Social Media Has Created Two Types of Users

By: Guest | September 24, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is by Tyler Orchard

Some of you were probably driven to this post by a cleverly crafted tweet from the brilliant Gini Dietrich.

Others will simply retweet that original post because it’s coming from a credible source.

Some may retweet or share this post simply because it’s on Spin Sucks – regardless of what the post is even about, and others yet will becoming engaged in an attempt to gain more insight or argue a point made.

Social media is an ingrained process that now owns a segment of our personal and professional worlds.

At home, we set aside time to browse Pinterest and read tweets from our selected following.

At work we have segmented time allotted to monitoring Radian6 (now known as the Salesforce Marketing Cloud) or Jugnoo (client), or browsing Hootsuite for interesting content. It’s now not what we do, but who we are.

Grouping Social Media Users

In the midst of this digital revolution, it has not only changed the way in which we allocate our time, but also how we consume, share, and engage with content. The social media world would be an anthropologist’s dream. When we boil it down (crudely) we can identify two distinct groups of social media users (SMUs) that should inform your social strategies and content.

SMU 1: The Group Thinkers

This group is focused on vanity. They consume content and information in a way that is neither deep nor extended. These individuals rapidly share content because it is perceived to be valuable. Perhaps it’s based on how many followers a person has, how many times a tweet has been retweeted, or how many “likes” a Facebook post has received. Essentially, these SMUs are influenced and directed by popularized perception. There is no connection or prolonged engagement–it’s quick, repeatable actions (a retweet, share or “like) that steer their behavior, not the content itself. Some may never actually read the content, but they’ll share it.

SMU 2: The Value-Adders

These are the brand ambassador-types. They seek to truly connect with the content in the hopes it will spur engagement, discussion, and build relationships. When they share content it is to add value to the entire piece and influence their core network. It should be noted that this group is smaller, but holds considerable power when it comes to business objectives.

What this Means

There is a continual discussion about knowing your audience, creating content that connects with them, and being strategic. What we tend to forget is our target audience may also be segmented into different SMU groups. These two groups possess completely different rationalities and reasons for engagement.

It’s important to understand how these individuals influence their core network. Those who fall within the first group may influence like-minded connections, where retweeting is a form of social media etiquette for the simple fact that it has been retweeted before. They may influence 15 to 20 of their connections to share the content, but value is diluted.

However, those who occupy the second group influence a smaller number of connections but in doing so they can steer the decisions, perceptions and discussions of their five closest acquaintances.

Where’s the Value?

Does “vanity sharing” even contribute to a company’s intended objective? If no one is reading the content, but 100 retweets are generated, what’s the ROI? Perhaps it’s simply the awareness and prevalence of your Twitter handle in people’s feeds, but it is essentially vanity metrics that don’t generate sizable dividends beyond awareness. However, keep in mind that this style of sharing extends reach of sorts.

The real value of social media comes from building relationships with those who will influence others beyond vanity–those value-adders who can shape perception and reputation.

The Two Worlds

There are “influencers” and the “influence’ees”. However, the definition of “influencer” should be worded carefully because as we all know, influence is not synonymous with popularity or celebrity.

It’s important to tailor our strategies, content and digital behavior in order to leverage the value that both of these groups offer. It isn’t enough to just know your audience, we must know how that audience acts, consumes information, and engages on social media. Both don’t serve the same purpose.

Tyler is the manager of strategy and social media at Zync in Toronto, an award-winning brand and marketing agency. After completing his masters degree from the University of Guelph and McMaster University, he spent time as a director of communications in Canadian politics. Connect with him on TwitterLinkedIn, the Zync blog, or his blog.

  • I love that you’ve tried to get into the cultural forces that influence sharing and content consumption patterns, Tyler. Speaking only for myself, I’ve exhibited behaviors of both “piles” in the past.  At some basic level, it’s all about conspicuous consumption, isn’t it? 

    •  @jasonkonopinski Thanks, Jason. Thought I would tackle something a bit bigger. I think we have all exhibited characteristics of both groups. However, I would say that most people’s personal brands fit into either one or the other. Always a pleasure, Jason!

    •  @jasonkonopinski You can’t possibly be a “vanity” poster, I’ve seen you at my place. 

  • gchesman

    I agree with part of your theory but disagree with it, too. The point you make about the “vanity” sharing having less impact than an engager makes sense. It really makes measuring any metrics more difficult and diminishes the data from those measurements. However, you can’t lump the spectrum of SMUs into two categories. There are so many shades and levels of engagement. 
    Sometimes, I retweet a post that is popular or from an influential source but read it afterwards. Other times, I bookmark something and go back to it. The reason certain SMUs are influencers is because their content is valid and worthwhile. 
    At the end of the day, most social sharing is PR and, therefore, about the buzz. It may not directly effect the bottom-line but it builds your reputation and sends content related to your business that might bring others into your sphere of influence.

    •  @gchesman You make some good points here. These two groups aren’t meant as black and white, nor are they definite. However, people tend to fit into one or the other, or transition back and forth. For instance, if you retweet and then read it after or bookmark something and go back to it to read the content and expand on the topic or engage the user (like you have here), you fit into the second group. If you simply retweeted the post because it was from a popular or “influential” source and that was it, you fit nicely into the first group.
      You are spot on in saying that “influencers” are who they are because their content is valid and worthwhile. If an individual retweets simply because of the fact that there is a perceived sense of popularity or importance, they themselves aren’t reinforcing their own influence if they don’t read the content or engage with it.
      Bringing people into your sphere of influence is a great objective, however only those who exude characteristics of the second group will matter in terms of what your influence can achieve.
      Thanks again for commenting – I couldn’t appreciate it more.

  • I understand why you would try to break it into two groups but I think that is too limiting and that people cross over and create other categories too.

    •  @thejoshuawilner You’re quite right – people will drift from one to the other. But if you examine an individual’s personal brand, you can tend to identify which category they fall under – I know I can. Do you have any examples of other categories?

      •  @Tyler Orchard  @thejoshuawilner Certainly there’s an entire spectrum of behaviors unaddressed here (with corresponding shades of gray) but I’d say that this breakdown is largely accurate.  
        Truth be told, any attempt at classifying human behavior is going to be inherently limiting because we all resist being categorized and ranked. 😉 

        •  @jasonkonopinski  @thejoshuawilner Exactly correct. There’s an endless number of behaviours. We’re all unique so an accurate classification of social media’s behavioural characteritics would infinite. Hence why I prefaced this post by saying this was a “crude” analysis.

        • @Tyler Orchard @jasonkonopinski @thejoshuawilner
          I love crude analyses! Even more than those that mindlessly RT, Like or Share (a bit draconian if you ask me) for the sake of vanity metrics and purported activity. Better to question bravely and propose intelligently than shoot blindly for appearance sake. Always enjoy pondering/continuing discussion of this topic Tyler

  • I believe you can be in both groups. I have a core group of people I will read their posts and try to bring something of value to the relationship whether it’s through commenting, retweeting or both. I have another group included w/in Triberr that I don’t really have any relationship with but will gladly retweet their posts. Unfortunately, that stream is running so fast and shallow I would be very surprised if anyone is trying to pick something out of it. 
    Too many tweets essentially random and anonymous, but you can’t say I’m not doing my part….:). 
    I would say if an ‘influencer’ could reach me, they would have done something pretty amazing because I’m so singularly focused on my little world I have essentially cut off all the noise. 
    Because of the depth of my social involvement I should be a much better advocate than I am; I know the majority of my IRL peer group just doesn’t get it and don’t care to. 
    What does it all mean; is it influence or fools gold? 

    •  @bdorman264 Thanks for the comment, Bill – it’s always a pleasure. You make some great points in terms of operating in both worlds. As 

    •  @bdorman264 Thanks for the comment, Bill – it’s always a pleasure. You make some great points in terms of operating in both worlds. It all depends on how we carry ourselves in the digital space. You also make a great point about the difference between “retweeting” and trying to bring something of value to the discussion. 

    •  @bdorman264 You mean… I’m not your influencer? DANG!

      •  @barrettrossie Buy me another drink and I’ll let you be my influencer…

  • HoustonBrooke

    @shonali @tylerorchard @ginidietrich In an attempt to be more like SMU 2, I know many hybrids of these sorts. Good read!

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  • ryancox

    I really enjoyed this post @Tyler Orchard . And I mean that because I read it, not because I came here just to score LiveFyre comment points. (I’ve done that before) I scheduled to share this too — again because I read it and enjoyed very much the content, not because it was a post on Gini’s blog. (I’ve done that before too) I find myself in both camps at times, and I don’t necessarily (my opinion) see any problem with that behavior. With that being said, I desperately try to stay in the Value-adders camp, not the Group Thinkers camp.
    I find that in my haste throughout the day I’ll share things I haven’t actually read, because I feel obligated, or ‘needing’ too. When I finally collect my thoughts, some 10 days later — I feel uneasy about it, because it seems disingenuous to me. Contrastly, I like offering the value for someone else to read, AND I like sharing friends posts — to increase their potential eyeballs … EVEN if I haven’t read it. It’s a bit of a catch 22.
    Needless to say, I was two sentences into your post (and having read the title) I said to myself FML. It spoke to me, which meant I connected with it both in use and agreement. I couldn’t agree more with the post and premise — thanks for the thoughts Tyler!

    •  @ryancox Thank you very much, Ryan. I appreciate your feedback and your honesty. I think you are very accurate when you say you tend to transition between the two groups. I think we all have at some point or another. Whether it’s to get more LiveFyre points, generate more followers or are simply taken in by the popularity of the post and not the content. I don’t think it’s “one or the other”, but as you mention, we try to desperately stay in the Value-Adders group because that camp represents the characteristics that we as individuals and especially professionals want to embody. 
      Catch 22 is a perfect way of putting it. I don’t think sharing friend’s posts just to get them some more eyes necessarily puts you into SMU1, I think it’s more about sharing just for the sake of sharing, regardless of who or what is being shared. There is a considerable gap between group 1 and group 2. The fact that you took the time to read it, share it to add value to the post and the discussion, and engage me to build a dialogue means that you are clearly a value-adder.
      I’m extremely happy it spoke to you and you could connect with it – that’s a better outcome than I could have expected. Thanks again, Ryan, I enjoyed your thoughts and feedback.

  • ryancox

    Gini I can’t tag you in a comment. IDK why. I can’t seem to tag anyone.

    • @ryancox I can’t either but I thought it was because I was on a tablet.

    •  @ryancox It’s the first step in banning you! 

  • This post came along just as I’ve been struggling with my participation in Triberr …. at first I was in a small tribe, read every post, and found it incredibly meaningful. Now I’m in 2 Tribes, one fairly large, and I struggle to a) Keep up with the bloggers I’ve come to value, and b) Share enough to be valuable. I detest sharing anything I haven’t read – it seems so against what Social Media is about to me.I know that the people who I blog for actually READ what I write not because they give a rat’s behind about how many followers I have, but because they own a small business and they’re looking for help/advice/direction.  
    The challenge is that I struggle not to lose sight of that – it’s easy to be seduced by ‘popularity’ when a post gets a lot of attention.  Like everything else I’ve ever been successful at… it usually comes down to focus and discipline.
    Great reminder. 

    •  @AmyMccTobin Thanks for the comments. I think your example is exactly the same situation and environment more and more people are finding themselves in. I couldn’t agree more that social media (to me) is about engaging and adding value to a conversation. (Most) people write blogs to generate a dialogue and add to our profession. To simply share it because it has a catchy title or 50 social shares doesn’t add value to that topic.
      Again,  I think we all transition from SMU1 to SMU2 at times – it’s inevitable and for many reasons. But I appreciate that you consciously try to step back from “popularity” and critically analyze the blog or the discussion. To just jump right in and share because it’s been shared before only hurts our personal brand. Thanks for your thoughts! 

      •  @Tyler Orchard So Tyler…. here is the dilemma for me:Triberr has certainly widened my exposure online, AND, for blogs that I love, like this one (yes… I’m a kiss ass IRL too at times) it’s another reminder to check in.  But at the moment I think I have 64 people in the 2 tribes I’m in… how on earth does ANYONE read that many blogs and share?
         Marjorie Clayman posted about paring down her time ON Soc. Media so that she could be more valuable when she IS on… judicious and focused. I think THAT is the goal.And PS – it’s why I HATE Klout – revving up the popularity contest with all sizzle, no substance. 

        •  @AmyMccTobin  Marjorie Clayman I think that’s part of the idea I am trying to analyze here. In your situation you are faced with two avenues. You can either read, engage and share the certain blogs you have time to immerse yourself in or you can simply share all 64 because they’re in your tribe. But sharing all 64 will not contribute to the actual dialogue that the writer is trying to ignite. There is so much information today it’s often tough to be attentive to it all, but that is the same with everything we do.

  • TylerOrchard

    @ryanleecox Thanks for the share and the comments, Ryan. I couldn’t appreciate it more. I’m also glad you saw value in the discussion.

    • ryanleecox

      @TylerOrchard Absolutely Tyler.

  • TylerOrchard

    @barrettrossie Thanks a lot, Barrett. I’m glad you saw some value there.

  • TylerOrchard

    @AnnaMcNaughton Thanks, Anna. I think we all tend to transition between the two, but value always trumps popularity.

  • I think there are even more segments than that. I purposely seek to have people around me – influencers or not, online and off – who make the effort to build deep relationships. Because these are the high-value connections. I know that if Gini shares something of mine, a much higher percentage of the folks you may label as group thinks are going to read it before retweeting, and even comment or respond.

    That’s because I know Gini builds And maintains deep, sincere, high value relationships, as I try my best to do. I vet every single piece of content I share, and I don’t blindly share on all channels. And I take care, to the extent that I can control it, to gather like minded people to me who are doing the same. In so doing I get Both more shares And a higher number of clicks to my shared content – which is only a small percent of the time my own.

    •  @Tinu I would love to hear the other segments you think exist. These are only two “crudely” defined groups. However, the way you described yourself and the people around you (and Gini) who want to read it before retweet, comment and response are not Group Thinkers. Random and effortless sharing does not build relationships and great a high value network. Engaging in discussion, questioning ideas and creating a dialogue does. A share doesn’t mean you are a GroupThinker, it’s those individuals who are without caring about the content, because it is perceived to be popular. Influence by perception is what I am discussing here, not those who share to influence their network and build that discussion. Thanks for your thoughts, I really appreciate it.

  • OK, so human nature is what it is, even online. Brilliant. 

    •  @danperezfilms It’s good to see you’re engaging with the post and providing your thought. Although, I’m not entirely sure that it is a distinction between human nature online and off, rather it is how social media has shaped our behaviour online. A blanket statement of “it is what it is” doesn’t fully grasp the extent to which social media has influenced how we engage, share and consume information. Thanks for your thought, Dan.

  • TylerOrchard

    @samfiorella Cheers, Sam. Thanks for the share – I’m glad you saw some value in the piece.

  • functionasone

    really enjoyed reading the article. thank you! RT @cfleury Social Media Has Created Two Types of Users …via @spinsucks

  • Tyler is on to something here. 

    •  @sacevero Thanks, Stacey. There’s a lot that could be added to this topic to give it more legs. I’m glad you see some value in the piece. Cheers.

  • TylerOrchard

    @aer0s0ul Cheers, Alex. Thanks for sharing – I’m glad you saw some value in the post.

  • TylerOrchard

    @bigfuel Cheers, thanks for sharing – glad you saw some value in the post.

    • bigfuel

      @TylerOrchard Sure thing! It’s important to target the value-adders, but remember that the group thinkers amplify the message.

  • JohnBailo

    Good division.  SMU #1, are trying to keep up with the trends…doesn’t matter what they are, they just want to see — and be seen (figuratively).
    SMU #2.  Logic.  Want to make a point, structure a type of “argument”.   Don’t necessarily go along with the trends, unless it fits their POV.

    •  @JohnBailo Thanks for the feedback, John. You broke it down quite nicely here. The point about “being on trend” regardless of what they are is spot on – it’s that type of celebrity-ization that has come with Twitter or Facebook (the race for bigger numbers). Thanks again.

  • byron_fernandez

    Lol “Some may never actually read the content, but they’ll share it” How #SM Has Created Two Users via @TylerOrchard

  • Love the post, Tyler! Thought provoking. I’ve seen studies that show that vast majority of SMUs are “lurkers” – they read content on various channels but dont comment, like, share or interact much at all. 
    I do agree with your thoughts on SMU 1 – that many folks retweet/share content without having first read it through. Or at least skimmed! I disagree, however, that this group is focused on vanity. So much of social media is about content; and, of course, another major component is engagement. And, many busy business owners – who have not yet set up systems or dedicated sufficient resources to their social media – may simply be scrambling to find the right content to keep a regular flow through their social channels. They’re not so much focused on vanity, as they are just trying to “keep up.” 

    •  @MariSmith Thank you for the compliment and the feedback, Mari. I agree that those within SMU 1 aren’t only focused on vanity, but one could make the argument that sharing content for the simple fact of being active on social media approaches the idea of vanity because they aren’t contributing to the conversations or even engaging with the author or even those within the discussion – they just want to seem like they are involved.
      I don’t think the idea of sharing is a sound social strategy in and of itself, however, sharing as a secondary element of engagement and discussion is. I agree that many small companies need to “keep up” and be active, but I would caution many that sharing popular pieces or anything with a catchy title opens opportunities for branding missteps. You make a great point here and it exemplifies how SMU 1 and SMU 2 aren’t black and white.
      Thanks again for the feedback and thoughts, Mari. I always appreciate when someone disagrees with a point I’ve written – it makes for a much better dialogue and fleshes out some of the issues within the post.

  • TylerOrchard

    @Nathalief Thanks for sharing, Nathalie – I’m glad you saw some value in the piece.

  • TylerOrchard

    @MariSmith Thanks for sharing and getting a great discussion going, Mari. I really appreciated your perspective.

    • MariSmith

      @TylerOrchard My pleasure, Tyler!! Loved the post! Keep up the great work! 😉

  • boalt

    RT @marismith: Has Social Media Created Two Types of Users? by @TylerOrchard on @SpinSucks [Great discussion!]

    • TylerOrchard

      @boalt Thanks for sharing, Adam. I’m glad you saw some value in the piece.

  • MariSmith

    @sharmahenderson High five, Dr. Sharma!! 😉 cc @tylerorchard @spinsucks

  • MariSmith

    @sliceworks 😉 thanks Kathi! xx

  • JasonSchnaidt

    Good read! Thanks for sharing! RT @seanmcginnis Social Media Has Created Two Types of Users via @ginidietrich

  • Integra_Flex

    @seanmcginnis @ginidietrich Value adders are my favorite.

  • Pinaatje

    @fonsoccs Thanx for the RT and enjoy your Monday!

  • onesocialmedia

    @tribeo Thanks for the RT. Blessings! 🙂

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  • When I first started out I was a group thinker. If you are trying to actively build an audience, it only works for a short time because the engagement is missing.

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