The Social Media Engagement Continuum - What Makes an Expert?

Yesterday, I posted a response to Beth Harte's great post about social media expertise. I highlighted the thought that, rather than accepting an individual's self-proclaimed title of "expert", perhaps it's best to look at people and companies in terms of level of social media engagement and results. I articulated social media engagement along a type of continuum. Taking those thoughts to the next level, here's a more refined, work-in process view:


(Note - Posted Friday 4/3 - modified Monday 4/6)
(right click view large image)

Clueless individuals are in the dark about social media. They may have heard the term, but social media has no impact on their personal life or work. They are not only clueless about social media, they are not actively interested in finding more out about it.

Questioning individuals want to know about social media, starting with gaining a clear definition of what it is. They need a clear picture of the landscape and categories of social media, and an understanding of best-of-breed tools. Questioning individuals are starting to read about social media and may have recently joined some of the more popular social media networks to find out what the fuss is all about.

From a Groundswell perspective, "Inactives " fall above this line:
"Joiners" fall below:

(Updated 4/6 formerly called "Experimenting") individuals are testing the waters of several social media networks or tools to determine the benefits or application they may have for life and/or work. With esoteric goals in mind, they have joined a number of networks and are contributing sporadically to dialog and discussion. They are reading case studies and researching social media in addition to expanding their use of social media tools and applications. They do not have a significant network online.
From a Groundswell perspective, Collectors, Critics and Creators start here.

Active individuals are vigorously using (and contributing to) at least five social media applications, networks or tools on a daily basis for work or pleasure. They aren't newbies by any stretch of the term. They have been entrenched in a base level of networks as active users for at least six months. Critical tools must include contributing to one or more blogs, having a presence on at least one major social network the use of social bookmarking or life streaming applications as well as the use/uploading to media sharing sites or rich media destinations.

Active individuals are gaining practical knowledge of social media, and a very clear understanding of how social media changes the way we live and work. They are quick to sign up and test new social technologies, in an attempt to perfect the suite of tools they use for work and life. They are exploring new social media tools and reading actively about social media, measurement, influence, case studies. They are building a social media network and fostering new relationships and dialog every day.

Immersed individuals exhibit the traits of an active user -- only across a much larger array of social media networks, sites and tools. Immersed users have a strong reason to be highly active in social media, usually for professional reasons. They may be actively promoting their brand or business in social media, serve as a community or service manager, manage social media within their organization, or serve as an active consultant, teacher or thought leader in the arena. Whatever role they assume, the use of social media networks, sites and tools is a critical core function of their work day. They understand the categories of social media and how tools can be applied inside and outside the firewall for both B2B and B2C and various types of businesses. They can readily share stories and case study information related to the work they've done that is useful and relevant.

Immersed users are also active contributors in the networks within which they participate. They are actively engaged in ongoing discussion and dialog. They contribute unique content and insight in their areas of expertise in the form of blog posts, articles, white papers, and other media, which is validated and supported by peers and contemporaries. Immersed users have very strong digital footprint, with substantial social networks and following. They also pull up easily within Google - and may be recognized within the field by other notable users.

Influential individuals exhibit all of the characteristics of Active and Immersive users and posses extensive, demonstrable experience working with an array of social media applications and tools. They may have experience developing social media applications, tools and sites. Influentials are active in developing and applying social media in professional environments with the specific goal of shaping the way we work, live and interact with brands. They may work within social media companies, or represent social media tools in a consulting or agency capacity to an array of recognizable clients.

Influentials have a significant amount of experience applying social media tools to drive specific results. They understand the myriad of technologies that can be used to solve client/customer challenges, the integration and operational complexities of using social media and when it may be appropriate to develop something custom vs. out-of-the box. They can readily produce tangible examples of the work they have done in social media through company or client examples, case studies or demonstrations.

It's significant to note that some influentials may have very deep, specialized knowledge of specific "categories" of social media or specific tools or networks themselves. At the same time, a true influential has his/her finger on the pulse of the arena and can speak authoritatively about the application of various tools in a number of enterprise environments, holding their own with inquiring analysts and venture capitalists.

Influentials do not wield influence for the reasons described by "follow bots" and social media grader/recommendation engines. While they do leave a hefty digital footprint and sport an impressive number of followers -- this speaks to the fact that they are authoritative in their area of expertise and have something remarkable to say. Influentials are highly engaged each day with a network of other immersed and influential people who are busy working within social media in a variety of capacities. This network strengthens their ability to do great work and serves as a lifeline of information on developments in social media.


SO! Just thinking out loud!

Curious minds want to know....
Do you feel these categories are accurate and representative of the types of folks you encounter in social media? Where do you fall in the social media continuum? Where does your company fall? Tell me your thoughts. I'm sure I'll be updating this soon enough!


Jay Ehret said...

Love the diagram! Great job on categorizing and defining the levels of engagement.

What's the category for social media expert-pretenders? Where do they fit in?

Also, to be an influential in social media, do you have to be an influencer about social media. By that I mean, does an influencer have to be a social media developer or architect?

GeekMommy said...

Awesome! and the pictures make it!

I'm so glad you expanded on the comment you made on Beth's post yesterday... I think you've got a really great way of sorting this all out!

Unknown said...

This is a great post. Love the distinction between active and immersed users.

I would suggest, however, that because social media is a rapidly changing environment, everyone from the experimental level on up are experimenting with social media and what it can do -- just with different levels of experience and expertise.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Unknown said...

@Jay - I think "Posers" would probably fall within the "Experimenting to Active" area... enough experience to be dangerous.

An influencer can be active applying social media within an organization - they don't have to be a developer -- but should be tightly working with the product itself.

@geekmommy Thanks for encouraging me to blow this out in further detail!

@freerangemom I AGREE. I think I will rename "Experimenters"... it's a semantics thing but I think I will call them "testers" because they are really testing the waters of social meda. Of course, we all continue to experiment with new tools as we go along... Great point!

Ruth Seeley said...

I think this is quite brilliant, actually - much better definitions than any I've come across before, and certainly much better than the confusing social media ladder of engagement, which I don't think anyone climbs from bottom to top.

Doctor V said...

Like this alot. But why does an expert need to be active on 5 platforms. Everything else equal on 4 platforms ... not an expert

Unknown said...

@doctorv - Considering the number of networks and applications out there, being active on at least five seemed like a decent number to start with ... There's a level of discernment here that must apply, of course.

That being said, it does seem important to have cross-category representation here, which is why I specifically outlined some key networks/apps that these users should be engaged with.

Thanks for your comment & thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Yep! you nailed it. But I do agree with Jay Ehret's comments on Social Media Pretenders. This category is growing very fast and needs recognition.


Becky Carroll said...

Thanks for this view of segmenting out social media folks and how they are engaged with it. I still like the definitions from Groundswell just as much, since they talk about the TYPE of involvement. Someone can be a real expert in one social media "niche" and not really play in the other areas. Do you agree?

Great conversation here, tool. :)

Unknown said...

@greenjar - I think perhaps you branch DOWN from "Scouting" to "Poser" - how about that?

@beckycarroll - Thanks for your post. I kept the Groundswell piece in because I really like the model. I think that everyone contributes differently...

I do agree that some people play in niches, like @lizstrauss on Blogging for example. Or @pistachio on Twitter... So yes. some people do choose to specialize starting with being immersive... not just as influencers. :-)

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough I think I'm between active and immersed as I'm 23 and have been "digital" since I was about 11 (AOL!) but I'm only a social media enthusiast w/in my organization. Great continuum though, pretty much sums it up.

social media app developer said...

Indeed it is growing pretty fast, due to technology there have been major advancement being made to architectural side of things.

Facebook Cover Photos said...

I think this is quite brilliant, actually - much better definitions than any I've come across before, and certainly much better than the confusing social media ladder of engagement, which I don't think anyone climbs from bottom to top.

Unknown said...

excellent list, article is very helpful

top social networking sites said...

Clear explanation. Neat picture. You did a great job durst. I'm so glad to appreciate you. It's really Good.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emilia Loza said...

This is a very interesting writeup, Leigh! And your infographic looks cool. :) It is a simple guide that can help beginners in social media to engage and attract audience. The world of social media is a vast space and it can be overwhelming for the uninitiated.

Post a Comment





TwitterLinkedInYouTubePosterousFacebook G+


I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


The Customer Experience Edge


Age of Conversation 3 - Get yours now in hardcover, paperback and for the Kindle.


Web Redesign: Workflow that Works