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October 20, 2008

New 2008 Social Technographics data reveals rapid growth in adoption

by Josh Bernoff

Data is my secret weapon.

Every time I visit a company, we bring data we’ve collected about the social behaviors of their customers, structured according to the Social Technographics Ladder we introduced last year, a technique we rang the changes on in chapter 3 of Groundswell.


social technographics ladder 2008

When I go to Vanguard, I show them the profile of their customers – and their competitors'. I went to a company that makes replacement hip joints – I showed them the profile of people with arthritis. I just came back from Brussels, where I showed a bunch of direct marketers how Europeans participate – and how many people who resist direct marketing still embrace social technologies. We’ve published lots of this data right here on the blog, including data on voters. Data settles the pointless “everybody does this/nobody does this” arguments and allows people to invest in the appropriate technologies for their customers.

But data gets old, especially in the rapidly changing social world. Time for an update. Today, we’ve released our 2008 data from around the world. Go ahead and play around with it, free, at our just-updated Social Technographics Profile tool page. We’ve got data from 11 countries around the world, by age and gender. (For the Canadians who’ve been bugging me since Groundswell came out – yes, we now have Canadian data, too.) 

Social Technographics Profile 2008

Forrester clients can see our complete analysis of the 2008 data in a document we just published, called The Growth Of Social Technology Adoption. (If you’re not a client, the link will just show you an executive summary.) I'll also be speaking on this topic at our 2008 Consumer Forum.

Looking at the US data, the big news in 2008 is that, not unexpectedly, social technology participation has grown rapidly. Inactives -- people untouched by social technologies -- have shriveled from 44% down to 25% of the online population. Spectators -- those who read, watch, or consumer social content -- have ballooned from 48% to 69%. If you think social technology is about to become a universal phenomenon, we just handed you a nice little bundle of evidence.

As you can see, there was also a nice healthy jump in Joiners (social network participants), Critics (those who react to social content they see), and especially Collectors (those who organize social content). None of these are quite as popular as being a Spectator, but I think there’s plenty of growth ahead for these groups. (If it’s bothering you that the numbers add up to more than 100%, remember that these groups overlap – this is not a segmentation.)

I find it just as interesting that the Creators group grew only slightly, from 18% to 21%. I have long suspected that there aren’t more people blogging, creating Web pages, or uploading video or audio, not because the technology gets in the way, but because they’re just not the kind of extroverts who want to talk about themselves or anything else online. I think this group will continue to grow much more slowly than the others. Interestingly, this kind of participation is far greater in some places like Korea and China.

As usual, the real story comes when you look behind the statistics. Where is the growth in consumption of online content coming from? From older people – the group my young colleagues who manage all this data call “middle-aged.” (Ouch!) Social activity is way up among 35-to-44 year-olds, especially when it comes to joining social networks and reading and reacting to content. Even among 45-to-54 year-olds, 68% are now Spectators, 24% are Joiners, and only 28% are Inactives.

Here’s what it means. It will soon be no more remarkable that your grandmother reads a blog than that she reads email. Social content is going mainstream. Social content ranks high on search engines because it changes so frequently and gets linked to more often, so more and more online adults are becoming exposed to it, accepting it, and embracing it. If you’re a marketer, no matter what group of consumers you’re targeting, this means you must pay attention to the social world online.

But the future of social applications online will not include contributions from everyone, because not everyone has the temperament to create content. Don’t count on all your customers to contribute, and don’t believe that what you see online is representative of your whole audience. The shy among your customers are reading this stuff, but most of them aren’t ready to contribute, and won’t be for a while.

This is the power of data – the power to see beyond the hype and see what’s really changing. I’d love to bring some to your company and start the conversation. 

Postscript: I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the people who make this data collection possible (and excellent). Cynthia Pflaum is the secret force behind my data insights – she not only finds these tidbits that companies find so useful, she’s also my watchdog for maintaining consistency in our surveys worldwide. Reineke Reitsma is in charge our worldwide data collection and her support of this project (and her budget) make this possible. And Roxana Strohmenger for the second year assembled our worldwide data so we could put it into the profile tool. Thank you, colleagues.


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» Who's Reading Blogs? Maybe Your Grandmother... from A Bigger Voice
Josh Bernoff, co-author of the book, Groundswell, and an analyst at Forrester, provides some fascinating data about the adoption of social media, hot off the Wordpress (or whatever his blog is built on.) What makes the data so valuable is [Read More]

» Who's Reading Blogs? Maybe Your Grandmother... from A Bigger Voice
Josh Bernoff, co-author of the book, Groundswell, and an analyst at Forrester, provides some fascinating data about the adoption of social media, hot off the Wordpress (or whatever his blog is built on.) What makes the data so valuable is [Read More]

» Social Media Is Mainstream from Internet Marketing Blog
Josh Bernoff at the Groundswell blog posted New 2008 Social Technographics data reveals rapid growth in adoption. [Read More]


Jim Deitzel

Would it be fair to say that some of the increase in these Social Technographic categories stems from the fact that brands are now implementing social tools on their websites vs. more people using the existing and established tools?

I wonder what the breakdown is between existing tools vs. new tools. I.E. I've begun using Facebook (existing) as opposed to I've started to write reviews on Rubbermaid.com (new).

Josh Bernoff

@Jim I think the increase in many categories is driven by word of mouth and search. People are stumbling on or hearing about these new technologies and trying them out, whether it's reading, joining, or creating a blog.

Grant Griffiths

I think you are missing a rung. Those bloggers who are successful with their blogs do all of the rungs except the last one. They are not inactive. All of the other rungs are almost a requirement to have a successful social media/blogging plan.


Last June I was told I was going to get a copy of the book, since I was among the 100 bloggers who first asked for it when you promoted a contest.
I never got any copy.
Will I still get it?

Michael Downs

Like @Jim I wonder if the proliferation of social media "outlets" accounts for the Spectator gain vs. true interest which would migrate them up the Technographic ladder.

I suspect it is the latter w/ much of the gain tied to key events such as proliferation of targeted blog content appearing in algorithmic searches, Facebook opening up to all comers, LinkeIn reaching critical mass, etc.

If they are truely heading to be "joiners", etc., then we appear to have hit a tipping point where social media becomes self-reinforcing. The implication being that as applications such as Facebook "cross the chasm", less intuitive applications such as Twitter, FriendFeed or Delicious should also accelerated adoption rates.

Josh Bernoff

@Gisele We sent copies to everybody who qualified. Send me your info and we'll get you one.

Carol Ross

Thanks for this fascinating data and a look at where social media is headed.

I've noticed an increase over the last year in LinkedIn invitations--especially as the economy gets tougher and professionals are realizing the importance of continuous networking. (Although many of the recent invitations have been from the newly laid off--a bit too little, too late, IMHO.) People who I would not have expected to be on LinkedIn or Facebook--clearly digital immigrants, over 40 years old--are realizing they'll be left behind if they don't start using the technology. I am also starting to see content spread across many platforms (e.g, webinars as part of a Facebook group), which reinforces the value of being a Joiner.

I'm really pleased to see the significant jump in Spectators. It's a sign that online will only get stronger as a vehicle for connecting with like-minded souls.

Blake Cahill

Glad this new data is out and very excited at the changes over last year. I mentioned your report on my blog. Great to see you yesterday in Cambridge.


Blake Cahill


Uh, time out from the reindeer games.

"It will soon be no more remarkable that your grandmother reads a blog than that she reads email. Social content is going mainstream."

Ok, but if she doesn't know a blog from a toaster and never contributes comments to posts, how is that remotely social? It's not social. It's just like reading a Web site 10 years ago: She's on the receiving end of one-way communication authored by someone else. Nothing social about that, sweetiecakes.

And I'm sorry, but there's nothing "social" about subscribing to an RSS feed, or listening to an audio file, or watching online video. It's a PASSIVE experience for the user. You can't talk back to a podcast or a video. You can't send stories "backwards" on an RSS feed. You could download audio and video from Web sites 10 years ago. Sure, it was more cumbersome a process, but was that social technology? No!

I will concede that there are more opportunities for people to create content on the Internet, and more people are taking advantage of that. But overall, I think you're whole premise of this post is flawed.

Ted Shelton

Hey Josh! Would be great to get a post on the differences between the US and Europe

Richard Pedersen

Do you have a combined data/chart that shows the ladder and demographics such as age at each level?


I'm wondering whether the scores on the Social Technographics differ for digital natives and immigrants. And how these scores will evolve with natives growing older. Will they stick to new media or fall back to traditional media?

Juan Suarez

Good taxonomy. I believe in a more dynamic environment, but giving some references is good for people to start getting a feel of what can be done.

I also believe that there are some "activators" that do not reach the level of creators, but use social tools to engage others in activities (voting, attending, participating...)

Rich Ullman

I'm sure Josh doesn't need me to defend his POV, but I'll do it because having someone else do it proves his point.
Sure... just reading blogs and RSS is not TOTALLY social, but it does reflect the migration of audiences away from a pure broadcast model. The primary difference in blogs, RSS, and most video is in the ablity to see and read the comments. Sure, you're still on the receiving end of the communication, but now its coming from more than one, and potentially many different people (you and me included). That's what changes an opinion piece to a conversation, something multi-faceted. If you read that blog regularly, you'll see the community that springs up around it. For Granny, it's the difference between going to a party and staying home. She doesn't have to be the life of the party, but merely being there makes her a little more social. And sooner or later, she'll say something. :)

Andrea Baker

It is just me or does anyone else feel this data is flawed? The notes on the graphs show the survey was conducted online. There are many Americans still without computer access or email, or just don't even care to participate in web aside from email.

I can't provide numbers to disprove these results are not correct, but conducting the survey online skews the results.

Josh Bernoff

@andrea About 80% of North Americans are online. Our survey is a representative sample of those folks and does not purport to be anything else.

If you want this to be about everybody including those offline, just cut the numbers all back by 20%.


The groundswell is changing the political scenario in India.
Today for the first time in Mumbai more than 100000 young people gathered to protest the Government's inability to provide security to its citizens post the Mumbai Terrorists attack last week.

No political group/organization had called for this huge gathering. The reports on Indian Media said that the politicians/the media and everyone was surprised that there was such a response to a call on the Internet.

The groundswell has the capability to even challenge governments!

Steve Kilroy

I enjoyed both the data, conclusions and Marion's challenging post. My Grandma is 82, regularly accesses Facebook and often posts.
She may not be unique but she is certainly rare in that universe. I do not offer her as proof or otherwise but I do offer my perspective that to ignore the wave of change is King Canute like.
There is a surge, feels powerful and is challenging existing structures and heirarchies.


I just finished using your social technographics profile tool on your website.
It seems there is a big difference between Canadian and US participation in social technologies. The percentages are almost double in the US compared to Canada especially in the creators; critics; collectors and spectators profiles.
What would account for such large differences?


Stefano Maggi

POST, it's a wonderful method, I like it a lot. But I think it should consider "Space" as a variable, too (the consumer's time and attention is limited and you need to consider this). Here's what I mean http://stefanomaggi.blogspot.com/2009/01/people-objectives-strategy-technology.html

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