On Social Media, Most People Don't Want to Be Heard

  |  March 7, 2011   |  Comments

Seven ways to encourage social media contributions.

Say social media to business executives and many think squeaky wheels wreaking havoc on their brands and companies by broadcasting their complaints to the listening public. Contrary to what managers may think, most people aren't actively contributing to the social media ecosphere. While it's true that companies must monitor the environment to understand how the public views their brands and products, most participants are lurkers who take a voyeuristic approach to social media rather than composing a video like Dave Carroll's United Breaks Guitars.

Social Media Participation Ratios

Social media interaction is relatively consistent across platforms.


  • Lurkers. This 90 percent is the great silent majority. They visit social media sites to read or view what others have created and commented on. These visitors are great for marketers since they're spending time on your content.
  • Contributors (or commenters). This 9 percent of your social media visitors engage on social media platforms in a small way. Depending on the platform, they may comment, vote, or fill out a profile.
  • Creators. This is the top 1 percent of social media visitors, the super users that everyone wants. Often your biggest fans, they create original content because they're highly engaged.

According to Joe Cothrel, chief community officer at Lithium, a white label community provider, how the 1 percent of creators and 9 percent of contributors behave depends on the type of social media platform. Here are some specifics:

  • Wikis: 1 percent of visitors create the content and 9 percent of visitors correct and/or refine it.
  • Forums: 1 percent of visitors answer questions and 9 percent of visitors ask questions or start new threads.
  • Enthusiast sites: 1 percent of visitors are discussion leaders.

Jay Hallberg, vice president of marketing at SpiceWorks, a social business network for IT professionals, confirmed they see a similar trend. He advises that while 1 percent of your community may seem small, consider the actual number of creators.

Further, about 1 to 2 percent of inquiries require some form of company action. Often, this involves policing policy violations or answering questions. This rate is consistent with the findings of social media monitoring companies.

7 Ways to Encourage Participant Action

From a marketing perspective, here are seven suggestions to boost participation on social media platforms.

  1. Show them the way. Start with a core set of users who create the initial content so that your site doesn't look deserted. Remember, no one wants to be the first one at a party.
  2. Build a social media tribe. Start with your group of like-minded individuals who support your efforts.
  3. Ask visitors to participate. Use an appropriate call-to-action (CTA) to get visitors to take the next step.
  4. Make it easy to act. Realize that participants may be nervous about their writing. Make contributing effortless and risk-free. Also streamline confirmation that they're a human not a bot.
  5. Remind them. Take your cue from Amazon. Follow up with buyers to encourage them to return to review products.
  6. Recognize contributors. Depending on the social media format, use different methods to thank and spotlight participants. Options include responding to comments, retweeting or thanking others for their tweets, or highlighting individuals within your forum.
  7. Reward participants. Offer an incentive. These can take a variety of formats such as virtual gifts or coupons for future purchase.

6 Metrics to Track the Impact of Social Media Participation

To measure the impact of social media participation on your business, here are six metrics to track.

  1. Visitors. This shows how people visited your social media site/platform.
  2. Page views. This indicates the community's growth. Check which content is being viewed and what's most popular. Are there trends based on day or daypart?
  3. Comments or questions. How many comments and/or questions are there? How many people ask them? Another indicator can be registrations since this provides insights regarding the number of people who post and comment because registration is often required for these actions. Track how this evolves over time.
  4. Content created. How much content is created? Do readers like certain creators more than others? Are there any specific trends that you see?
  5. Issues surfaced. Monitor your firm's responses. Is there a trend to the comments or content? Are there issues in your company or outside of your firm causing these questions to arise?
  6. Branding. How has social media participation had an impact on your brands? Often this is measured in terms of standard metrics like improved brand sentiment and/or intent to purchase.

While a few super users can give the illusion that most social media participants actively create content 24/7, the reality is that these creators account for 1 percent of visitors. From a marketing perspective, consider the 1 to 2 percent of interactions that require your company to take proactive action since these can be an early indicator that you have an issue. To this end, have strong brand and company social media monitoring in place to ensure that you're on top of any issues that may arise.

In terms of the number of participants and types of interactions, what has your firm's experience been? Please share your views in the comments section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital, AccuWeather.com, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.

Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.

Her blog, HeidiCohen.com, was nominated as a finalist for Top Social Media Blog of 2012 by Social Media Examiner.

Heidi is also a popular speaker on current industry topics.

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