As part of my mission to bring social media into the public service (although I can’t claim this one for myself, the State Service Commission seems be all over it), I’ve been making myself establish and work with clear concepts.

So, why clear conceptualisation? When you’re trying to sell a social media product or idea within your agency, you’re likely to run into a lot of people who don’t necessarily ‘get’ what “the Web2.0 stuff” is all about. The internet tolls are just the internet, you know, lovely and all that, but not really all that useful unless you’re wanting naked people or banking.

So to combat the problem of confusion about the medium and it’s potential I’ve found it useful to break people down into three separate types. It’s a pretty simple distinction, and goes like this:

  1. Content Users – These are people who really only use the internet to breeze over sites. To read newspapers, maybe do their banking. Their engagement with the internet, or their respective intranet, is entirely superficial. They will likely more about what’s under the bonnet of their car or where the biscuits are in the kitchen that what makes the internet hum.
  2. Content Interactors – These are people who are ‘kind-of’ Web2.0. They might have a blog from when they went on their OE, or might use Flickr. They’re aware of the potential of internet, but for any given reason just don’t exploit it. They will most probably leave a comment on a blog of news-outlet story, but that’s about it.
  3. Content Generators – These are the people who really get a kick out of user-oriented, Web2.0 applications. They will blog or have their own websites. They’ll be addicted to Wikipedia. And they know how to push information or content out via the web, and probably consume much of their input from electronic sources.

Simple. There are hundreds of other models out there, but this one works nicely for me in my role as a public servant.

Why it’s useful is firstly because the three types can easily be found in any workplace. Second, they decrease in population as you proceed from Users to Generators. All Generators started out as Users, but not all Users develop into Generators. This means that in any workplace you’ll only ever get a few people who are able or willing to fully engage with whatever social media application you’re trying to establish or sell, but lots who will want to read or look at something useful.

Knowing that your full audience is limited to only a few people is actually powerful, because you can design your service or tool, a wiki for instance, to meet the needs of the colleagues who will generate content for it. You don’t need to try to sell it to everyone, because you know for a fact that not everyone can exploit the tools you build.

However, everyone does need to be able to use it. The trick it seems is to run a happy middle ground between traditional ‘push’ media, i.e. the old-fashioned intraweb, and also needing to ‘pull’ people onto the application where they can interact and/or generate content. If you can design a business model for your social media that exploits the difference in types, and optimises these differences, your nifty social media project might just end up coming along swimmingly.

PS. Here’s a diagram, draw by Hadyn Green!