Social media marketing pricing for social media users

Lurkers and Posters Online community participants are commonly divided by existing research into two groups: posters, who actively parti...

Lurkers and Posters

Online community participants are commonly divided by existing research into two groups: posters, who actively participate in the community, and lurkers, who read content but never post.

Despite the growing importance of UGC, the academic literature shows that a large part of social media users are lurkers: they are not able or motivated to create and share their experiences online. In fact, a study of Yoo and Gretzel (2012) on online travelers found that only 20 % of them have ever posted contents online. A report of Vision Critical (2013) found that 64 % of Facebook users are lurkers because they post less than 5 times per week (26 % of them have posted less than 10 times in the past year).

Nonnecke and Preece (2003) define lurkers as “anyone who reads but seldom if ever publicly contributes to an online group”. The action of lurking is possible in public newsgroups and communities, where a formal registration is not required and anyone can access to the content, as well as on social networks, where people can create a profile and then look at online content of friends or colleagues without interacting or creating.

Research shows that it is hard to find a shared definition of lurkers according to the frequency of activity on the community. They have been classified as passive or active but differently according to various approaches. Bowes (2002) defines passive lurkers as people who only read but never participate, and active lurkers as people who at first read and then respond privately to messages posted. Another approach is that of Walker et al. (2010) who classify lurkers into passive and active
considering the frequency of activity on the community (how many times people logged into on a certain online community).

Leshed (2005) proposed a model that represents online community behaviors according to two dimensions: publicity represents the degree of exposure in a participant’s activity (posting vs. reading), and intensity identifies the frequency of participants’ activities using a time measurement (frequent vs. rare). On the basis of this model, we suppose that newcomers of online communities at first will lurk in a private environment. Hereafter, they could decide to increase the intensity of participation, the degree of exposure, or both the dimensions at the same time.

Research on the topic found that a minority of lurkers are completely passive, intending to lurk from the outset (Nonnecke et al. 2004). Therefore, this attitude is determined generally by other reasons that can be grouped into four categories (Nonnecke and Preece 2001). First, it can depend on the member’s personal character: the user could be shy or prefer to remain anonymous for privacy or safety reasons. Sometimes the barriers for posting depend on users’ grade of expertise or on the relationship that occurs with the social group: he could be novice to the virtual group and therefore feel a lack of expertise to respond. Otherwise users think of not having something to say or find the feedback already in responses given to others. Second, reasons for lurking could depend on the characteristics of the community: among others, a community environment of poor quality (content) or hard to use (usability), delay in responses, aggressive behavior toward newcomers, or simply a lack of a direct request to post, can disincentive people to participate. Third, the propensity to lurk can change during the membership stages: at first users could dedicate some time to learn about the group before starting to post25 or, if they understand that the community is not interesting for them, before leaving the community. Fourth, external constraints could influence users: for example, to have not enough time or specific work conditions.

Among all these possible reasons, a study of Nonnecke et al. (2004) pointed out that main explanations for lurking are connected with personal features and the membership stage. In fact, top five reasons identified are (Preece et al. 2004): I prefer just to read/for me it is enough (53.9 %), I’m still learning about the group (29.7 %), I’m shy about posting (28.3 %), and I’ve nothing to offer (22.8 %). Several motivations were also connected to the ability of the group to create the prerequisites for participating. In fact, in the ranking, we find also an item referred to the lack of requirement to post by the group (21.5 %). Other items, in lower positions of the ranking, are instead connected with the way the community is managed. This means that maybe a better management of the group could offer more opportunities to encourage lurkers to participate. Finally, a study of Gretzel et al. (2007) conducted in the travel sector found that time constraints, lack of interest, and lack of confidence are the main barriers in creation of UGC.  

In general, lurkers have mainly a lesser sense of community in comparison with posters (79.2 vs 26.3%); they think to be able to satisfy their needs without directly participating in the community. As a result, they express a lower level of satisfaction compared with posters (Nonnecke et al. 2004). The study of Yoo and Gretzel (2012) pointed out that there is no difference between lurkers and posters in the travel sector in terms of gender, education level, and income. On the contrary, social creators are generally younger than lurkers, they are more likely single and employed full-time (Yoo and Gretzel 2012).26 However, research findings on the topic are sometimes contradictory due to pattern of use differences according to the type of social media considered.

Due to the high number and variety of existing social media, users can play different roles at the same time: they can be both lurkers and posters according to the specific social medium. Furthermore, regardless the type of social media, the user may have a diverse level of engagement with the company, the brand, and/or the product. In practice, social media users can be lurkers on Linkedin and posters on Facebook, or lurkers on a brand community and posters on another.

Given that only a small part of lurkers have no intention to participate in the community from the outset, and that sometimes other barriers determine a lack of interaction, companies could encourage lurkers to participate in their online communities acting on intensity and publicity. On the one hand, firms could try to increase the frequency of participants’ activities in the community (for example, publishing engaging posts that create interest). On the other hand, companies could attempt to enhance users’ degree of exposure from private to public (for example, asking people to publish the best photo of their holidays). Corporate actions aimed at improving the users’ state from lurkers to posters could help overcoming the aforementioned barriers and fears (Bishop 2011) in order to increase users’ engagement, enhance positive word-of-mouth, and possibly influence sales. Furthermore, active and exposed community members provide useful information about interests, preferences, and demographics that the company can use to improve and refine market segmentation. 

Besides, users’ pattern of use of online communities will develop according to the ability of the company to create opportunities of interaction and engagement and sense of belonging to the community.

Social Shoppers

The previous paragraph has identified different roles of social media users on the basis of the degree of exposure and frequency of participants’ activity. Another possible dimension of analysis of social media users is the propensity to buy. Earlier in this post, we have considered social media influence on consumers’ behavior and decision making (including purchase decisions). Therefore, social media users are often shoppers. But how can we define a social media shopper? A possible approach is to consider, sensu stricto, a social media user as a shopper when the purchase is completed through the social media application (i.e., the corporate Facebook page of a brand). For example, a recent study of PwC (2013) follows this approach and reveals that just 12 % of social media users have purchased
an item through social media. Major position in the academic literature considers a social shopper any social media user influenced by the information learned or by the interactions activated on social media who then purchase the product on social media, on another website, or offline in a physical store (sensu latu) (Liang et al. 2011; Yadav et al. 2013 Zhou et al. 2013).

In the present analysis, we share this last approach. On support to this perspective, a recent investigation of Vision Critical (2013) found that 4 in 10 social media users have purchased an item online or in-store after sharing or favoring it on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest (38 % of Facebook users, 29 % of Pinterest users, and 22 % of Twitter) (Vision Critical 2013). In particular, Pinterest is the social media that more likely drives spontaneous purchases both online and in-store sales.29 According to Sevitt and Samuel (2013), 41 % of social media users practice the so-called “reverse showrooming,” that is the trend of customers who browse online, and buy offline.30 In fact, on the total amount of people who have purchased a product after sharing or favoring it on the social network, a remarkable part have preferred to purchase in-store (30 % Facebook, 21 % Pinterest, 17 % Twitter).

Some studies identify many profiles of social media users. The survey of PwC (2013) pointed out three behaviors of social media users: brand lovers, deal hunters, and social addicted. Some of them are deeply connected with purchase activity. There is an increasing number of “brand lovers” that follow their favorite brands on social media (38 % in 2012; 33 % in 2011). Among them 53 % go shopping in a physical store daily or weekly and 45 % reports that they make an online purchase once a week, but they are multiple-channel shoppers. In this case, it is clear that even if social media users do not buy directly on the social media page they are loyal customers of the brand. Therefore, the social media communication strategy of a company could affect directly sales. These kind of social media users are interested in new products of the brand (28 %) because they want to try them (17 %) but they are obviously interested also in interacting with the brand (9 %) and with other followers (7 %). The second group of social media users is called “deal hunters.” They are looking for good offers, attractive deals, promotions, and sales (49 %), some of them are also interested in opportunities to participate to contests (16 %). Some analyses conducted in the travel industry confirm that travelers generally compare more than one website to be sure to choose the best deal of the day (PhocusWright 2013) and that multiple channels are considered before deciding to purchase (NetComm, Human Highway, Politecnico di Milano 2013).The third category of social media users identified by the PwC report is “social addicts”. They are very active, definitively they are posters, with generally a very large network of friends. Main motivations for visiting the brand on social media are: interacting with friends or experts for recommendations (26 %), interacting with friends that love that brand and with the brand at the same time (17 %), obtaining feedbacks about a good or bad experience (11 %), searching for products before buying them (9 %), and access to the brand customer service (5 %). This profile maybe is not that of a heavy shopper but of users who, with their behavior, can have a particular influence on the company’s reputation.

Vision Critical (2013) identifies main features that distinguish social shoppers from other social media users. They are young (51 % aged 18–34) and rather equally distributed between men (56 %) and women (44 %). Generally, they are more active and visible Facebook users, and very influential on friend’s purchase choices. They pay attention to value-for-money comparing different offers and
stores before purchasing also by means of mobile devices when they are in the store. On the basis of these results, three profiles (tribes) of social shoppers are detected: thinkers, questers and leapers. Thinkers have already thought about purchasing a specific or a similar product and are contemplating about the purchase on social media. Questers have already thought about a specific purchase and use
social media to look for it. Leapers have not thought about a specific purchase and are inspired by social media to make purchases. Facebook is the most used social media by Thinkers (60 %) and Questers (24 %) while Pinterest is the most used by Leapers (29 %).

From the results of the previous reports we notice that both lurkers and posters could at the same time be shoppers. 

Social Media Users Demographics

Due to the proliferation of social media characterized by diverse frameworks, and variation across consumer demographics, for companies is increasingly important to comprehend popularity, type of users’ profiles, and pattern of use for each media.

Facebook is confirmed to be the dominant social network in both the Web and mobile (Nielsen 2014). A recent study of Pew Research Center (2013) in the U.S. found that 73 % of online adults use a social networking site of some kind and 71 % use Facebook. However, 42 % of online adults use multiple social media platforms.

Facebook and Instagram seem to be the most engaging social media: 63 % of Facebook and 57 % of Instagram users log in daily. Other very popular social media resulted from the study are: Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Twitter. According to Nielsen (2014), Pinterest and Instagram have grown significantly in 2013.

Facebook is used by a diverse mix of demographic groups even though in 2013 people aged from 45 to 54 have increased (+45 %) (BI Intelligence 2013). Other social media have more specific demographic profiles of users. For example, Pinterest is very popular among women (Nielsen 2012) with a college degree or higher and generally high income level. Another social media loved by women is Instagram (68 %) (BI Intellingence 2013). On the contrary, Google + and YouTube are
generally preferred by men. The social network for professionals (LinkedIn) is very appealing for adults (it is also the only case for which usage among 50–64 years old people is higher than usage among those aged 18–29) with a college degree or higher, high income level (Pew Research Center 2013), and generally men (BI Intelligence 2013). Young people prefer to share content (text, images, audio, and links) on Tumblr (BI Intelligence 2013).

These demographic trends, that are very dynamic and change with the proliferation of new social media, along with previous statistics about social shopping, could be useful for organizations to better evaluate their audience developing specific social media strategies.



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The Digital Media Strategy Blog: Social media marketing pricing for social media users
Social media marketing pricing for social media users
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