Friday, May 23, 2008

Creative Profiling: Tools for Defining and Understanding Your Audience

People who create content for the public try to appeal to a wide range of people, both in terms of demographics and usage styles. There are different learning styles. There are group and individual experiences. There are different levels of interactivity. And now, the research group Forrester provides new insights about different kinds of participatory styles among users of social media sites.

I've written before about three types of museum users: contributors, lurkers, and judges. Forrester separates social media engagement into six kinds of users:
  1. creators (people who produce content, upload videos, write for blogs)
  2. critics (people who submit reviews, rate content, and comment on social media sites)
  3. collectors (people who tag sites, use del.icio.us, create RSS feeds and aggregates)
  4. joiners (people who join social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn but don't create a lot of content)
  5. spectators (people who read blogs, watch Youtube videos, and visit social sites)
  6. inactives (people who don't visit social sites)
They also provide a profiling tool that allows you to view the breakdown of these types across age range, country, and gender. The demographic differences are interesting to explore (women aren't collectors?), and they have a nice feature where the averages in age and gender are provided as a yardstick against whatever particular demographic interests you.

No matter the demographic slice, the
sum of percentages of people in each user category add up to more 100%. This makes sense: many spectators are also joiners. I'm a creator and a collector but rarely a critic. The only exclusive group is the inactives--everyone else overlaps. The social media user types, like learning styles or gaming styles, are more like personality traits than exclusive groupings. Just as you can be both a kinesthetic and linguistic learner, you can be a collector and a joiner.

This is an important point, one that bucks against the arrangement by Forrester of these user types into a "ladder" with creator at the top, inactive at the bottom. It can be enticing to design experiences that will encourage visitors to "level up" from spectator to creator, or in my terms, from lurker to contributor. But that's not appropriate. It would be strange to imagine talking the same way about learning styles--trying to push people out of their own modalities into preferred "higher-level" engagement types.*
*Digression: Some people have commented that my hierarchy of social participation suffers this fault by implying that museums should be trying to level up to higher social engagement. I'd argue that the hierarchy is different because it's about process steps, not user types. The hierarchy pyramid is meant to demonstrate that the way to get to a social "level 5" experience is through the intermediate stages, not in a sudden leap. It's not a suggestion that all museums should be trying to get to level 5, but rather a sequence of steps for those who want to go there.

Instead of trying to push visitors to new heights, we should focus on providing content that accommodates the full range of user styles. The question is not "how do we make an exhibit so good that all want to create?" but "how do we make an exhibit so good that creators, joiners, collectors, spectators, and critics are included?" and maybe if we're ambitious, "how do we make an exhibit that specifically encourages one kind of behavior and has a better than average return rate on engaging that type of user?"

To answer these questions, we need to look at the range of who we serve. Museums provide well for spectators/lurkers, and recently, museums have focused on ramping up offerings for creators and contributors. But we're weak in the middle levels. We rarely engage the critics, collectors, and joiners. Where do visitors get to vote on their favorite content? Which exhibits allow them to aggregate selections from a group? Which allow them to connect with other visitors socially? These are the exhibits and design types that we should pay more attention to.

Forrester suggests that companies use their profiling tool (and related custom research services) to understand the behaviors and desires of target audiences, and then provide experiences accordingly. It's important to understand that fewer creators than joiners and spectators walk through your doors each day. With social media and participatory experiences, we shouldn't just focus our design efforts on what sounds cool or is easy to conceive. You wouldn't create an exhibition on music that only appeals to musical learners. In the same way, we shouldn't think of participatory experiences as being "just for creators."

What Forrester categories do you identify with? What kinds of museum experiences could you imagine accommodating those aspects of your personality?

4 comments, add yours!:

lw said...

Hey Nina, again a great article!
And I completely agree with you that pushing users to the top of the hierarchy might be not the best way. Nevertheless I suppose museums can gain a lot if they enable users to climb up, maybe even more if they pave the way to creation.
Another interesting aspect could be to extend our knowledge about what people do (like creating, criticizing, collecting, etc. ) towards an understanding about what kind of role they fulfill. I think that describing users in categories like Forrester did sometimes neglects that their contributions are not only one offs but often frequent and that they also serve a certain function within the particular environment. Recently I talked to the maintainer of a local community/heritage website and he told me about one of their users that was literally sitting in the local library and answering requests from other users in the forum about the history of the town. In Forresters concept he might be regarded as a critic (as he replies to posts) but his role within the environment might be rather that of an accepted knowledge hub.
Maybe offering roles that are so interesting that people would like to take them could be an interesting experiment. And in this case it won't be about the outcome creators and all the others produce but about the process which involves all.

Nina Simon said...

Lars, thanks for your insightful comment. One of the reasons I'm so interested in promoting "profile power" for visitors to museums is so that they can build up their own roles and identities in the museum context that can be multi-faceted, based on many kinds of actions.

Right now, with the exception of members, most museum visitors are faceless and unknown, so we have to start each profile, each role-giving, fresh with each visit. That's a waste of energy and it prevents us from really being able to support and encourage the growth of visitors as hubs, as leaders, as all kinds of things in our institutions.

Ms. Pederson, California, USA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
judy lucy said...

OK, how'd you do it? How'd you put into words what I was thinking? I've been experiencing this "hierarchy" with students and have been trying to move everyone up the ladder. But after sensing frustration from students when I "should" feel release and happiness, I realize I need to appeal to and strengthen what the student is and has, not what I want the student to be. This post will help me remember what I should be doing with students.

PS, I'm a creator and collector, too.