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How Do People Participate in Social Media? Who Controls The Conversation?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on June 4, 2007

As we become a conversation economy shaped by the social networks we belong to, it’s important to really understand how conversations truly work. In the INdata page of the latest IN, we are beginning to take the next step to show how different demographic age groups participate in social media in different ways . The fact is that use of social media is soaring—up 668% over the past year, but only 12% of total web traffic is involved in it.

Just as important, INdata shows that there are 6 types of social media participatants—Creators who publish web pages, blog and upload videos; Critics who comment on blogts and post reviews and comments; Collectors who use RSS to tag and gather information; Joiners who use social networking sites; Spectators who watch, read and listen; and Inactives, folks who are online but don’t participate in social media yet.

The demographics are very interesting. Each slice of the population participates differently in social media. Some 34% of online users aged 12-17 still do not participate in social media. 42% of people 27-49 online do not. Some 5% of seniors—62 plus—are social media creators (compareed to 34% for young teens 12 to 17. That strikes me as surprisingly high. Only 7% of boomers are creators.

The point is that we have to go beyond the hype of technology and get to the groups of people using social media to really understand what they want out of conversations if you want to talk to them. This is as true for managers as politicians, journalists as clergy.

Reader Comments


June 6, 2007 7:54 PM


Jess McMullin

June 12, 2007 8:43 PM

One thing we're finding at work is that 'social media' means too many things, so we've started to take a more nuanced approach that specifies what social elements are actually at play.

I'd be interested to see how the data map to the 7 different social software building blocks that my partner Gene Smith wrote about here:

I suspect that some of the 'lurkers' in this case are just not contributing content, but are activly involved in presence or reputation, for example.


July 24, 2007 5:19 PM

Great article on how people are participating in social media. I would like to see an additional layer of research on the 'why' people participate. We have a pretty good idea, but would like to hear what others think or know.


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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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