Forrester Research’s Social Technographics Ladder has been the cornerstone of many social media marketing efforts constructed in the last few years. The inactives-to-creators rating of how people use social media essentially shows that most people are either inactive or watch the social web; a few join networks; some collect content; a few (about the same number who join) play critic, commenting on other’s works; and a small number actually create content.

In their latest report, Forrrester has revised the Technographics Ladder to add another type of participant — the Conversationalist — or someone who updates their status updates and participates in quick conversations on Twitter and Facebook. This development is interesting because for years social media evangelists have been preaching that, “it’s all about the conversation.” Guess they/we were right.

Forrester Research Inc.'s 2010 Social Technographics LadderThe report, written by Groundswell co-author Josh Bernoff, displays a new ladder that shows increases across the board in the percentage of people participating in each rung, except of course the “inactives” which dropped from 52 percent in 2006 to just 17 percent in the last quarter of 2009. Creators jumped from 13 to 24 percent in the same time frame; critics from 19 to 37 percent; collectors from 15 to 20; and joiners from 19 to an astonishing 59 percent.

If you had any doubts that social media would last, I think you can erase them now.

The new category of “Conversationalists” encompasses 33 percent of online participants. No so coincidentally, we talked about a marketing category of “Conversationalists” in Monday’s four methods of Twitter marketing post, along with one called, “Conversational Marketers.” The fact Forrester now recognizes this segment of online users is significant. It implies smart marketers should find ways to engage those consumers. Dare I say, “to participate in the conversation?”

Does this mean you have to market on Facebook or Twitter? No. But if 33 percent of the online audience is chatting it up, why not consider it? For more information about the Conversationalists, check out the report. Bernoff blogs about it on the Groundswell blog. I’ve said before think Forrester Reports are unbelievably useful, but a tad pricey. You can purchase it for $499 on the Forrester website. They do have a satisfaction guarantee.

What do you think this new designation means for marketers? How does it change your approach, if at all? Is this just a recognition of what we all knew already or is Forrester solidifying a notion we’ll all now take to market? The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com davinabrewer

    I think it depends on the brand, but if 33% is chatting it up online, that means 67% are chatting it up elsewhere, or worse-nowhere. Sure, consider the 33% but also what makes someone go from Lurker to Joiner to active participant.

    The overlap is also something to consider, as my GUESS is that the majority of the Conversationalists are also either Contributors or Critics, meaning it's a lot of the same people having the same conversations. It'll matter more when the discussion shifts out of the 33% and over to the 59% and 70%. FWIW.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Fair points, there, Davina. Thanks for bringing them up. There
      certainly is truth to the overlap issue. The first time you look at
      the Forrester ladder you realize those percentages don't add up to
      100. Heh.

  • http://edwardboches.com edwardboches

    Jason,
    Nice recap. I think the conversationalist number will grow and grow. One question: these numbers are for people who are online, correct? That's how I recall the original population. Anyway, for me the most interesting number and one that will certainly increase as well is the content creators, currently at 24 percent. As more and more young college students blog, as flipcams become the norm, as mobile access to the web and social sites grows, individuals will do more than share and comment and converse. They will produce content. Some will be good, some will be bad, but all of it will be of interest to someone. And secondly, the someone will then have less time to pay attention to other content (advertising, PR, whatever). Marketers would be wise to pay attention to that sub group, learn how to motivate them, engage them and invite their participation in creation and co-creation. We can see it happening in the area of crowdsourcing, and in a YouTube volume that's equivalent to the uploading of 86,000 feature films every week. I could go on talking about other trends and movements that suggest the proliferation of all these behaviors, but I think I'll organize my thought for an actual post. As always thanks.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thank you, Edward. Always appreciate your insights. I think there will
      be a point when we specifically delineate between conversationalists
      and creator. If I pop a video question in my Facebook status, I'm
      conversing, but also creating. I think Forrester's survey intends to
      differentiate the quick chat-like behavior from the actual content
      creation, but it is a blurry line. Looking forward to your own post. ;-)

  • http://edwardboches.com edwardboches

    Jason,
    Nice recap. I think the conversationalist number will grow and grow. One question: these numbers are for people who are online, correct? That's how I recall the original population. Anyway, for me the most interesting number and one that will certainly increase as well is the content creators, currently at 24 percent. As more and more young college students blog, as flipcams become the norm, as mobile access to the web and social sites grows, individuals will do more than share and comment and converse. They will produce content. Some will be good, some will be bad, but all of it will be of interest to someone. And secondly, the someone will then have less time to pay attention to other content (advertising, PR, whatever). Marketers would be wise to pay attention to that sub group, learn how to motivate them, engage them and invite their participation in creation and co-creation. We can see it happening in the area of crowdsourcing, and in a YouTube volume that's equivalent to the uploading of 86,000 feature films every week. I could go on talking about other trends and movements that suggest the proliferation of all these behaviors, but I think I'll organize my thought for an actual post. As always thanks.

  • http://www.patrickokeefe.com iFroggy

    Hey man,

    Perhaps this is focusing on the headings, and maybe semantics… but when I first saw this, the first thing that jumped out to me was: posting to forums and commenting on blogs is less conversational than updating your status? That's not my experience.

    What makes it worse is throwing those things under the heading of “Critics.” Seems mislabeled. I could see a better case for the “Conversationalists” here to be “Broadcasters” and the “Critics” to be “Conversationalists.” Being a conversationalist is generally looked at as a positive thing, but being a critic often is said with a negative connotation. Weird.

    Thanks,

    Patrick

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great point, Patrick. I think it might be fair to propose that
      question to Josh and the Forrester folks to see where they see the
      conversationalists in forums and message boards. I could see them
      being conversationalists as well, but there is a difference (albeit
      subtle) in threaded conversation participation and short burst
      chatting. Still, you're right and it seems to be overlooked a bit. Do
      they call forum participants content creators? Critics? Likely the
      latter, which I don't know is appropriate. Good one. Maybe we can
      persuade Josh to stop by.

      • jbernoff

        Jason and iFroggy — we at Forrester group behaviors together based on similar types of interactions, and then give them a name. Critics is our name for people who react to published content, while Conversationalists is the name we gave to people to interact frequently with quick updates.

        The terminology is helpful, but certainly not central. What's important here is to analyze a group of consumers. Do your customers use Twitter, or are they more likely to be in discussion forums or commenting on blogs? This is the analysis we use to help clients. (There's lots more on this in Groundswell)

        It's also notable that Critic types activities are not growing, while conversationalist activities are growing rapidly.

        No categorization is perfect. But based on 2 1/2 years of tracking this stuff, we've got one that is at least useful and now, with the additional of conversationalists, should continue to be useful for quite a while.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Thank you, Josh. Honored you would take the time to stop by. Thanks
          for your work.

        • marcusandrews

          Josh, This seems like a direct response to the communication that is happening on Twitter. However, Facebook is generally just conversations vs. content creation was that accounted here? I would assume the number of people active on both FB and Twitter is greater than 33%.

          Secondly, can't a conversation become content? For instance #journchat on Twitter I would say is much more than a conversation.
          Thanks again for you and Forester's contributions to the space – Great stuff.
          -Marcus

        • http://www.patrickokeefe.com iFroggy

          I definitely understand your points here, Mr. Bernoff, and I appreciate the thoughts and you taking the time to reply. My comment above (in response to Jason's response to me) is what I would add here, so I won't repeat that.

          It's definitely not a huge issue, and I'm not trying to make it one, but it did give me pause just because in reading the headings, “Critics” strikes me as the most negative of the bunch. So, in the interest of not only making an observation, but also a suggestion, I would like to suggest that “Critics” could be changed to “Contributors” in the next iteration of this. I know you have your established compartments, but maybe it's something to be considered.

          Thanks again,

          Patrick

      • http://www.patrickokeefe.com iFroggy

        Yeah, I definitely agree there is a difference and it's good that it's separated. And the terminology of the headings is largely unimportant to us, in this space. But, I will say that simple terminology can have an impact on how people who are not in this space (i.e. most of the world) think of this space.

        So, if they see a respected outfit like Forrester say that forum contributors and blog commenters are “critics,” while people who update statuses are highly evolved intellectual conversationalists (dramatization, but you see my point), they will be more likely to think of these spaces as spaces of just criticism (and some will take that to go even farther, unfair criticism).

        Thanks,

        Patrick

  • http://jackieadkins.com Jackie Adkins

    Some very telling numbers, indeed, Jason. Even though I'm sure we could guess this to a certain extent, I would be interested to see how each of the rungs was broken down in terms of age. I'd agree with Patrick that the “critics” label is sort of misleading, making it sound like a group companies should be afraid of, when, in reality, they could become their biggest advocates.

    It'll be interesting to see how business and brands move towards embracing the growing % of content creators and work with them in a way to increase their exposure and voice.

    Good stuff, Jason!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I think the report does an age breakdown. And I see where the label
      “critics” comes from but also see the point that it's misleading if
      you're not knee-deep in Forresters terminology. Perhaps they can think
      about a re-name? Not sure. It's been the label since the came out with
      the first latter in 2006 (I think … may be older) so most are used
      to it. Thanks for the feedback, though. Josh is obviously
      participating here, so I'm sure Forrester will see the feedback.

      • http://jackieadkins.com Jackie Adkins

        Ah hah, naturally, Forrester is two steps ahead of me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jmctigue John McTigue

    I would add one more category at the top of the food chain – influencers. This well known, but tiny, group dominates most of the ideas and memes (except for the every day pop themes) and produces most of the bookmarked content. For marketers, getting the attention of the creators is certainly a high priority, but getting on the short list with influencers is the key to the city.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Interesting suggestion John. I assume that would be a sub-set of
      creators. The influencers are normally in that group, right?

  • emilyseong

    I'm wondering how those who aggregate and extend the influence/reach of content that is not their own would fall. It feels like a growing subset of people are simply links in a chain of passing information on. Sometimes Twitter feels like that old camp game of telephone, which is no way a bad thing, but I'm not sure where those retweeters, reposters fall into the above hierarchy.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Hey Emily. That group is represented in the “Collectors” category.
      (Working from memory and responding with my phone. But I think that's
      the label.)

      • emilyseong

        Ah. I see. I guess the list of “collectors” characteristics didn't include
        that they are pushing this content out, so I wasn't clear that this group
        was included. They could have been hoarding it. :)

  • http://www.webmarcom.net Jody Raines

    Thanks, Jason, for your interesting article…
    How much of an investment of time does it take to climb that ladder? I'm a geek about social media and therefore, I'm investing the time and making the climb. Many of my clients just don't have the desire to climb, although they want to be savvy and participate in the conversation. Let's face it, it's time consuming! Therefore, they will only climb to a point, then become inactive or spectators due perhaps to lack of interest, lack of time, or just boredom.
    Also, I agree with with John McTigue with regard to the separation of creators and influencers. Just because someone writes a lot, does not mean that the writings are worthwhile. There has to be some way to differentiate between writing, and thought provoking.
    Thanks for the insights and 'thought provoking' article!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Jody. I think the discussion of ladder climbing is wholly
      different from the ladder itself. Forrester just reports on what
      people say is their behavior. Moving clients (or yourself) from one
      point to the other just comes with familiarity and comfort. And there
      are more than a dozen ways to push that envelope.

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  • http://OnlineMarketingMashup.com Zack

    I think I climbed to the top. But, communicating is where I get the most value.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Zack. My guess is that'd be the answer for a lot of folks.

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