Josh Bernoff, co-author of the book, Groundswell, and an analyst at Forrester, provides some fascinating data about the adoption of social media, hot off the Wordpress (or whatever his blog is built on.)
What makes the data so valuable is not only that it's current and compares the same data to last year, but also that it divides up social media users based on distinct categories:
- Creators--e.g., blogger, uploader of YouTube video
- Critics--e.g., reviewer of books on Amazon, commenter on a blog
- Collectors--e.g., user of RSS feed
- Joiners--e.g., user with profile on LinkedIn
- Spectators--e.g., listener of a podcast, reader of a blog
- Inactives--none of the above
Bottom line: The number of online US users in the first five categories is increasing at a good pace.
Even more fascinating is that Bernoff points to the growth in social media adoption by digital immigrants:
"Where is the growth in consumption of online content coming from? From older people – the group my young colleagues who manage all this data call “middle-aged.” (Ouch!) Social activity is way up among 35-to-44 year-olds, especially when it comes to joining social networks and reading and reacting to content. Even among 45-to-54 year-olds, 68% are now Spectators, 24% are Joiners, and only 28% are Inactives."
Bernoff's interpretation of what this all means:
"It will soon be no more remarkable that your grandmother reads a blog than that she reads email. Social content is going mainstream. Social content ranks high on search engines because it changes so frequently and gets linked to more often, so more and more online adults are becoming exposed to it, accepting it, and embracing it. If you’re a marketer, no matter what group of consumers you’re targeting, this means you must pay attention to the social world online."
Not only should marketers take note. Anyone on the path to a bigger voice, intent on attracting a community of like-minded individuals, should see this as good news. More participants of social media means that you'll have a better chance of connecting with those individuals who resonate with your unique voice and the change you want to create in the world.
And with any tool, the context in which you are using it is important. (Please don't use that hammer for everything that remotely resembles a nail.) Bernoff provides a word of warning on what not to expect:
"[T]he future of social applications online will not include contributions from everyone, because not everyone has the temperament to create content. Don’t count on all your customers to contribute, and don’t believe that what you see online is representative of your whole audience. The shy among your customers are reading this stuff, but most of them aren’t ready to contribute, and won’t be for a while."
This is really good food for thought. I forget that not everyone wants to be a blogger. Not everyone is inclined to comment on a blog. (I think I read someplace that only 1% of blog readers actually leave a comment.) And that's okay. Communities, whether online or offline, need to allow for all levels of participation, from the lurker/first-time attendee in the back of the room to the frequent commenter to the occasional participant who weighs in on a provocative topic.