One Rung Up??

Ever since I first laid eyes on it, I liked the Forrester “Social Technographics Ladder”, which seeks to depict levels of involvement in social media by people according to usage patterns. The higher up the ladder, obviously, the greater the level of engagement.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was one rung short of a full ladder. I believe there is a higher-level role, an influencer/organizer/builder, who not only does pretty much everything on all the other rungs, but performs some very significant leadership functions using social media. This is different from the “Collector”, who is operating more on a personal level, and not seeking to build higher-level structure.

Here’s the concept – I’ve simply taken the Forrester graphic and added a rung. What do you think? Valid? Helpful? Just plain wrong? Feel free to discuss in the comments (and see the Update below this graphic – this thing is evolving rapidly!)


(original graphic copyright Forrester Research, Inc.)

Update: based on the back-and forth in the commentary, I’ve thrown together a drawing (please excuse the awful graphics – there’s a reason I’m not a designer!) that reflects a more behavior-based approach to the above, a different spin on stratifying the on-line world, and a consideration of progression/”hierarchy” :

networkparticipationmapswIf you think of on-line web networks as Content (blogs, pics, etc.), Commentary (commenting, rating, tagging), and Community (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), then you see that people can engage in one or multiple behaviors in these different strata. Most people start as Consumers, and the easiest point of entry as a Contributor is to join an established network. Not everyone will feel that they have something to contribute as a creator of content, but it can progress to that as comfort level and confidence increase. Those who have the capacity and drive to be Consolidators (think community builders, event organizers, authors, curators, app creators – people like Chris Brogan, Ann Handley, Shannon Whitley, Brian Solis, Liz Strauss, the Twitter team, etc.) are those who seek to pull together disparate people and resources and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

3cpiessmThe only difficulty here is that a diagram like the one above, even if more accurate, doesn’t have the same cachet as a ladder analogy! So, let’s put away the ladder and think about…Pies. You’ve been invited to be part of a townwide pie baking/eating/judging festival. You can participate, at no charge, in any activities you’d like – you can just come and eat, or merely observe others; you can serve as a judge and rate pies; you can create your own pies and enter them; you can join the pie-baking club/network; or you can be part of the organizing committee. Any or all of the above. The deeper in you go, the more you learn, the better your recipes get, the more fellow pie-bakers you meet.

On-line, we’re all observing, partaking, creating, rating, joining up, and organizing. And every action and role is good. Especially when it involves banana or coconut cream pies. Just sayin’…

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

27 Responses to One Rung Up??

  1. John Fisher says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of classifying things like Social Media (“Social Technographies” is a bit over the top), but I don’t see this as a particularly useful diagram. I’m not convinced there is a progression or evolution of participation in social media. So if I am a Collector and I post on someone else’s blog, am I elevated to Critic? I see this more as types of participation rather than types of participants and think that at the same time a person could fit into a lot of these categories.
    I definitely like the addition of Organizers, and there is also another categories of Predators or maybe Pushers, those who use social media exclusively to sell their wares. Those are the people who get on Twitter only to let other people know about their business opportunities. Maybe they could be called Flashes in the Pan since they don’t seem to last long. Dabblers could be another category.
    Interesting thought provoker, but I just don’t see the evolution aspect of using a ladder.

  2. John Mack says:

    Good rung. Now how does it help whom understand what?

  3. Xavier says:

    This is brilliant. I like the extra rung. Creators most of the time are organizers (but not necessarily) and organizers do not have to be creators…(i.e retweets…). I believe this is the very reason why social networks are so popular. We are choosing who we trust (our experts or filters) to get the info we want or need and organizers by aggregating the info for us have a key role but contrary to a newspaper type role, we choose what we get and who the info comes from…

  4. JAT says:

    Interesting addition, but I am not certain it belongs at the top.

    In fact, I’d slot it between Creators and Critics as it does not seem to be a requirement that Organizers generate original content. You could even argue that you are more properly describing a piece of Organizing software than an online consumer, but then that gets VERY interesting, does it not?

    Maybe what we need is not a static ladder but a Mobius strip or even double-helix to more completely model complex online interactions.

    In any event, it is all worth thinking about. Thanks.


  5. Xavier Petit says:

    I’ll add that in terms of marketing, the differentiation is significant, as we should target someone who create and distribute content (hence more control on what the content is) differently than those who only redistribute content….

  6. @john – I agree that people, as they get more involved, will tend to occupy multiple “categories” – my guess is that it’s pretty much assumed (though I must admit, I’m pretty weak on the whole “tagging” thing…!). As for the Predators:
    @xavier Roughly thinking, those who take on a role of Organizer tend to be more big-picture people, who can discern or create patterns and add value by adding structure. They’re not “better” than anyone else; just approach challenges from a different viewpoint. And, of course, this holds true in all endeavors, not just social media – it’s a way of thinking and approaching life.
    @JAT – you bring up a valid perspective – although, on the credibility side, I’d assume that most Organizers also operate on the other rungs, technically, it’s not an absolute requirement. Good thought.

  7. Steve

    I love that you’ve taken this to the next level, literally. John Fisher, and everyone else, I think some of the confusion is around understanding the rungs.

    I think there’s a bit of confusion about the rungs, it’s important to know that this is about behaviors.

    A single person can be on multiple rungs, (except for inactive)

    I am a creator (blogger) critic (commenter) joiner (on Facebook) and spectator (read blogs), so these are actually *Behaviors* not roles.

    So now that we have that cleared up, we should talk about organizers. Yes, there is that individual that can do that, but they’d likely be using a variety of the behaviors the ladder demonstrates.

    But we could also have a technographics ladder to show not only organizers, but also followers, who would likely be critics and joiners and spectators.

    So in summary, an organizer is a good idea of thinking about it, but I’m not sure it belongs on the ladder.

    Keep em coming, this is interesting.

  8. @jeremiah – the confusion, I think, stems for the use of “role” words inside the ladder, and “behavior” words in the bubbles outside. Might be cleaner to make it “Collects” “Creates” “Joins” so that the focus is entirely on behavior patterns rather than labels. Human tendency is to adopt labels and have difficulty seeing oneself as occupying multiple “roles” – also a tendency to create hierarchies of value.

    Also, from an analogy perspective, when we use a ladder, we occupy one rung at a time. The analogy militates against the concept somewhat.

    Easier to say that one engages in activities/behaviors that may or may not seem to be in a hierarchy (also addresses @JAT input above).

  9. Thanks for the feedback, that’s a good suggestion.

  10. OK, new graphic added that helps visualize the concepts we’ve been discussing, without the ladder.

  11. John Fisher says:

    Great discussion, and I love the lower rung Steve. That make sense from an evolutionary perspective! I understand and agree with the behavior patterns, but as you said Steve, a ladder implies progression. Hate to go toward the circles, but aybe something like live plasma would be a more interesting model ( and would show not only multiple behaviors but also influences.
    Fun discussion for a Saturday morning, thanks.

  12. If we are trying to depict “levels of involvement in social media,” then I think the ladder model has several flaws. I could be a highly involved Spectator, for example, and a minimally involved Creator. I like your new graphic.

    I would also probably combine the “Critic” and “Collector” roles into a “Participant” role. “RSS Use” should be in the Spectator box.

    The Predator role is an interesting addition. The original comment was aimed at spammeisters, but there is also an entire class of “Trolls” who participate in social media for the purposes of derailing it (ironically, further supporting its use).

  13. OK, just updated and expanded my terrible looking graphic to add a new set of labels (Consumer/Contributor/Consolidator) that may help show both progression and “hierarchy”. It should be assumed that not everyone will care to move all the way up to Organizing behaviors/Consolidator roles, and that’s just fine.

  14. Rosa Say says:

    When you mention ‘behaviors’ my thoughts instantly go to the personal values which drive those behaviors, and it gets the mental gymnastics going for me on this Saturday morning! I’ve conventionally thought of the social media progression as one of digital learning (thus a ladder suits), but so true that values/behaviors come into play when you make your decisions about the engagement you’ll keep as a new habit versus dabbling and experimenting, or in making decisions about the community/social network that you will now associate with – and be associated with in the possible degrees of separation.

    You trigger a great discussion Steve. I think the ladder is still helpful if we keep it simple, and ask ourselves “What am I doing? What are my own intentions?” first, and then consider others in a second evolution of thought… perhaps with your new diagram? Both are useful.

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  16. OK, another update added – the Pie analogy!

  17. mack collier says:

    Steve there’s something else happening here. You have hit on why I refer to my blog as being ‘co-created content’ between my readers and myself. You have taken something that Forrester created, and have expanded/added to it to create something that’s potentially more valuable than the original idea. Even if your addition ‘doesn’t fit’, you’ve still challenged us (especially Jeremiah) to look at the overall idea and see if it all fits.

    Great job.

  18. Jane Bozarth says:

    I like this a lot, you geek 🙂 . The word that keeps occurring to me rather than “organizer”, though, is “catalyst”. One who sparks/drives. What do you think. Someday would also like to explore proportions. The “ladder” assumes all the rungs are equally spaced, but we know there are a lot more spectators than organizers.

    Nicely done!


  19. @mack – you’re so right.
    @jane – I did struggle a good bit with the word “organize/organizer” Catalyst has real merit. Hmmm…

  20. John Fisher says:

    The new graphic is a much better way to depict the various components than the ladder. This allows for progression, and also shows the various ways people can interact. I think Organize is a good way to describe the behavior rather than trying to make a verb out of Catalyst :).

  21. Jenifer Olson says:

    I’m not loving any of the ideas so far for most of the same reasons previously mentioned.

    Thinking maybe the solution is interactive (unfortunately not, however there may be an idea here).

    Also thinking about clouds and how cloud computing encompasses any number of applications. Perhaps a little cloud-to-cloud lightning is in order. 🙂

    I’ll keep thinking…

  22. Mike P says:

    I may be off here, but in looking at the ladder, I like the additional rung – at the same time, should it not be at the bottom of the ladder? Without the organizers, you simple have the tools. Not all tools are created equally, at the same time, a tool is just that. Communities have to be built around a strong foundation, and having the organizer at the base seems to be ideal to me. It is upon that which a strong community is built and thrives. Without organization and proper management, a community will fail.

    I do like the pie analogy and can easily relate to the organizer role.

    If you are going to a contest (and are a cook), you are not “baking in your kitchen”, but rather a new kitchen that you are not familiar with. The organizer then informs the participants how the kitchen works, and provides an overview of where everything is. That is essential for the baker to better understand the logistics of the area, and to make the award winning pie.

    Maybe I am reaching too far here.

    Mike P / @nhscooch

  23. I’d visualise it more as a 3D venn diagram myself.

    Cluster the passive activities (reading, listening, watching, visiting), the participative ones (commenting, voting etc), the active ones (eg publishing, uploading) and the directive ones (aggregating, connecting, building communities). You could then categorise the areas of overlap as well as the core.

    If you wanted to visualise it in relation to specific social media types, you could create levels for each of them, and extend the venn circles into a sphere to overlap the relevant levels.


  24. Josh Bernoff says:

    Thanks for riffing off our idea.

    I think your take is interesting. One of the reasons we did our ladder the way we did, though, is that it’s simple, comprehensive, and we can test it in surveys. This allows us to benchmark just about every group.

    I’m not sure what we could ask to see if people were in that top rung, of if there enough of them to matter in a survey. I would recommend that marketers find these people, as individuals, and reach out to them. The ladder is about masses, your organizers are more about individuals.

    So, basically, my take is, interesting idea, but I’m not ready to add a rung to the ladder for it.

  25. Ken Burbary says:

    This post generated great discussion, challenged existing ideas, and the consensus seems to be that while an interesting label, organizer is best handled outside the ladder, and treated on an individual case by case basis.

    One additional observation/suggestion to think about re: the ladder is that while it categorizes a person into groups based on behavior, it lacks the dimension of severity, or frequency.

    A person can be a weak creator, shares a few links or stories on Facebook once or twice a month, or a strong creator that actively creates content and shares it through a variety of ways, very frequently. Being able to understand the varying degrees of severity or influence among these creators, based on the strength of their “creator” category seems important, if trying to decide who to focus your relationship targeting on.

    Perhaps this is also best handled with a different analysis tool, not the ladder, or on a individual case by case basis.

    @jbernoff @jowyang, has this added dimension entered any of your conversations on the Ladder? If so, what is your POV on it?

  26. Charlene Li says:

    Sorry I’m so late to the discussion here. I’ve been rethinking the ladder (which is about two years old now!) and agree that there is another way that people participate that isn’t captured. I tend to call it a “Curator” role, which is essentially in the same vein as what you call an Organizer or Consolidator with one essential difference — the Curator is asked to exercise *judgment*. If the audience/community agrees with the Curator’s judgment/taste/organization, then the Curator takes on a more prominent role in the organization.

    To that end, it doesn’t really fit in the ladder (agreed with Josh) because the ladder is a way to categorize behavior and participation in general.

    Hang tight, a new way to think about this space will be forthcoming soon.

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