other side of the world.