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

by Josh Bernoff

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.

Ladder 2

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.

Chart 2

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.

For the first time, 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.


re: Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social

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.

re: Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social

Hi Josh/Sean,Absolutely, a research like this is very vital and helps in shaping up future plans. This write-up re-iterates the learnings from Groundswell.What really amazes me is the lack of movement in the percentage graph of Creators and Critics. These signs are discouraging for the content consumers who primarily suck content from blogs etc.Among Asian social participation do we've some numbers from India as well?Look forward to today's update !

re: Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social

One additional factor that is certainly impacting these figures is the advancement of technologies that simplify social media participation and enable the migration of individuals between the various Social Technographics rungs on the ladder.For example, Wix & Wordpress - provide fast, template based creation of highly customized flash websites & blogs - simplifies becoming a creator.Facebook Connect & Disqus make it easier to participate and become Critics.Google Reader & Flock help Collectors access & organize their RSS feeds.As far as I can tell, everything else on the web caters to Spectators and tries like hell to convert them into Joiners...Wondering how much enabling technologies contribute as opposed to the natural evolution of participation as individuals become more familiar with the social landscape?

re: Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social

Josh,Momentum continues. Still not to inertia, but flirting with it. Most brands are not taking it seriously enough, but significant economic distractions remain. If we had not had this downturn, companies would be funneling money into this channel at a more rapid rate. So we are a bit delayed. It's kind of a blessing, because most would simply be turning up the volume on the megaphone. Thank goodness we are spared from that for the most part. I hope that marketers will take pause and adapt their messages before they get the budgets. The world will be a better place if that happens.Social media is now part of the online experience. The technology has caught up with the psychology of human connection.Steve

re: Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social

Daksh -- we've found it hard to conduct representative surveys in India, but would still like to find some way to do so.

re: Social technology growth marches on in 2009, led by social

Josh,Could you please share what kind of challenges you've faced to conduct surveys with India?Daksh