Less than 20% of online adults don’t use social tools

Posted on August 25, 2009 9:30 am by | Research | Social Media

At the SNCR fellows retreat this past weekend, several of the academics in the group lamented the lack of longitudinal research, studies that explore the various dimensions of social media over a number of years. Indeed, most studies present a snapshot in time.

Forrester Research contributes a longitudinal study with today’s release of The Broad Reach of Social Technologies, a $499, eight-page document by Sean Corcoran. Groundswell co-author Josh Bernoff is among the four contributors to the report, which examines the 2009 Consumer Technographics research compared to the last two years. (Bernoff’s has written his own post on the report.)

For both fodder to convince management of the increasing importance of social media, as well as data to help target your efforts, this longitudinal study is a goldmine. There’s a lot to digest in its eight brief pages, but a few data points stand out, notably the increased involvement of consumers 35 and older. A lot of organizations have held back on social media involvement based on the belief that it was dominated by youth. But the 2009 survey finds that adults aged 35 to 54 increased its participation in online social activities by more than 60%; more than half of adults in the 35-44 bracket participate in Facebook and other social networks. Thirty-eight percent of the 54-54 group are regular users of these sites.

Equally striking is the fact that nearly everyone has joined the “spectator” Technographic category, which Forrester defines as those who consume but don’t contribute: They read blogs, listen to podcats, watch consumer-contributed videos, read online forums, and read customer ratings and reviews. According to the research, this category is populated by 75% of the adult online population.

In fact, only 18% of online adults in the U.S. don’t use any social media.

Based on what those spectators are doing, it seems clear that they are eager to get the opinions of what Emanuel Rosen calls “hubs” in his excellent book, “The Anatomy of Buzz Revisted.” Hubs are those individuals who attract a following based on their knowledge of a particular subject, but not necessarily loyalty to any particular brand. Forty-eight percent of spectators read product ratings and reviews written by customers. That’s up from 25% just two years earlier.

The lesson should be clear: The time to get into the conversation with those hubs is now. In his book, Rosen uses Microsoft’s MVP program as an example. The invitation-only program connects the company to those who contribute their knowledge of Microsoft products unselfishly with others, even if they’re also sometimes critical of Microsoft.

Even more striking is that 55% of spectators watch consumer-contributed videos. I have reported recently on For Immediate Release a couple of studies that confirm the spectacular growth of online video. For example, research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project demonstrates that watching videos is more prevalent that participating in social networks.

Online video strategies need to be factored into any social media plan.

One last bit of intelligence to share from the Forrester study: Adults 55 and older are moving out of the “inactive” and “spectator” category: 70% use social tools at least once a month.

Forrester concludes the data-rich research with a series of recommendations that mirror what most social media-savvy communications consultants would counsel, all focused on overcoming intertia and getting active where your customers are.

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