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January 19, 2010

Social Technographics: Conversationalists get onto the ladder

by Josh Bernoff

Two and a half years ago, Charlene Li and I introduced Social Technographics, a way to analyze your market's social technology behavior. Social Technographics was carefully constructed, not as a segmentation, but as a profile (that is, the groups overlap). That's because the actual data told me that people participate in multiple behaviors, and not everyone at a higher level on the ladder actually does everything in the lower rungs.

Well, it worked. Despite the rapid pace of technology adoption, the rungs on the ladder have shown steady growth, with some (like Joiners) growing faster than others (like Creators). We have analyzed data for 13 countries, for business buyers, and even for voters. My colleagues and I have done profiles for over a hundred clients, profiling Walmart shoppers, non-profit donors, and doctors.

In all that time, only one thing has been bugging me: there was no place for Twitter.

We fixed that today.

Social Techno Ladder Mark 2

As you can see from the graphic, we added a new rung, "Conversationalists". Conversationalists reflects two changes. First, it includes not just Twitter members, but also people who update social network status to converse (since this activity in Facebook is actually more prevalent than tweeting). And second, we include only people who update at least weekly, since anything less than this isn't much of a conversation.

Conversationalists intrigue me. They're 56% female, more than any other group in the ladder. While they're among the youngest of the groups, 70% are still 30 and up.

The data from this survey continues the trends from the last two years -- Spectators are maxing out at around 70%, Joiners are still growing rapidly, and Creators are still growing slowly.

As in any social environment, people have found lots of uses for this data, some of which make sense to me, and some which don't. Here are three ways you can use it:

1. Convince your boss this stuff is for real, and that if you haven't jumped on it, you're late.

2. Profile your customer base, and see what they're ready for, before planning a project to reach out to them. (After all, People is the first step in the POST process.)

3. Segment your audience; build different strategies for different segments. (Social is so prevalent now that a single approach for your company is probably too broad.)

How will you use it?

Note: For Forrester clients, full access to the research is available here.


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Robin Grant, We Are Social

Hi Josh

This is great!

Can you tell us when the profile tool will be updated with this data and include conversationalists? And whether that will be just for the US or for all the markets you cover?

Susannah Fox


Thanks for updating the ladder - it's going straight into my handout for a talk I'm giving tomorrow at the Federal HIV/AIDS Web Council. My message, essentially, is that federal agencies can, and should, be the first responders to health questions. Social media can help.

In my own research I've found that 20% of e-patients are at the top of the ladder (they have tagged health content, posted comments, rated/reviewed a doctor or hospital, or shared audio/video related to health) and 59% are more on the Spectator level:

Alastair Duncan

Interesting to see the cross over of behaviours - conversationalists can also be inactives occasionally. Are you planning to do this survey in Europe sometime soon?

Stuart Bruce, Wolfstar

Great update, I've just blogged asking you why Conversationalists are above Critics in the ladder, when being a critic requires more effort?

Josh Bernoff

Thanks for the feedback.

We will likely update the widget, but only after the data comes in from other geographies. Our benchmark surveys moving forward will include the questions we need to collect this data, but collecting data in all geographies under this new regime will take five or six months.

We just wanted to publish this since it came in from a survey in late 2009.

Regarding the placement in the ladder -- the ladder is a guideline. Conversationalists are more active in general, but don't have to put in as much effort. So don't put too much stock in the placement of the rungs.

Robin Grant, We Are Social

Hey Josh

Thanks for your response.

To Stuart's point I'd say that perhaps 'Conversationalists' should be placed above 'Joiners' and below 'Collectors' on the ladder, which would properly reflect their level of engagement.

And while we're raising these sort of issues, I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the 'Collectors' category. Surely you could argue it lumps together three separate behaviours - 'Subscribers', who use RSS (and/or email?) to subscribe to content, 'Organisers', who bookmark and tag content and some 'Critics' who vote on content?

Stefano Maggi

Thanks for updating and always keeping up to evolutions of the social web, Josh.

It sounds quite strange to me and I need to digest this new ladder a little bit: I've always considered who is now defined as "conversationalist" as a "joiner".

I also need to understand how conversationalists can be less than joiners (can a conversationalist not be a joiner?).

I'm sure the report will make everything clear.

Keep up with the great job - I'm looking forward to reading the new book.

Josh Bernoff

@stefano Those who are members of social networks, but don't update their status at least weekly, can be Joiners but not Conversationalists.

That's why the new rung is smaller than the Joiners rung.

D. Matthew Carter

"Spectators are maxing out at around 70%, Joiners are still growing rapidly, and Creators are still growing slowly."

I think this is fascinating. You would expect joiners to start tapering as adoption rates mature, and yet, previously uninvolved segments are discovering the value of participation regularly.

When, I wonder, will we start to see saturation? A report this week suggests we may already be seeing it with Twitter.

Phil Adams

This is big news for us as Forrester subsbscribers and frequent use of Technographics for communication planning. My first thoughts are not sufficiently concise for a comment, so I hope you don't mind me posting a link to this blog post - http://blonde.net/blog/2010/01/20/first-thoughts-on-forresters-conversationalists/

It discusses issues of precision and overlap compared to the existing categories of behaviour.

John Dodds

The fall in inactives is considerable - do you have any thought on how those who were inactive have spread up the ladder? Are these late adopters taking small steps or do they cover the whole range of immersion?

Scott Hoffman

Josh, this is great research. The additional of the Conversationalist activity is very meaningful. I have been noticing an huge uptick in the activity, both on Facebook and Twitter and your research confirms it! Thanks

Julia Kinslow

Hi Josh:

I love this updated information to the Groundswell book. It just so happens I was on the page in the book that talked about this very concept!

My question to you: if I want to profile my customer base, how would I go about it? Could you point me to sources of information that would tell me how to do this type of audit?

Thanks so much! Julia

Molly Flatt


Thanks for the update - I've always found the ladder inspiring and frustrating in equal measure, as most social media labelling exercises are!

To be a semantic nit-picker, I do find the title 'conversationalists' a little confusing. Surely if the main hallmark of people in this category is that they are microbloggers - i.e. that their contributions are brief and real time and synaptic - a title that reflects that would be more apposite.

Updaters? Reactors?

Conversationalists can also be critics and creators...


I think for a novice like me , this segmentation gives new insights into my prospect and target audience base.

Suzanne Moran

Josh, this is great information.

Any data into what is the dominant site for female conversationalists, Twitter or Facebook?

Josh Bernoff

Julia: if you need info on your own market, you could go to the Profile Tool tab here and enter info about them. Or if you want more specifics, just contact us, we have data about nearly every segment imaginable.

Suzanne: the dominant site for conversationalists of any stripe in the US is actually Facebook.

Lisa Diaz

Any idea when the profile tool will include Conversationalists? Great info!

Jordan Willms

+1 for
Conversationalists should be one step up the ladder from Joiners since this is the next natural step, and the one which more people do that Critique or Collect.

Thanks Josh!

Eric Hayward

One could argue the top position in a Social Media universe might be held by "facilitators" vs. "creators."

Joe McCarthy

I'm really glad to see you / Forrester introducing a new category for people who post regular status updates, as I think this will be an important kind of activity to track over time. However, like Molly, I'm not sure "conversationalists" is the best label to use.

I'm also wondering about the difference in your estimates and those in a study on "Twitter and Status Updating" published a few months ago by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/17-Twitter-and-Status-Updating-Fall-2009.aspx). They reported that 19% of U.S. online adults have ever posted or viewed status updates on Twitter or social networking services (like Facebook), which is considerably lower than your estimate that 33% of U.S. online adults post updates weekly (which does not include those who only view updates ... or those who post less frequently). Any ideas on why these estimates differ?

Nancy White

It is amazing that as new technologies are introduced, we have to rethink what we mean by participation. I'm nodding in agreement with Molly and Joe's comments. I don't see posting updates as conversation per se. I think it is a new form of participation on its own. When people start interacting around updates, it can become a conversation. But I'm a wee bit worried here about the distinction and the trivialization of conversation which is hugely important in human interaction.

I understand the value of clumping and the danger of too many categories, but I think updates are a new form of communication unto themselves.

Josh Bernoff

Joe: I've answered your comment on your blog. Basically, looking at the wording that Pew uses and the one that we use, I think people reading them interpreted their question differently.

Molly, we thought hard about the issue you have raised. We decided that not including social network updates wasn't appropriate since many people use them like Twitter (and Facebook has added feature to support this). We actually asked questions about "conversing" through Facebook but the results indicated that the question confused the readers. Frequent status updating was the simplest and most straightforward behavior and in the end we decided weekly updaters are pretty conversational.

Our data clients are welcome to use their own measurements (they can easily separate Twitter from social networks because we asked the questions separately) but in the end, we used our best judgment to define the classifications. I think this one will continue to be relevant even if new conversational technologies arise, which is why we did things this way.

Thijs Sprangers

Hi Josh,

Thanks for updating this great dimension in social behaviour! I've used it as a guideline for several years.
I have a question though:

You've explained Twitter is the main reason for you to start investigating this new role.
Why not see Twitter in it's main functions:
1. microblogging (creator use of Twitter)
2. sharing and distributing (collector use of Twitter)
3. updating profiles on different networks (joiner use of twitter)

I hope you can help me figure this out. I would be afraid that any new popular social tool that combines functions would lead to a new role.

thanks! Thijs Sprangers (KREM)

@ Alistair Duncan I am also interested in the European data

Josh Bernoff

Thijs: First, know that this is the first change we've made in 2 1/2 years. It's a big step. We will not create a new rung every time a new technology comes out, I promise.

Second, while Twitter can be used in all these different ways, it's very hard to survey people and find which they are doing. And they typically do all of these once they start with Twitter. That's a new behavior, one we thought was worth tracking.


Glad to see the updated infograph. Curious why the Twitter brand is the only named brand. It stands out glaringly.

Suzanne Hall

I want to include this as a sequenced PowerPoint to a non profit museum association presentation in a week. I tried to download in SlideShow but wasn't allowed. Can you please send to me? Naturally I will give you credit and also link to the handy segmented worksheet which enables projections

Pat Graham

Thanks for the terrific information! I have one question which is about the sample base for the survey-- is it biz tech buyers? or are gen pop public in the sample? Something else? Can you let me know? Much appreciated

Josh Bernoff

@Pat Graham: This is a survey on online consumers.

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