Consumers' Use of Social Media March 2012
Facebook's 1 February 2012 announcement of its initial public offering (IPO) provides traditional media with additional fodder about how new media are changing the face of the industry. Missing from reports are reasons why individuals participate and whether participants are important customers to a business enterprise. VALS™ is particularly useful to explain the social-media landscape. If a business does not already appeal to a portion of three VALS groups—Achievers, Innovators, and Experiencers—social-media use does not make sense for the enterprise. However, if these groups are the organization's customers, the enterprise needs to create targeted social-media communications that will have the greatest appeal.
Some portions of each VALS consumer group use social media. The degree to which they do so and their motivation for doing so differ significantly. For example:
- With high interest in most technologies, positive technology attitudes, multiple device ownership, and a wide variety of online activities, Innovators spend more time on the internet than do all other consumers. However, Innovators' social-media use, except their use for business interest (a high proportion of Innovators are small-business owners), may be more limited than that of other consumer groups—especially that of Experiencers. Innovators use Facebook in moderation, as they do Twitter and LinkedIn—in part, to stay up on the latest news and events from thought leaders.
- Similar to Innovators, Experiencers use the internet for a variety of activities—but not for serious activities such as research about real estate and medical information or financial activities such as investment tracking or trade of stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. Experiencers participate in social activities—social media—more frequently than do other consumers.
- In contrast, online use by Thinkers focuses more on personal-business activity than on social-media activity. The majority of Thinkers use the internet for financial tracking, monitoring, research, and other types of information gathering.
- Achievers engage in predominantly functional internet activities such as answering immediate information needs, taking online courses, and paying bills online. Because the majority of Achievers are women—and, in general, women are more time starved than men—they tend to seek technology and online solutions that increase personal productivity. Social media provide Achievers with the opportunity to create and broadcast a "perfect-life" story.
- Strivers spend a meaningful amount of time on the internet. They participate in entertainment activities (online gambling and video-game downloading) and connect with friends through instant messaging and chat. Strivers engage in social media, but in a more limited way than do Experiencers and for different reasons. Experiencers use social media to keep friends advised of events happening in their life—to chronicle their activities. (Thus, Facebook's new Timeline should have great appeal.) Strivers use social media to create a drama-filled life narrative. Strivers complain a lot about how unfair life is! Social-media sites are a great place to vent.
- Few Believers, Makers, or Survivors use social media.
Among social-networking sites, Facebook attracts the most visits—thus, its high IPO valuation. Historical data from VALS™/GfK MRI show that Experiencers are Facebook's most ardent fans. Even though every social-media site experiences declines between visits in the past 30 days and visits yesterday, Facebook has the lowest percentage loss, especially for Experiencers.
Social-Media Website-Visit Comparisons, by VALS™
|Social-Media Site||Innovators (Percent)||Thinkers (Percent)||Achievers (Percent)||Strivers (Percent)||Experiencers (Percent)|
Source: VALS™/GfK MRI, Spring 2011
|Facebook past 30 days||56||41||56||51||72|
|MySpace past 30 days||4||3||5||21||23|
|LinkedIn past 30 days||20||9||5||1||4|
|Twitter past 30 days||10||3||5||6||12|
|YouTube past 30 days||49||31||41||47||61|
Why do different consumers engage in social media? At a high level, the three VALS™ primary motivations draw meaningful distinctions about why different consumer groups engage with social media. The three motivations—ideals, achievement, and self-expression—are globally omnipresent.
In the United States and Canada, Thinkers and Believers share an ideals motivation: They are guided by knowledge and principles. Achievers and Strivers share an achievement motivation: They look for products, services, and activities that demonstrate success to their peers. Experiencers and Makers share a self-expression motivation: They seek social or physically activity. Innovators and Survivors, at the top and the bottom, respectively, of the US VALS Framework, operate outside the concept of motivations because of the abundance of (Innovators) or lack of (Survivors) psychological, emotional, and physical resources. These two groups fall in one of the three primary motivations through the use of their secondary VALS types. (Every individual has a primary and a secondary VALS type.)
Consumers with an ideals motivation are attracted to social media in search of community. Community might mean a small circle of family and friends, or it might mean a group of individuals in the same profession (such as scientists) or of the same persuasion (such as members of MoveOn.org). Thinkers engage more in social media than do Believers.
Many Thinkers are professionals—doctors, scientists, and researchers. Thinkers are joiners because they believe strongly that they have meaningful ideas and information to contribute to almost any discussion. Often, led by Innovators who fall into an ideals motivation, Thinkers sometimes become online activists, using their voice to direct or change public discourse. One recent example of a global disruption followed the collapse of America's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) when Wikipedia went black for a day. Signatories of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) quickly distanced themselves from active support of SOPA because of the online hue and cry across Europe.
What types of social-media pages might attract Thinkers? Thinkers enjoy educational travel and are heavy readers, but they are more likely to write reviews on a travel website or on Amazon.com than they are to "like" on Facebook. Thinkers prefer to offer opinions when asked than to broadcast unsolicited recommendations. Thinkers might direct an article or report to members of their professional community, but they are more likely to forward or share the information than to like. Finances and health interest Thinkers, but financial and pharmaceutical company pages won't necessarily engage them. Using a company website is more effective to deliver information to this group. Thinkers find websites helpful and engaging because they can search for the information they want—provided that sites are constructed to include all the information a Thinker could ever want to know.
For ideals-motivated groups, social media is a social-networking tool—in line with its original intention. Thinkers, along with Believers and Survivors, are the least interested of all consumers to share personal information. Unlike many Believers and Survivors, Thinkers understand the risks of personal-information sharing.
Sociability and Validation
Consumers with an achievement motivation are more attracted to social media because of its sociability than because of community. More often than not, these consumers use social media to assert bragging rights about children, positive life events, or recent acquisitions than to maintain a sense of community. Bragging is a form of narcissism but not in the extreme. A cautionary note: When creating perfect-life stories, some Achievers may embellish the tale.
For achievement-motivated consumers, sociability is about social acceptance and validation. In this sense, the quantity of friends is more important than the quality. One may hear Achievers and Strivers brag about the number of social-networking friends they have. The number of friends not only signifies their popularity (acceptance) but also quantifies the extent (validation) of acceptance.
Don't expect the majority of achievement-motivated consumers to write reviews or to like until they are sure the product or brand has peer approval. Accepted brands may receive likes for particular products from Achievers. Strivers are more comfortable in receiving than in sending likes because of Strivers' relative low level of self-confidence. Brand and parenting pages have potential to receive attention from Achievers. Younger Achievers and many Strivers follow celebrities and reality-TV shows on Facebook and Twitter. If some retailers are closing their social-media sites because of lack of interest (as reports indicate), Achievers' lack of attention may, in part, be to blame. Social-media pages from companies that don't count Achievers, Innovators, and Experiencers among their core customers aren't going to benefit from social media, because these three groups are the consumers who buy the most "stuff."
Within a social context, achievement-motivated consumers are more interested in creating their life stories—and receiving feedback—than they are interested in promoting products and services to friends. These consumers don't create buzz.
Achievers are more sensitive than Strivers to the risks of sharing personal information. They don't usually engage in self-disclosure. However, Strivers are less likely than Achievers to find internet advertising annoying, uninteresting, or unhelpful. Busy Achievers are ambivalent about most advertising.
Sociability and Narcissism
Self-expression-motivated groups are polarized in social-media interest: Makers have little to no interest; Experiencers are the most engaged. Experiencers' many interests result in many groups of friends. On Facebook, they "friend" and "unfriend" with impunity. For Experiencers, sociability is more about variety and boredom relief than about acceptance. Participation in social media is a narcissistic endeavor for Experiencers. They post on social-media sites because they think everyone is as interested in their life as they are. Many post frequently in order to receive a continual stream of positive feedback. Raised on and encouraged by a steady diet of verbal rewards—and sometimes, monetary bribes—most expect constant, positive response to their output. Their narcissism is fed by their incessant need for attention. Whereas Achievers are self-focused, Experiencers are self-absorbed.
Experience-centered types always have their radar tuned for new items to share with 3000 of their closest friends. Experiencers and Innovators are buzz masters. Facebook likes, for example, are an effective tool for spreading the word about a new find and receiving style points (attention) for doing so. Experiencers are curious about a number of topics. Entertainment, celebrities, technology devices, apps, fashion, Xtreme sports, beverages, vehicles, movies, and cheap eats cover the majority of topic areas. If an organization doesn't fall into one of these business categories, it may want to think twice about investing heavily in social media.
Most people accept that traditional media's revenue derives from advertising. Social-media companies that need to monetize their business are also looking to advertisers for revenue. An important difference between the old and the new is that traditional media ask little in exchange for content. New media (social media) are asking for as much personal information as they can mine about each user to sell to advertisers. As social media become increasingly proficient at data mining and as advertising to users increases, at what point do Experiencers feel manipulated? To date, Experiencers don't seem to mind sharing personal information, but they do mind very much when they believe they are being manipulated.
Similar to the financial-services industry before consolidation, social media are juggling and jockeying among themselves and increasingly with other types of content providers. At this juncture, social media is a more natural fit for some organizations than for others. But device ownership is changing rapidly, and social- media use will change as a result.
The enterprise needs a social-media plan that makes sense for its business. To learn more about how VALS can assist in understanding the use and the strategy development of social media, contact us.