What are Social Technographics and why should you care?

Social Techno Ladder 2011Forrester Research (and specifically the Groundswell initiative) have released the latest in their line of Social Technographic reports for 2011 (Q3); a high level view of individuals’ use of social media that builds on research over the last 4 years. We have been looking with interest at Social Technographics since Forrester first introduced the concept.

As we enter a new year, we believe the findings suggest a market in the US and Europe which is rapidly maturing. A European market which is no longer behind the US in terms of Social Media use, a small number of content creators for a large proportion of content consumers and a growing number of users that are looking to join the conversation. The research provides critical insight for businesses planning their Social Media activities or looking to better understand the social media landscape.

Josh Bernoff and his team have evaluated individuals’ use of social media technologies worldwide, categorising each of us into one or more of the following (it is important to note that the typologies overlap):

  • Creators – those of us that publish blogs, web pages, upload videos or audio or post articles or stories. In Q2 2010, this equated to 14% of adults in Europe and 24% in the US. The latest findings from 2011 suggest no movement in the US figure but Europe (23%) has caught up. Should we now look at Creators as having reached saturation point in both the US and Europe? If so, should we continue to discuss the ability of Social Media to make content publishers of all of us, when it appears true that only around a quarter of us will ever do so?
  • Conversationalists – those that “voice their opinion to other consumers and businesses” weekly or more frequently, using social networks and Twitter. This group (the statusphere) did not exist within the findings from 2008, illustrating that Social Media is a fast-moving phenomenon. In 2011, 36% of the population in the US and 26% in the EU ‘frequently’ update their status. The results suggest that around half of “Joiners” are also Conversationalists.
  • Critics – who post ratings / reviews of products or services, comment on another blog, contribute to online forums or contribute to or edit articles in a wiki. In Q2 2010, 37% of the population were Critics in the US and 19% in the EU. In Q3, 2011, 36% are Critics in the US – negative growth – and Europe has again closed the gap with 33% in 2011. Again, this suggests a ceiling in the proportion of the population that become Critics (of around a third).
  • Collectors – who use RSS feeds, vote for websites online or add tags to web pages or photos. In Q2 2010, 21% of the US were collectors, compared to 6% of the EU population. In Q3, 2011 23% in the US are now collectors and 22% in the EU. The EU has again caught up. It would be interesting to understand how this behaviour breaks down and whether reduced use of RSS feeds has been counter-balanced by an increase in the use of Social Bookmarking e.g. ‘like’ or +1 buttons on blogs or websites. Is the saturation point for Collectors around a fifth of the population?
  • Joiners – those that maintain a social network profile or visit social networking sites. In Q2 2010, 51% of the US were Joiners and 29% of the EU. In Q3, 2011 68% of the US population are Joiners and 50% in the EU. This Social Media behaviour has continued to increase. It would appear that there is more room for growth within the EU although Bernoff believes a level of social networking can also be characteristic of a geographic region. For example, Bernoff suggests only a proportion of Germans may ever use social networks. We would speculate that this level of Joining is also driving an increase in Conversationalists (but not an increase in Creators or Critics). Is Joining seen as more attractive not only those recently active in Social Media but also for those that have been active for a while?
  • Spectators – who read blogs, listen to podcasts, watch video from other users, read online forums, read customer ratings and reviews and read tweets. In 2010, 73% of the US population were spectators and 49% of Europeans. In Q3 2011, 73% in the US are spectators but the EU has caught up with 69%. The US findings once more suggest a ceiling of around three quarters of the population as spectators or 85% of the active population (see below).
  • Inactives – none of the above and not involved in Social Media. In Q2 2010, this was estimated at 18% of the US population and 40% of the European population. In Q3 2011 it is now 14% in the US and 21% in the EU. This suggests that while there has been little change in the US, half of those inactive in the EU in 2010 are now active. It seems likely that more of this group have also become Spectators and Joiners.

Findings – So What?

The good news in terms of Social Media use is that Europe has finally caught up in 2011, almost to the same level of Social Media adoption as the US. Increases in the EU can be viewed in % population terms across:

  • Active (19% increase)
  • Spectators (20% increase)
  • Joiners (21% increase)
  • Collectors (16%)
  • Critics (14%)
  • Creators (9%)

It is no longer accurate to say that the US is two years ahead of Europe in terms of Social Media adoption.

Although Europe still has soom room for growth – more can become active and the US still leads active users by 7 percentage points – Europe is on a par in most other areas.

As the US appears to have slowed substantially in terms of growth, particularly in proportions of Creators, Critics, Collectors and Spectators, the findings also suggest that there is a ceiling level of adoption within these areas.

These “ceilings” provide key insights when identifying targets from future initiatives – e.g. they help determine what proportion of RSS subscriptions, shares and likes can be expected all things being equal.

The results also suggest a “late adoption” trend, whereby Joining and entering the Conversation is attractive now matter how mature the market or how ‘sophisticated’ the user.

A critical question that remains is where future growth will be measured as markets mature and saturation points are reached?

We believe that the Forrester Social Technographics whilst enormously useful to this point will become less useful in the next few years. Other models are required which look in more detail at individual practices and progress.

What do you think?

As always, we look forward to your comments

Alan, Jim and Vincent

Sources: we have used the following source information

  1. The latest Social Technographics results from Q3 2011 as summarised in this recent John Bernoff post entitled Global Social Takeover
  2. Comparative data from Q2 2010 as provided through the Social Technographics Profile Tool
  3. A definition of Social Technographics from Forrester Research




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