eMarketer estimates there were nearly 116 million US user-generated content consumers in 2008, along with 82.5 million content creators. Both numbers are set to climb significantly by 2013.
To maximize their use of social media, marketers should first understand the various activities that constitute user-generated content creation and consumption. The next step is to appreciate the complexities of the content ecosystem, which means looking at gray areas between creation and consumption.
In a 2008 presentation titled “Social Technographics Defined,” Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff broke down user-generated content participants into the following groups:
- Creators: Those who “make social content go”
- Critics: Those who respond to content via reviews, comments, forums and so forth
- Collectors: Those who aggregate and organize content using RSS feeds, tags and voting sites
- Joiners: Those who gather around social communities
- Spectators: Those who consume user-generated content but do not respond to it publicly
- Inactives: Those who neither create nor consume social content
Toward either end of this spectrum are people whose involvement in user-generated content might be summed up by the labels “creator” or “consumer.” But in between are users whose activities blur the lines.
Do critics and collectors create content by generating reviews, comments and lists, or are they simply reacting to content posted by others? Are joiners actually part of a content exchange if their main interest in social media is to use online networks for interaction and communication?
These are the kinds of questions marketers should be asking as they dive into social media. The better marketers understand the habits of the various groups that make up the content spectrum, the better they will be able to use social media to further their campaigns.
The bottom line is that marketers need to break free from traditional paradigms and accept a fluid exchange of marketing information across multiple media. That means instead of fully controlling brand messaging, marketers must be prepared to share control with their customers and prospects.
It means marketers should encourage and empower their customers to post feedback, even if those efforts put the marketer’s product in a harsh light. And it means marketers should tailor their campaigns to people who fall into gray areas along the user-generated content spectrum.
In short, the new content ecosystem means rules that worked in previous generations need to be refreshed, and in some cases completely rewritten.