Model: The 7 Levels of Participation
The above model is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – and would love to now think through with you – that aims to present some guide and scale for participation, with the goal of helping us know what level of participation to pitch for our communities or projects.
My basic assumption is that as the level of participation increases, the number of people who participate decreases. A lot of the successes, and failures, that I see not only within Social Media but community engagement in general are linked to pitching at the right level of participation:
- Failure generally happens where the amount of participation is overestimated, and only a high level is provided
- Successes generally happen where multiple levels of participation are provided, meaning lower and higher levels happen
Whether you’re building a social network, running a blog, doing an online campaign, cultivating a community, and so on, you must consider your levels of participation.
Let’s quickly talk about each level of participation:
This is when the mass market looks at your content, accessing it most likely through a search. In the same way we consult a brochure for information, people consult websites for information. This person is not part of your community and not a regular reader or participant.
This is important to clarify, as most blogs are designed and written for those who consume their content on a regular basis. I’ll be quite honest – if the above, non-regular mass market person visited my website, it would not be so easy to get around. I need to sort that out and make it ‘consult friendly.’
To provide a consult level of participation, you must focus on making it findable, and useable to first time visitors.
In the same way we regularly consume food, this is where we enter some form of regular readership. Regular is the key word here. For early adopters, this is easy – we get our readers to plug the feed into their reader. But for the majority, we have to think of simpler ways to deliver regular content to their door step. (Remember: the door step might not be email, or even Facebook for some people.)
The distinction between consult and consume is frequency. Consultations are few and far between, based on need. Consumption is regular, first based on interest and then based on ongoing usefulness and a certain degree of loyalty and trust.
To provide a consume level of participation, you must provide regular content (whatever your content is) and make return visits easy by delivering to the door step.
This is formalising a relationship by securing some kind of connection – creating an account, joining a newsletter, ‘liking’ a Facebook page or joining a group, using Twitter of Facebook to sign into a website. Less people do this than consume your content. I have about 3,000 unique visitors a month who consult or consume my content (50% are new visitors), but only 200 subscribers through connect Feedburner, of which 50 get my blog emailed daily.
Connect is really about an exchange. I give you this, you give me that. This doesn’t have to be an email. It could be that I give you some of my photos, and in return, you showcase them on your website. I win because my work is online, you win because I tell all my friends to look at it. The trick is to make a win-win scenario.
To provide a connect level of participation, provide ways for buy-in and exchange of data and other social connections, and demonstrate how they create a ‘win’ for the end user.
One of the pillars of participation is competition. Since the beginning of time, the lure of competing (and winning) has generated the most participation – siblings know this well!
On one level this is about building games – FarmVille‘s participation base is currently 20% of all Facebook’s users! Max Control is a competition that merges online and offline activity (disclaimer: they were a client.) Alder And Alder’s Advent Quiz competition was a great low-buy in game for busy people.
On the other hand, this is about creating competition in things that aren’t games. The main motivation for getting Facebook friends a few years ago was a competition (“who has the most Facebook friends?”) In fact, Facebook used to even number your wall posts, so you could compete on who has had the most wall posts.
When Ashton Kutcher reached 1 million Twitter followers, that was a competition. Even now, people compete over Twitter followers – if not with one another, then certainly with themselves!
Gowalla, Foursquare and other location apps are competitions – “who is the mayor?” “how many items do you have?” “how many checkins have you made?” – the whole drive that makes Foursquare bigger than Gowalla in my opinion is that they made it more of a competition that Gowalla did.
Even tagging, sharing and bookmarking can be a game. It’s a competition that you play against yourself.
To provide a compete level of participation, just show a scoreboard and rank your users. That’ll create competition immediately.
Most early adopters are in the habit of commenting, but if you think back to the first time you did, you’ll get an idea of where the early majority are. I remember thinking “why bother?”, which is what most of the early majority feel about this level of participation, which is why most don’t make it here. It’s a motivation issue.
Commenting has reached a higher level of adoption inside Facebook, but even then it is done less, and by fewer people, than all the other levels.
The reason why this is, is because commenting represents the shift from getting more to giving more. The other levels often give up front (consult and consume), or they give back immediately (connect and compete). Commenting however does not immediately give back, so the motivation has to come from a deeper level of investment and involvement.
One of the issues here is that when someone wants to comment, they think that 1. they have nothing to add, and/or 2. there’s already conversation that they find intimidating and hard to break into.
Example: Those who you see commenting in your Facebook stream are probably the same group of 50. In fact, those who comment on this blog are mostly the same people, who give very insightful and intelligible comments from a place of knowing me outside of this blog. It’s hard for a newbie to break into that!
To provide a comment level of participation, provide a way for users to add their angle to the content (review, share, rate, etc) and attach getting to their giving – the more immediate and visible, the better.
The user generate content realm is actually touched upon with compete and comment, because every action generates some kind of content as a by-product, however the create level is distinguished because the content is being intentionally and specifically created by the user.
Forums are a memorable example for me – I used to write a wealth of information in then. Guest blogging, custom reviews, crowd-sourcing all tend to fall into this category.
The motivation to participate at this level, I have found, is usually because of the benefit of identity the user gets by being associated. This has to be compelling in order for people to take time out and custom make content for you.
To provide a create level of participation, show the identity benefits of association with your organisation, with examples of others who have done it.
The highest level of participation goes beyond creating content to curating it, similar to the difference between a writer and an editor. The curator / editor knows the bigger picture well, and now nurtures the participants under them on behalf of the organisation.
I’m drifting a little into metaphor and tech speak here, so let me paint a community example. With Like Minds, there are a number of people who help us at a very high level with bringing the event together. They not only have ‘ideas’ (which are a dime a dozen), but they talk closely with us and work through the kinks, whilst bringing the best of the ideas out there to our attention. I met one of these curators this week, where we spent an hour talking through the concepts and bigger picture repercussions of our next events.
Key for me here is that these people are builders, not bulldozers. Curators build with you – the benefits of which are the intimacy they share with you, and the self actualisation they get.
When I think of this level, I think of people like Robert Scoble who live and breathe the industry they are in and shape it by virtue of their grasp of the bigger picture, and being at the elbow of every conversation. These people are thermostats, not thermometers. They set the temperature and create culture.
To provide a curate level of participation, be open and provide whatever they need to curate. They will rise to the top and show themselves to you as long as you do this.
Your Leading Thoughts
As you know, I value your input and building this with you. Here’s what I think we can do together on this peice:
- Pick one level, and use examples to agree or disagree.