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The Six Degrees of Participation

Warning_sign_jpg_4  We all know that the advertising model in social media is likely to look nothing like the one currently deployed in delivery media. Conversational marketing, opt-in, co-creation – ideas which are shaping up nicely but are not yet fully formed or commonly practiced. So what are the rules in this new world? How are we going to measure this stuff?

The largely unwritten rule of Web 2.0 (let’s call it the 1,9,90 rule) helps us to explain what has been called ‘Participation Inequality’ – the different degrees of user interaction and engagement common to any 2.0 site based around networking or UGC. The reality is that the vast majority of unique users (often around 90%) are ‘lurkers’. They read and view but they don’t contribute. Another 9% of users interact but on a semi-regular basis. Perhaps they have a network profile but they don’t update it as often as they should. 1% of your user base however, will often be your most active. Really active. They will be your champions, your advocates, the ones that generate the majority of the content and interaction.

Now of-course these numbers and ratios are not definitive. Each site, and each community, differs. Networks which are formed around highly specialised areas of interest for example, will have higher levels of user interaction. But the broad principles are true of any 2.0 site. A small proportion of the user-base will account for a high proportion of the overall levels of interaction and content generation. According to Hitwise, only 0.2% of You Tube visits are to upload a video and only 0.16% of Flickr visits to upload photos. Wikipedia has millions of users but only 75,000 active contributors. Amazon’s book reviews are similarly driven by a relatively small number of reviewers who contribute high volumes of reviews.

The challenge for brands in this space is how they can change and capitalise on these metrics to encourage higher levels of participation and involvement. Perhaps a good starting point for this is understanding how we are expecting our prospects to interact with us, and precisely what we are asking of them. New research from Forrester defines what they call ‘Social Technographics’, a study which uses consumer data to look at how consumers approach social technologies (as opposed to individual technologies) and defines six distinct levels of participation from ‘Inactives’ to ‘Creators’.


The numbers on the graphic here are potentially misleading since some of the most highly involved users are counted multiple times as they cross-categories but the principle established here is an important one – people use different networks and communities for different reasons and as a consequence their level of participation varies drammatically. Brands need to be aware of how far down the ‘Funnel of Interaction’ they are asking their prospects to travel. It is one thing for a user to read your copy, leave a comment, to vote even, but a whole different game if you’re asking them to fill out multiple fields, download an application, upload content.

Participation Inequality has a number of drawbacks for brands; the robustness of consumer feedback and survey information for one, but the simplest (and most often overlooked) things count in broadening involvement. Above all, making it easy.

And howabout this for an interesting take. A new book, ‘Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives’ by Professor Richard Wiseman features the findings of a fascinating experiment into lonely hearts ads. Wiseman, a social psychologist, discovered that nearly all the successful ads had a 70:30 balance. 70% was about me, 30% was about you. Too much about me and I’m in danger of sounding self-centred, too little and I may be thought to be hiding something. Too much about you and I might look too choosy, too little and there’s not enough to judge how compatible you might be (and maybe I look a little desperate).

This is an interesting parallel since as Wethey says ‘the pressure to get a personal ad right is extreme’ but also because it’s exactly that – personal. When people create social networking profiles they are marketing themselves. Within the context of this network, this is how they want their friends, people who happen across them, the wider network, to see them.

So perhaps this is an interesting metric to consider. If I am a brand and I have a message to get across but I still want people to engage and contribute to what I have to offer, perhaps the majority (say, 70%) of what I say should be about myself, what I am, what I have to offer and the rest (say 30%) should be about who I identify as my new friends, how they know that I am right for them, how they can get involved and participate

Our traditional methods of delivering advertising are arguably all me and not enough about you. The advertising shouts a message to our prospects that we determined they would want to hear. It doesn’t necessarily invite participation nor ask what it can do for you.

And how do we define ROI in this new world? Fox Interactive and Carat in the US have made a start with an attempt to measure the ROI on two MySpace based case studies involving Adidas and Electronic Arts. Returns were measured in terms of metrics against display space, brand profile areas and custom skins, and other branded features people can use on their own personal pages. And also against intent to purchase, positive brand image, intent to recommend and unaided awareness. The ‘return’ (unsurprisingly perhaps) was substantial.

There’s obviously a long way to go with this kind of stuff but at least it’s a start. I can’t help feeling that if we’re ever going to be successful at turning words and great thinking into action, more tangible evidence of returns is going to be a good thing.

4 responses to “The Six Degrees of Participation”

  1. Will Avatar

    That’s fascinating. Great post Neil.

  2. Will Avatar

    That’s fascinating. Great post Neil.

  3. neilperkin Avatar

    Thanks Will. It’s a fascinating area.

  4. neilperkin Avatar

    Thanks Will. It’s a fascinating area.

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