On classifications and typologies (3)

The second post in this series ended with the question: what use are these typologies to anyone? This post discusses some ideas to answer that question.

Organisations aim to find and reach their target ‘customer’ in the most cost-effective way, and to ensure that the customer makes the purchase decision with them, and not with their competitors. This applies to all kinds of organisations, whether for-profit businesses competing for the customer’s spend, non-profit organisations competing to get more people behind their cause, or politicians seeking to win votes. In this post, we discuss marketers and politicians as two broad groups of professionals who use typologies successfully.

Marketers aim to create awareness, to strengthen the favourable image or counter the unfavourable image of their products or brands, and to gently nudge and handhold the customer to a purchase decision. Politicians aim to find supporters for their campaigns and their positions, and then to translate this support into votes.

Both marketers and politicians use typologies to identify who their ‘customers’ are and where they are. This is essential information for reaching the customers. Typologies therefore also help understand customer behaviour and the best ways to reach them most cost-effectively. It is worth reiterating that typologies are about homogeneous masses that bind us with our ‘type’, not about individual quirks that distinguish us from them.

Typologies can be used to create awareness and interest through to the customer’s actual act of making the purchase decision. Specifically in the context of social network typologies, there is emerging evidence that social network links can directly affect customers’ adoption of a product or service. Marketing techniques that take advantage of such linkages are a nascent and rapidly developing area of interest.

However, it is not sufficient to understand the typologies. In order to build relationships, thinking marketers and politicians must engage and do so meaningfully with these categories or types.

Here are some examples.

Ofcom may wish to classify them as ‘attention seekers’, but marketers see ‘Mom Bloggers’ as a ripe audience for marketing. That said, marketers would do well to remember that it is not a monolithic group and includes ‘Alpha Moms’, ‘No Drama Mammas’ and ‘Granola Moms’ amongst others.  Even within these sub-types, marketers must recognise the ‘influencers’ and target them with meaningful pitches. Wrongly targetted or irrelevant pitches are not just wasted, they also create negative PR. Entire businesses now exist for specialist marketing to mom bloggers. Influencers can create awareness and influence purchase decisions within their community.

In some cases, marketers are participating in communities where the target customer can choose to engage with them. Amazon promotes it digital downloads and Friday deals on Twitter and at the time of writing has over 5700 ‘followers’. Twitter however is free to Amazon, save for the cost of updating these ‘tweets’. Such scatter gun approach is unlikely to be useful where larger sums of money are involved and where ROI must be demonstrated.

Politicians are increasingly aware of where their target voter is.

Millions of first-time voters, mostly young voters, will vote for the first time in the 2008 Presidential election. They are deemed the pollsters’ nightmare, a wild card, because their behaviour is not easy to predict. But Harvard’s Institute of Politics research suggests young voters concerned and engaged, they vote in large numbers, they are a great support for campaigns, and most importantly both their votes and their long term political loyalties are up for grabs.

These young voters are also very active on the web; John Palfrey calls them ‘digital natives‘. Their ease with the web presents an opportunity for politicians to engage with them through channels not available before. Ergo, Barack Obama on Twitter (over 88000 ‘followers’), on MySpace (over 618000 ‘friends’) and on Facebook (nearly 1.95 Million ‘friends’). His opposite numbers, McCain-Palin also are on Twitter (under 1000 ‘followers’), on MySpace (just over 128000 ‘friends’) and on Facebook (under 550,000 supporters). The Technology Review magazine has had a recent cover story on How Obama really did it which illustrates beautifully, no matter what your politics, how the clever use of technology helped the Obama campaign.

Has your organisation identified the typologies most relevant to its business? What is your experience? What other stories have you seen or heard of, where marketers are successfully using typologies to advance their companies’ profits?

Related reading:

Birds of a feather shop together by Auren Hoffman, co-founder of Rapleaf

Pat Phelan asks the question ‘Are paid-for evangelists harming blogging?

HBR’s interactive case study ‘We Googled you‘ (requires registration)

MIT Tech Review on How Obama really did it (requires registration)

Harvard Institute of Politics’s Research on Young Voters (pdf)

Jeremiah Owyang on Social Network Stats

On classifications and typologies (2)

An earlier post on typologies ended with the question whether web user typologies have been identified.The answer was both ‘yes’, and ‘no’  because while many typologies have been proposed, there is no consensus. This post takes off where the last one left.

Naturally we start with bloggers. There are many possible ways to classify bloggers based authorship structure, blogger identity, blogging reasons and blog(ger) specialisation.

Some blog on single author blogs, some blog on multiple author blogs, some on both kinds. Guest blogging, usually on invitation from the blogger and sometimes on request, isn’t uncommon either. I have guest-blogged on the Indian Economy blog.

Some blog under their own name, and some blog pseudonymously. The latter in my experience has two sub-types: those, who stay pseudonymous in off-line correspondence and those, who reveal their real names in off-line interactions. I recognise that some blog pseudonymously for fear of persecution by employers or governments; however it is not as if our real identities cannot be revealed. Ask the MIT students subpoenad by the RIAA* or the young man in Tennessee who is being chased by the FBI for hacking into Sarah Palin’s email box.

Bloggers also have various reasons for blogging. Some blog for professional reasons; some blog to create a discussion and a community; some are working to create a living archive of their lives; some blog because they need the discipline of writing regularly; some blog because others are blogging. What might be the other reasons for blogging that I have missed? Please use the comments link to share your views.

By subject matter, there are hundreds of ways of slicing and dicing bloggers into political bloggers, mom bloggers, feminist bloggers, fashion bloggers, food bloggers, and so on. For more on the diversity of the blogosphere, see Technorati’s annually published data.

Likewise, social network users are also quite diverse. A recent Ofcom report classifies users of social networks as follows:

  • Alpha Socialisers are a minority and use sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people, and for entertainment.
  • Attention Seekers are a minority who crave attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and customising their profiles. Mom bloggers, according to Ofcom, fall here.
  • Followers are a large bunch who join sites to keep up with what their peers were doing.
  • Faithfuls are also a large bunch who use social networking sites to find old friends, from school or university.
  • Functionals are a minority who are single-minded in using sites for their particular aims.

There is a longer categorisation created by SEO consultant Kyle Healey. He proposes 23 types of social media users from the ‘superuser’ to the ‘moron’. I imagine it is a bit tongue-in-cheek but click on the link to read this in detail. Which kind of social media user are you?

Of web users in general, there are two kinds, according to Professor John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berkman Centre: digital natives and digital immigrants. In an earlier post, I argued that this is an inadequate classification that would benefit from recognising the naturalised digital citizen. What do you think? Which kind of web user are you?

Typologies usually make people bristle with a “I don’t fit in any of these categories” kind of reaction. It helps us to remember that these are not discrete sets, but overlapping ones. We may belong in one or more, or none of these categories because of the way we use the web. It is worth remembering that typologies are not about exceptions; they are about the homogeneous masses.

Typologies are all fine and dandy but are they any use? That will be the next post in this series.

* MIT refused to reveal their identities and subsequently a Boston judge quashed the RIAA subpoena.

Related reading:

Rapleaf’s statistics on social network users

My earlier post on Digital origins and identities

On classifications and typologies (1)

Humans classify things, people and behaviours. Into types. Typologies have found use in a diverse range of disciplines from psychology to anthropology and linguistics.

Classifications enable pattern recognition – or generalisations – within homogeneous groups; they also help make extrapolations. So they can be quite useful.

For businesses, typologies and classifications have great value. Market segmentation is all about recognising potentially profitable segments froma large, non-homogeneous population and then targetting one’s marketing campaigns to gain the attention, interest and spend of the specific, profitable subset.

But typologies have shortcomings hence potential for abuse. For instance, racial or gender classifications can deteriorate into unhelpful shorthand that enables easy discrimination. Not everyone is a fan of Carleton S Coon‘s work on races and evolution. Look up ‘women childbearing age discrimination‘ and you will find much evidence to see how easy it is. A sobering experiment conducted by Bertrand and Mullainathan asked that vital question: “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” about whether racial discrimination on the basis of black versus white names is real in hiring situations.

There are disagreements on the validity of some generalisations. For instance, Penelope Trunk, a business blogger, is a fan of generational generalisations, while Ben Casnocha, entrepreneur, student and blogger, believes collective consciousness is over-rated, particularly in context of generations. Both of them are right in their own way and both lines of arguments have limitations.

Generalisations – and stereotypes – work mainly because they are statistically significant when vast swathes of data are considered. Which means they talk about the vast bulge of the Bell Curve, not the leading and trailing edges. As that great sage of all things wise, Homer Simpson said: “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers”. My wry view is that generalisations are mainly meant as warnings.

So what of the internet? Do we know various types of web users, or social media users, or bloggers? The answer is both ‘yes’, and ‘no’. ‘Yes’ because many typologies have been proposed. ‘No’ because there is no universal consensus.

A post later this week will delve into web user typologies, so do come back.

Types of writing instruments (copyrights reserved)
Types of writing instruments (copyright reserved)