Understanding the Six Types of Online Users

Peter Roesler, President - Web Marketing Pros

By Peter Roesler

President, Web Marketing Pros

social-networkOne way to better understand the fans of an organization’s social media channel, is to separate people by how they interact with social media and user-generated content. Forrester Research recently produced an analysis of six different types of online users in America and how these types breakdown by the age of the user. Understanding this research can prove valuable when determining what level of engagement an organization wants to use and for deciding on the best methods to use for their target demographics.

While there are many people who use social media, only a few actually create content. Creators are the online users who publish web pages, write blog posts, and upload videos to social media sites. About a third of the online users in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 26 engage in these kinds of activities. On the other hand, older Americans are far less likely to be creators. Less than 8 percent of adults over 50 are creators.

The old adage that “everyone’s a critic” may be a stretch but it remains mostly true in the age of the Internet. More than half of the people who view user-generated content comment on blogs and social media as well as posts ratings and reviews for products and companies. This finding is true across all age groups, but since the rate of online users who follow user-generated content declines with age, the percentage of online users over 40 years old who are critics ranges from about 10 to 20 percent.

One way some devoted followers of a subject keep abreast of updates is to use RSS feeds and social bookmarking tools to get the latest information. About 10 to 20 percent of all users online are collectors. Young teens (12-17 years old) and seniors (62 years old and older) were the least likely to use RSS and social bookmarking. The fact that fewer young people are using these tools suggest that they will become less important in the future.

Joiners are the people who use social networking sites. While it is common knowledge that a large number of Americans use social media, parsing the data by age groups provides very telling information. For example, the highest concentration of online users who use social media is in the 18-21 range, where 70 percent of online users were joiners. Older bloomers (51-61 years old) and seniors were very unlikely to use social media with fewer than 8% of online users in those age groups reporting to use social networking sites. The most surprising statistics on this class of online users is the low rate of participation among Generation X users (29 percent) and young bloomers (15%).

Though not everyone is involved in the creation of user-generated content, many people are paying attention to it. Spectators read blogs, watch user-generated video content, and listens to podcasts on a semi-regular basis. More than half of online users between the ages of 12 and 26 are spectators. This high rate of participation even holds true for older Americans. Nearly one in four online Americans over the age of 41 years old is paying attention to user-generated content.

As hard as it is to believe, there are some people who are online but want nothing to do with social media and user generated content.  Most surprising is that nearly a third of teens between 12 and 17 are inactives, though this may be related to parental restrictions. From 18 years old and upward, the rate of online users that are inactive with social media and user-generated content starts off low (17 percent for young adults) and increases with age (70 percent of seniors).

There are a lot of takeaways from this research and it’s certainly warrants a closer look by organizations that are engaged in internet marketing. One thing it shows that it’s important to keep target demographics in mind in planning a marketing campaign. The age of the audience has a dramatic effect on whether or not they respond to certain kinds and messages and how they choose to respond to them. For example, the research shows that asking older Americans to submit content is less likely to be effective than a similar request made to young adults. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to use certain tactics with certain groups, but it does mean that marketers should have realistic expectations and be ready to make additional advertising pushes if they’re asking their target demographic to do something they normally would not.

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