A number of people in my reading circle have referenced Forrester's report, Social Technographics (summary on their blog) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The executive summary:
Many companies approach social computing as a list of technologies to be deployed as needed – a blog here, a podcast there – to achieve a marketing goal. But a more coherent approach is to start with your target audience and determine what kind of relationship you want to build with them, based on what they are ready for. Forrester categorizes social computing behaviors into a ladder with six levels of participation; we use the term "Social Technographics" to describe analyzing a population according to its participation in these levels. Brands, Web sites, and any other company pursuing social technologies should analyze their customers' Social Technographics first, and then create a social strategy based on that profile.
What I find interesting in the introductory material (without having read the full thing) is how they categorized the types of participation. Unlike the 1% Rule (1% create, 10% respond and the remainder watch) their research splits people by types of activity:
- Creators: 13%
- Critics: 19%
- Collectors: 15%
- Joiners: 19%
- Spectators: 33%
- Inactives: 52%
Note that the percentages don't add up to 100%. People inhabit several of these niches simultaneously, depending on the specifics of context. I can almost picture myself in ALL of these boxes, depending on the community in which I am operating. Yes, even the Inactives: I've joined hundreds of forums, but only spectate or actively operate in very few. The other thing they discuss in their overview on the blog is that these participation levels can be mapped to different types of "social computing" applications.
Other commenters from my reading circle. There are many more beyond this, of course. Technorati is showing 152 links in other blogs right now.
James Dellow says there are No surprises in reality check on participation in social software. I like his connection to the growth-of-blogging-has-stalled discussion. Maybe the blogosphere has matured to the point where about 13% of users are actively creating blogs (to go with the Forrester numbers).
Dellow pointed to the Stu Downes discussion, which plays special attention to the connection to age demographics of internet users. Dellow also references Ross Mayfield's The Power Law of Participation from April 2006, which goes into the forms of participation on a "barrier to participate" scale from reading and bookmarking all the way through to actively moderating and leading. And for one counter to the cheer leading, Mayfield points to Phil Wolff saying there are Five things missing in the Participation Ladder, namely disclosure, mobility, modes of connection, and the offline connection.