When it comes to viral marketing and social media, there's often talk of a group of people known as "key influencers." These are the people that serve as a sort of ambassador to the people online when it comes to marketing campaigns. What's often overlooked though, is an understanding of the sub-groups of people within the overall key influencer category.

Earlier this week, I mentioned the "Search Technographics®" report put together by Charlene Li at Forrester Research. In that post, I mentioned that reviews are one of the most popular forms of consumer generated/social media online. Today, I want to address what Charlene and her team have dubbed the "Social Technographic ladder."

According to the Forrester report, there are six levels of increasing participation in social technology. The top three rungs are made up of those who create or aggregate the content that feeds the cycle and it's those three areas that I'm going to devote this post to.


The highest step on the rung is devoted to those that create the highest quality original content. These users are dubbed "Creators" and are responsible for publishing the content found on blogs, peer generated video sites like YouTube and maintain web pages. Just 13% of the online population fall into the "creators" category and they are fairly evenly split between men and women.

I'd argue that this limits the scope of creators to too narrow of a field. I'd also include the people that upload photos to sites like Flickr, people that participate heavily in online discussion forums and that otherwise create new and original content to the Internet.

Generally, when it comes to a social media marketing, it's the creators that you most want to build relationships with. These are the thought leaders that are breaking new stories, sparking blog conversation and otherwise acting as the seed planters for viral and social media campaigns.


The next step down on the rung are those that are creating new content but that are primarily adding that content to existing conversation. This includes things like commenting on blogs and posting reviews on sites like Amazon.com. This group represents about 19% of Internet users, though it's important to note that 40% of critics are ALSO creators.

One thing to remember about critics is that while they are contributing to the conversation and adding a new voice, they are rarely the starting point of the conversation. Their comments are triggered by the work of creators and their reach is limited by that.

Critics can be a vital resource when it comes to marketing, if you approach them in the right environment. For instance, a positive review of your hotel or restaurant on a site like Yahoo Local or TripAdvisor falls under the category of "critic" but can have a much stronger impact on your business than a blog post authored by a "creator."


A new and growing group on the social technographic ladder is that of "collectors." These Internet users are the folks that are saving URLS to social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us or that use RSS feeds on services like Bloglines. You might think of collectors as the librarians of the content created by creators and critics. This group represents just 15% of Internet users and interestingly, skews about 40/60 female to male.

Also interesting? Collectors have higher average income levels than creators and critics. All three groups are equally likely to tell a friend about a product that they find to be interesting.

What that tells us is that collectors are quite often the folks doing the real work of spreading the viral and social media message. While it's true that these messages have to start with key influencers, (creators) it's the collectors that are the ones doing the distribution.

Putting It All Together

In another article I'll take a look at the bottom three rungs on the ladder, but for now, it's important to consider these three groups and how you might best approach them in your dialogue with customers. Figuring out which group is the best target for a campaign and how each group needs to be approached can go a long way toward helping make sure that your next social media or viral marketing campaign is a hit.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

May 1, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Creators, Critics and Collectors - Creating Social Content