Who participates in social media?

An interesting post from Bruce Nussbaum at his blog on BusinessWeek. I am summarzing the main data points below (the data is based on a study by Bill Tancer, an analyst with Hitwise, which measures Web 2.0 audiences):


  • Only a tiny fraction of people using social media actively participate.
  • 0.16 percent of visits to YouTube actually involve people putting a video up on it, according to his online surfing data. All the rest are visits by people watching the videos of that tiny fraction.
  • 0.2% of visits to Flickr are to upload new photos. Again, everyone else is watching.
  • Wikipedia shows much higher active partipation–4.6% of all visits are for editing. But think a moment–that is still a very small fraction of the total number of people using Wikipedia.
  • Visits to Web 2.0 sites constitute 12% of all web activity, according to Tancer, up from 2% two years ago. It’s soaring.

From Bruce’s blog:

So, the question is–who is shaping the conversation? These numbers suggest that only a very, very small number of people actively create content in social media. Nearly everyone watches.

So are we really just reinventing TV, with folks pretty much sitting back passively (like couch potatoes)? Is YouTube just another NBC or Fox TV network?

Could be. These YouTube and Flickr numbers are even worse than the 1% Rule–for every 100 users of social media, only ten actively participate, and only 1 actually creates something. Back in July, 2006, the ratio of creators to consumers on YouTube was 0.5%. Now it is 0.16%. Many more people are drawn to YouTube to watch than to create.

To be honest, the biggest surprise for me in these numbers is the Wikipedia number…4.6% users edit…Wow!!!. I am not sure its fair to use these numbers to discount the 90-9-1 rule of participation in social media. I think some of the specific participation numbers are skewed because of the type of media we are talking about(I think 90-9-1 rule writers had text content in mind)…Video is a lot harder to produce then to watch…same thing for pictures but probably to a lesser extent.

At the end of the day, the lack of participation reflects the lack of incentives to participate. While the ego benefits of creating a popular video are huge, the changes of doing so are fairly minimal and the skills/time required are pretty significant. For the text based context, like comments, social bookmarks or bulletin boards, its hard to prove ones identity and because of that its really hard to establish the benefits of participation. The result…90-9-1 rule.

What do you think?


One thought on “Who participates in social media?

  1. It seems the separation between social media as used for hobbyists and non-professional networks, and social media as used in professional networks is greater than I had thought. From the statistics I’ve gathered for a professional social media network (www.communities.idea.gov.uk), I’m seeing a contribution rate of around 10% (i.e. new content). Bur then again these are small networks of only 50 or so people, as opposed to the 600 million or so that use Youtube. I think it may be a case of comparing apples and oranges when comparing social (hobby) sites vs. social (professional) sites.

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