Levels of social web engagement

I have been reading Li and Bernhoff’s Groundswell just recently, and I came across an interesting division of levels of interaction with the social web. I’ll type it out here for your edification.

  • Creators
    • Publish a blog
    • Publish your own web pages
    • Upload video you created
    • Upload audio/music you created
    • Write articles or stories and publish them
  • Critics
    • Post ratings/reviews of products or services
    • Comment on someone else’s blog
    • Contribute to online forums
    • Contribute to/edit articles in a wiki
  • Collectors
    • Use RSS feeds
    • Add tags to websites or photos
    • ‘Vote’ for websites online
  • Joiners
    • Maintain profile on a social networking site
    • Visit social networking sites
  • Spectators
    • Read blogs
    • Watch video from other users
    • Listen to podcasts
    • Read online forums
    • Read consumer ratings/reviews
  • Inactives
    • None of these activities

Whilst we may want to pick away at the odd thing on the list, I think it is broadly right in terms of the degrees of participation. The key thing is to understand both what it is that these groups want out of their web ‘experience’ and making sure the tools you use can meet that need. The other thing to consider might be how, if at all, you can encourage people to move up into the next category: to try and get some inactives spectating; and some critics creating.

I suppose it goes without saying, really, but if you were to visualise the list above in terms of the numbers within each group, it would be a pyramid, with lots of inactives and spectators but very few creators at the top. Perhaps this is how it should be, else we really would get drowned in the resultant noise.

What do you make of these levels of participation, and how could they be used in planning a social media project?

8 thoughts on “Levels of social web engagement”

  1. I did something the other day on young peoples use of the internet and for them I’d guess it would be a triangle with a thin base (not many inactives), a very wide lower middle peaking at the ‘joiners’ and then getting very thin towards the top although I suspect there may even be more ‘creators’ than ‘critics’ – for example it wouldn’t surprise me if there are more people on facebook that upload photos than pass comments on other peoples.

    Be interesting to see if different age groups had different patterns.

  2. This is v.useful way of thinking about these things – also reminds me of the ‘typology’ work done by PEW in the US. Would be good to know more on UK use profiles so we can better understand how people interact. (Of course part of that is ethnographic too…)

    Find out your typology- I took the test here!: http://tinyurl.com/63wo49

  3. This is interesting when the whole experience of the business/project/community is online. But shouldn’t we also look at situations and participants and analyse Creators inactives taking account of f2f, phone etc? Is there a danger that we overuse the web as a model for human activity … and put those who prefer to use other media at the bottom of the pile?
    Just a little gentle provocation:-)

  4. I agree it’s broadly right, and definitely interesting. Especially if you read it from bottom to top as a journey of discovery – that pretty much records my route from reading to blogging.

    However I HAVE to pick at this one thing…

    “Critics” isn’t right I don’t think. Contributors? Participants? Commenters? “Critics “suggests these people aren’t originating content – which they are, especially if we include wiki editing in this list.

  5. Good points all – thanks for joining in! David is absolutely right that just thinking about this stuff in terms of online media is not enough, especially when we are coming at it from the perspective of the public & third sectors. We need to be blending different media together.

    Still these roles (accepting Neil’s discomfort with ‘critic’ as a label) are a useful starting point. What I am feeling is that a set of useful tools are emerging with which we can really start thinking this stuff through.

  6. Isn’t this just restating the argument that in any community, there are a small number of people who do most of the work?

    I read Groundswell and felt they were trying to turn a phenomena (social networking) into a science (marketing).

    The taxonomy of their “creative ladder” is useful but it doesn’t provide more insight – other than to encourage me to respond to comments more often!

    Hope you’re well.

  7. Hi Tom, thanks for stopping by.

    I see what you mean, that the overall picture that there are a few people who do stuff and lots that don’t isn’t exactly new. But the granularity offered here is useful, I think, so that any social media project can think about how these different groups interact how how the project can try and offer something to them all.

    My main use of Groundswell has been to pull out interesting stuff like the above, and also harvest it for exampe of social media success, rather than pay too much attention to the overall message of the book, which is, as you say, rather marketing dominated.

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