Who’s who online and how to engage them

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Joe Stubbs, junior consultant at Promise Communities, says that brands must understand the dynamics of what drives people’s desire to engage with them online.

First, brands need to understand the different tiers of users that engage online.

At the most basic level, there are users who merely consume content. These users may be regular visitors to news websites or special interest blogs, but they will never comment and engage. They are typically more likely to engage with services online, such as BBC News, MoneySavingExpert, or social networks, than brands per se.

To ignore this collective of ’lurkers’ would be dangerous for any organisation. There is still great merit in the provision of information, and opportunities to share are increasing.

Jackob Neilsen’s Participation Inequality theory suggests that upwards of 90% of internet users fall into this category – an estimated 27 million daily users in the UK. It is this group who will come to see the internet as the 21st century billboard.

At the next stage, ’editors’ contribute to content, but rarely create anything from scratch. This demographic includes people who submit a comment to a newspaper article or a YouTube video, leave a post on a Facebook fan site or rate a book on Amazon. Approximately 3 million daily users fall into this category in the UK.

In our experience, this is where the most value lies in consumer engagement and insight. When encouraged in the right spaces, these intermittent contributors can offer a great deal to organisations.

The ability to engage these editors effectively remains a challenge for brands. Facebook fan pages and YouTube videos may attract high numbers of comments and preferential tags; however, in reality such numerically based insights lack tangibility. Open spaces which bring together large numbers of consumers can offer some insight into the sentiment of the crowd, yet this is likely to be positive due to the nature of affiliation.

Internet super-users represent less than 1% of all users. A generous estimation would place approximately 300,000 UK users in this category. These super users (or creators) are responsible for uploading videos to YouTube or creating and maintaining blogs. It is web users in this demographic who will set up fan sites, or will upload photo or video content of them using a product.

These users are both an asset and a threat to brand presence. On the one hand they present the greatest opportunity for advocacy, whilst on the other they have the potential to inflict serious damage on a brand’s reputation.

What is certain is that these users will talk and engage, and will encourage others to do the same. If brands have cause to develop relationships with these super-users and find a way to make such engagement beneficial, the advocacy output has high brand value. However, any organisation has to appreciate the nature of how and why this small group chooses to engage.

For brands looking to engage consumers online (whether that be super-users for advocacy or using ’editors’ to get insight into the opinions and behaviours of a typical consumer), the online community is often an appropriate solution.

Message boards, voting systems and news feeds offer some scope for engagement but what really drives participation in such communities is personal feedback; from the brand, from other members and from dedicated moderators.

Too often brands provide a space for fans to gather and talk, yet go no further. To harness the wisdom of the crowd it is important to provide purpose and stimulation, otherwise it will almost be a case of build and they won’t come.

Such communities can be costly to build and maintain in house, however, when built and managed properly, they often lead to substantial reductions in research costs and provide greater levels of insight than has previously been possible.

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