Last week, a lot of you read my guest post about the ROI (return on investment) of social media. There is no doubt that social media is changing the ways people interact online and hence, the way companies communicate with their customers. The thing that is still missing is quantifiable data about these interactions. We're in a theory stage - we know what's right because we have experienced it - but we are still waiting for proof in numbers. Forrester Research made a giant step in the right direction when they introduced social technographics.
Social technographics is an analysis of consumers' approach to social media - not just which ones they use, but understanding how they use the medium in their daily life. You can download the full report on Forrester Research's website (there is a fee) or read the book on the same topic published April 21, 2008: Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. (There is also a ton of free goodies at the Groundswell blog.)
I sat in on a webinar last week where Charlene and Josh expounded on their work. Josh summed up the goal of this work: "Think about what you want to accomplish, not the technology." There is so much fascination about what technology can do that marketers often forget the question is what technology can do for you. The webinar came back again and again with the message to use this data to inform a strategy for your clients. (You can find the resulting Q&A published post-webinar here.)
How's It Work?
Charlene and Josh categorize web users into six sections based on the level of their activity, from Creators to Inactives. I have not seen a clear but simple ranking system like this before and I certainly hope it is accepted as an industry standard. The real value, however, comes from their detailed analysis of each category's activity.
I won't go into all of the details of their work, but they go into serious detail about each group. There are some valuable insights to be garnered from their work. But the research does not get lost in either theory or numbers - there are very specific, actionable suggestions.
What's The Catch?
There isn't one as far as I can see. Charlene and Josh set up a system and fill it with data very valuable to marketers. Forrester is one of the top organizations in online research and analytics (if not the very best), so it isn't surprising to see this level of work from them. I do, however, have two small concerns.
- One nagging concern is the age of the data (all from Q4 2006). While this isn't grievously old, there have been trends in that time that might change the data somewhat (Facebook opening up, Twitter emerging, etc). That said, I understand the huge amount of work that goes into collecting and analyzing this amount of information, so I can't fault Forrester that much (plus, I think the underlying theories are probably unaffected).
- The second concern is the wording of the questions. For instance, when asked whether they do the following activities at least monthly, respondents were given several choices, including "Use social networking sites" and "Watch peer-generated video." I wonder how responses would have changed if they offered examples like MySpace, Facebook, Eons, and Gather for the first question or YouTube and Google Video for the second one. (I read a report recently that mentioned a large section of people who claimed not to go online because they did not realize they were online when they logged into Hotmail or searched on Google.)
As mentioned before, social technographics should be used to build your strategy. "Rather than pursue Social Computing technologies based on fashion, marketers need to think about how they want to engage with their customers and prospects - and create content, features, and functionality that create a path for participation." 'Nuff said.
If you're going to take seriously the new business model in a Web 2.0 world, you owe it to yourself to be equipped with the best research. As far as I can tell, this is it.