80 Percent of Visitors Just Lurk

heavenWith all the attention devoted to social media and online publishing activity shifting to blogs and user-generated content, I found inspiration in a Forrester analyst review of a new Gartner report called “generation virtual.” The question driving the report was how to go viral. This study says it is more useful to look at audience behavior and plan around what you learn.

The idea is once you can map your audience to their known online activities you can plan to offer the content they crave to do what they love to do.

Research Profiles What We Do Online

Both Forrester and Gartner are diving into social media segmentation from the framework of participation in online activities.

The Forrester analyst pointed out their company’s participation index, which they call a technographic profile, is another take on segmentation. If you put in the age, profile and gender of your target audience it will report what percentage of your audience falls into their six categories of participation:

  1. creators
  2. critics
  3. collectors
  4. joiners
  5. spectators
  6. in-actives

The analysts at Gartner have another segmentation take, also looking at participation models, with fewer categories:

  • only 3 to 10 percent create content
  • the same number (3 to 10 percent) comment on content
  • a higher number (10 to 20 percent) will do less time intensive work (surveys, ratings, forward to friend, ask question) that helps cyberspace hum and
  • 80 percent or more just lurk

What It Means to Me…

I think the emerging power of the web is less about maintaining a static page for online publishing and more about a means of distributing your content for others to publish.  When your aim is to go viral, the insight here is you need an online distribution platform more than you need a blog.

At an Internet Roundtable event, held in July 2008 Media Consortium Director Tracy Van Slyke said that a good state blog is lucky to get 1000 to 3000 unique visitors a day. To drive traffic they focus on active distribution strategies to spread the latest news:

  • providing widgets for top stories
  • doing ladder-up stories that will catch fire with DIGG
  • doing twitter feeds for the chattering class and
  • using Facebook networks to post activity updates

If you are a web manager with limited time and staff resources, how do you organize for success? Starting a new blog or website is the wrong answer. The Media Consortium playbook may offer more value. The old rules of putting all the attention on maintaining content and drawing users into your own site are falling fast. Today, the smart money seems is on enabling re-publishing and think more about web distribution and less about user-generated content.

In the summer of 2008 CNN announced their videos could now be embedded in anyone’s Web site, joining many other organizations that already offer the same service.

The next step is to reorganize staff resources and goals to match this environment. Before, the standard practice was to flack the press release to the media and post it online and consider it a day. The emerging standard is to cultivate relationships with like-minded distribution networks which need timely and relevant content for their audience. Then format your press release for this target audience not the narrow credentialed media crowd. The concept of a social media press release format has gained wide traction. When you release your content into this universe with feeds, ladder-up networks and content embeds.

If most people are lurking, that’s your audience. Keep the comment fields open, offer ratings and surveys if you can. But remember: distribution is where it’s at.