On Social Networks, Most Still Just Like to Watch

Although the number of people worldwide who are using social networking services and engaging with social media continues to climb, the number who describe themselves as “creators” of content — those who publish their own blogs, create and upload videos, and so on — is falling, according to new research from Forrester. The research firm found that the number of content creators either fell or stayed the same in most of the major markets it surveyed for its latest Consumer Technographics study, including North America, China and Europe.

Although the decline in the number of content creators isn’t dramatic — the percentage of users who fell into that category in the U.S. dropped to 23 percent in 2010 from 24 percent a year earlier — it’s still a concern, said Forrester analyst Jacqueline Anderson. “A lack of growth in social creation translates into a lack of fresh ideas, content, and perspectives.” According to Forrester’s survey, one-third of those who spend time online in the U.S. regularly watch user-generated videos on sites like YouTube, but only 10 percent of online users upload videos they’ve created to such sites. “The traits required to create social content are unique, and at this moment, the consumer market interested in these behaviors has plateaued,” Anderson said.

Forrester’s research classifies social-network users into a number of categories — including Creators, Conversationalists, Critics, Collectors, Joiners and Spectators — based on their responses to survey questions about what they typically do on social networks and services.

While most countries and regions saw continued strong growth in the number of people who fall into the “joiner” and “spectator” categories, Japan was the only country that showed a rise in “creators,” growing from 34 percent in 2009 to 36 percent in the past year. The number of people who joined social networks grew fairly strongly in Europe and in China, but not as strongly in North America, where social networking has already made strong gains in usage. In August, research from Nielsen showed that the amount of time U.S. Internet users spent on social networking had climbed by more than 40 percent.

The fact that the majority of social media and social networking users do not create content is not a surprise — for example, Harvard research has shown that 90 percent of the content on Twitter is created by 10 percent of the users, and similar percentages of observers vs. creators can be found on YouTube and other sites and services. Although the web and social networking allow anyone to become a content creator and publish whatever they wish, it seems that a majority of users are happy to consume what others create.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Wesley Fryer