Commentary

Why are Social Behaviors Plateauing?

Since 2007, Forrester has tracked the growth of social behaviors. For years we've seen increases in more complex social behaviors such as "Creators" -- those who generate social content such as YouTube videos and blog posts. But for the first time, we're seeing a change in the growth trend. The latest Forrester 2010 Global Social Technographics report demonstrates that many social behaviors have reached a plateau. Why, and what does this mean to marketers?

There is not a single answer to those questions. The reasons span things as complex as human nature and as simple as Web site usability. For example, is it sensible to believe that Creator behavior will ever be universal? Not every person has a burning need to be a reporter, an industry expert, a videographer, a musician, a thought leader, an editor or a broadcaster. The fact that over 1 in 5 online adults in the U.S. are exhibiting Creator behavior is a testament to how social technologies have lowered the bar, since these tools have allowed more people to create and distribute their ideas, opinions and creations than was ever possible in the past.

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Human nature changes gradually, so further growth in Creator behavior will come much more slowly than in the past. This will cause marketers and those who produce social tools to focus more on how social content is consumed rather than how it is produced. In fact, there is already evidence of this trend-look at Twitter's new web interface, which doesn't change how people tweet but instead makes it significantly easier to consume others' tweets.

There is one behavior that is not plateauing, nor is it likely to stop growing for some time: Joiners. These are people who maintain a social networking profile. While growth in other behaviors have stagnated, Joiners grew again from 2009 to 2010. As social media has become a major communication channel for many people, it becomes hard to avoid for others. Even those with no intent to share continue to join so they can keep in touch with friends, children and grandchildren. Today, avoiding social networks is about as easy to do as avoiding email-it's possible, but it comes at a substantial cost in terms of relationships and knowledge.

The fact Joiners continue to grow means marketers must continue to focus their attention and budgets on social networks in 2011. More people will spend more time and get more information through social networks, and where consumer time and attention goes, so should marketer investment.

Perhaps in 2011 we'll see Creators again increase, but this will depend less on how humans change and more on how companies, brands and social technologies do.

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