People in smaller online communities organized around narrowly focused topics are more active and engaged than people in larger, broadly focused online communities according to a study by Communispace that looked at 26,539 members of 66 private online communities.
The difference in participation between small, topically-specific sites and large, generic sites was startling. In private, facilitated communities 86% of the people participated by posting comments, initiating dialogs, participating in chats, sharing content, or brainstorming ideas while just 14% merely observed, or “lurked.”
By contrast, on public social networking sites this ratio was more than reversed. In a typical online forum just 1% participated while 99% lurk. (I couldn’t help noticing that the 1% participation rate in generic public sites resembles the typical response rate for so much mass marketing.) The Communispace research concluded by saying that, in general, “the stronger the social glue—or common interests and passions among members—the greater the participation.”
Marketers alive today were raised under a mass marketing paradigm
and as a result most try to reach as many people as efficiently as
possible. They mistook the last century's most common option for the ideal solution. It’s no wonder then,
that when the Internet came along mass marketers assumed it was a mass
marketing tool. They simply shift their
old tactics (reach as many folks as possible) to this new electronic arena. Consequently, those same marketers salivate
over Myspace or FaceBook because of the number of users but miss the targeting opportunities they afford. But, as this study affirms, advertising on general interest sites of
this type brings you no closer to reaching the right audience for your product than
does advertising on the Internet in general. Would you advertise in China simply because it is the most populous
Oh, it’s great if awareness is the goal, but would you really be content if people knew about your product or service but took no further action? Would you be satisfied to have 99% of your prospects simply “lurk?” How long would you stay in business?
As marketing people we want people to take actions. We want them to engage and quite often that engagement needs to include exchanging their money for our stuff. That kind of engagement requires more than general interest (I always thought the term “general interest” was any oxymoron anyway.)
Mass marketing may have been the best choice for the last century because it optimized societal conditions and technology to get the best possible results. But even then I think it was an inferior compromise. We settled for mass marketing because precisely focused direct communications were not yet possible. Today, however, they are and so there is no excuse for communicating to large generic audiences when small, tightly focused groups can be identified and reached using the Internet. The value of MySpace is not reaching lots of eyeballs, but what each person's page reveals about their personal passions and interests. Follow those clues to the affiliation networks where they gather with similar others.
Purchase is a kind of participation. Therefore, if you want people to buy you must find those that participate and, according to this study, they are located in intimate communities formed around specific topics related to people’s passions and interests (can you say The Driest Tinder?) not in big generic pools of people.
Stop following the crowd and start following people’s passions. They will lead you to the group that’s ready to engage with your organization. Spread the fire. GS