Understanding Gartner’s “Generation Virtual”

Above Image: Gartner’s Generation V Quadrant, found via Marketing Charts.

Gartner: Generation Virtual not defined by demographics
Gartner has recently published research on the topic of “Generation Virtual” (Generation V) which essentially define as two things: 1) This generation isn’t specified by demographics (age) but instead by technology usage. 2) There are four major behaviors

Gartner suggests that Generation V isn’t a demographic categorization, but instead behavioral:

“Unlike previous generations, Generation Virtual (also known as Generation V) is not defined by age – or gender, social demographic or geography – but is based on demonstrated achievement, accomplishments and an increasing preference for the use of digital media channels to discover information, build knowledge and share insights.”

This is an interesting notion, but I’d suggest that having a demographic overlay is actually very important. First of all, demographics are how brands develop personas of who they are trying to reach, bucketing all internet contributors into one classification may be too broad. Secondly, within Generation V, demographics influences the different tools they use. For example, youth may be more inclined to participate in Club Penguin, while an older professional may be more inclined to participate in Linkedin or Xing demographics do matter. We focus on Social Technographics, which is also behavioral yet closely tied to demographics (age, country, gender, etc).

Gartner: Four major behaviors with Generation Virtual
Secondly, Gartner focuses on four different behavior types: creators, contributors, opportunities, and lurkers:

“Gartner has identified four levels of engagement within Generation V, addressing both the extent to which customers will engage with other customers, as well as the level of engagement needed from businesses to enable the community. The four levels of engagement include: creators, contributors, opportunists, and lurkers.”

This is a helpful segmentation, it indicates that while Generation V composes of a movement of those participating, there are different levels to each behavior. One suggestion is to forgo the term “lurker” (reminiscent of someone standing in the shadows) and instead focus on “spectator”. We note that there are other behaviors beyond the four listed, such as creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, and inactives. Furthermore we do not view these behaviors as mutually exclusive, a creator on one site could be inactive on another. They suggest only a limited number of activity per each behavior:

  • “Up to 3 percent of individuals will be creators, providing original content and can be advocates that promote your product and services.
  • Between 3 percent and 10 percent of individuals will be contributors, essentially followers, who add to the conversation, but don’t initiate it. They can recommend products and services as customers move through a buying process, looking for purchasing advice.
  • Between 10 percent and 20 percent of individuals will be opportunists, who can further contributions regarding purchasing decisions. Opportunists can “add value” to a conversation that’s taking place, while walking through a considered purchase.
  • Approximately 80 percent of individuals will be lurkers (and all users start as such), essentially spectators, who reap the rewards of online community input, but only absorb what is being communicated. However, they can implicitly contribute and validate indirectly reporting the value from the rest of the community.”
  • I’ve not read the full report to get the context (but would like to) but his coverage seems to slant the CRM side. I believe it’s important to note that demographics indeed influence behaviors, see this technographic profile tool, and you’ll quickly notice different behaviors, with an increase in adoption from those younger –particularly see the US charts.

    Gartner’s Analyst Adam Sarner does an excellent article featured in Forbes that lists more, it’s a good read with some very practical recommendations. I hope to meet Adam someday (see his Gartner profile), and discuss communities more in detail.

    To Consider: Demographics do matter
    In summary, while this breakdown of “Generation V’ is certainly telling of where things are headed, demographics are critical, as behaviors and where they participate will radically differ.

    As an analyst at Forrester Research primarily covering social networks and communities for interactive marketers, it’s confirmation to hear of other analyst firms discussing my same coverage area. For some, it may seem counter-intuitive for me to discuss about another firm’s work, but it’s important to me that I provide helpful information to my network, regardless of source, and hopefully they’ll continue to trust me and come back to me –even when I send them away.

    Update: There’s more conversation on Friendfeed. Carter Lusher (analyst watcher) is impressed we can have a civil discussion, why couldn’t we? Also, I’ve made some edits to this blog, post-publication around the area of indicating that our technographics is tied to both behavior and demographics, and discussing how our behaviors (creators, critics, etc) are not mutually exclusive to provide additional explanation.

    44 Replies to “Understanding Gartner’s “Generation Virtual””

    1. Jeremy, I agree. As long as the presence of children in a household is one of the strongest predictors for internet use of grown-ups and elder people as it still seems to be the case in Germany, demographics do matter. Also, talking of a generation irrespective of age or upbringing is quite strange.

      I do not fully understand the differences between the opportunists and the contributors. Both appear to have moderate involvement. In the first case the company only creates the context for the users’ interaction and self-expression, in the second case, it has to offer more – ask questions, set up polls etc. So this typology is not really a breakdown of “Generation V” but describes different ways of interaction between companies’ web activities and their users. Did I get this right?

    2. I really don’t get the “level of company engagement” dimension.
      I saw Gartner’s graph before, and I wandered why they didn’t use a pyramid. What’s more, I think every brand has it’s own consumers composition. That said, I would concentrate on understanding which are the most profitable consumers and their behaviours, not just in terms of revenues.
      (on this aspect, Gartner’s chart might be counter-intuitive).
      However, I have to thank Gartner contribute: I also think that demographics can’t always predict behaviours… might psychographics help?

    3. I’m glad I’m not alone here, If Gartner leaves a comment further explaining the study, I’ll be happy to modify the post.

      To be clear, I’m fascinated by the study and data (as it is my coverage area) and in no way is a direct criticism of the company or the analyst –just furthering the conversation in an area of my interest.

    4. So how does the above “community engagement” discussion capture the fact that within a community, a participant may have different levels of interaction, as the participatn’s role or interest changes from topic to topic and in real time? If a community owner is trying to assess possible actions to attract more participants, that does’nt necessarily keep “current participants” engaged. I’m not sure how much energy one should expend given the dynamics of engagement.

    5. I would draw the vertical line along the right hadn side and that would be company engagement. with the lower Right Qrt (A) being Create , Upper right Qrt(b) is Promote. and with thn flip the Contributors and lurkers .. so

      A) the company creates content
      B) the company promotes content to customer
      C) the Customer Lurks for some time
      D) then the customer transacts and contributes

      Thus a cycle of another round of creation..

      Not sure why they complicate simple stuff !!

    6. Jeremiah, surely one of the challenges to gaining greater adoption is to create an easy way to move lurkers (spectators) into the opportunists or contributors column.

      While this is important for public online communities, it is critical for internal corporate online communities. There the numbers are smaller but the productivity gains can be huge. http://tinyurl.com/corp-engage

    7. I agree with the comments so far pointing out the ambiguity of this chart. @Don Neely is on to something by pointing out various levels of participation based upon their pre-existing relationship (if they have one) to the community. I’d also add that context should have a significant impact. For example, an individual’s participation with a product-oriented community might be vastly different than his or her interaction with a cause-oriented community, making his or her overall “engagement type” a more nuanced classification, right?

    8. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree that segmenting by demographic has value; that’s what Generation X, Y, etc. do. The point of V is to describe a different set of cohorts determined by behaviour and capabilities. While age, location, etc. do matter, we’ve all seen generalizations which don’t work, like the assumption that people over 40 won’t “get” certain new technologies. V tries to define the group we are all talking about without being patronizing. The other demographic descriptions are still valid, but provide a different lens to look at the issue.

      BTW, I should point out that while I am a Gartner analyst in my day job, I was not one of the primary contributors to this research.

    9. The idea of user generated publics and user generated brand values is pretty old. While this is variant of the theme, it is useful to have more reserach.

      There are many factors like the platform (device), Channel (MySpace, Twitter, Friendfeed etc) and context that are influences as the mashup one with the next.

      I guess now that Gartner has found out about the pull/interact mechanism of networked community they will find more ‘segments’.

      Trying to segment by time shifted time, platform, channel and context is quicksilver but they can try.

    10. Interesting study. I particularly want to follow up on the idea that you can classify your community traffic into 4 main categories. In the past I’ve used the 90:9:1 ratio with the three main user categories most of us are familiar with, 90 lurkers to 9 casual participants to 1 heavy content/discussion generator. I would instinctively consider the opportunist as part of the 9, or casual user in this ratio, but I can see some value in quantifying the regular user who doesn’t generate a lot of content as a unique and different group from the person who pops in, generates, and pops back out. You’ve given my never ending search for better metrics some good food for thought today J., thanks!

    11. Good discussion, Jeremiah.

      Clearly, there is an important connection between behavior and “*”-ographics. For some purposes, it is better to begin with demographics and then move to understand behavior. For other purposes, it is worthwhile to begin with objective behavior and pull in demographics/psychographics/technographics as needed.

      There is an analogy between my colleague’s Generation V concept and the use of personas in Web design projects. A persona is a collection of *-ographic attributes that is, at the end of the day, tied to objectively observable behavior — behavior that is hopefully consistent with desired user interaction scenarios that deliver ROI.

      I think we all would agree that, regardless of how we begin the analysis, at some point it must encompass concrete scenarios that deliver business value — i.e., relevant behavior.

    12. Hi, thanks for drawing this to my attention. Started to subscribe to your blog only a few days ago and it pays of 🙂

      In my opinion the Generation V is to be seen as fx Anthony Giddens is talking about understanding the society. Not as single view, but as one lens of many (at the same time). Gartner™s Generation V Quadrant is segmenting user behavoir so you can draw attention to one part of the users of your site (or blog) – the behavoir and need of “the opportunists” are much the same regardsless of age/country, compared to the diffrences between the needs of “the opportunists” and the needs of “the lurkers”.

      I agree demographics, social graphs, things related to the specific site You analyse, can be added to seperate the diffrences in each single Quadrant. And surely interesting is it that there are a lot of Lurkers and only a few contributors. To capitalize on them, as both can be important to your company, must be next step 😉

      But I also wonders, if behind all this is a discussion, if it’s behavoir or demographics in general that comes first?

    13. I definitely agree that we will begin to see more behavioural rather than demographic segmentation as more and more customer interactions are transferred to digital space with the intersection between the two becoming marketer’s gold. I wrote a blog post a while back where I attempted to chart community engagement against community investment as a way of measuring a user’s potential brand impact.

    14. Ray, Jeffery (Gartner folks)

      Thanks so much for swinging by and giving more color to the premise of this research, very helpful.

      Ray brings up some important points, yes, none of this matters without business context, agreed.

      Most importantly, I appreciate that you guys both stopped by to discuss these topics with me, you’re always welcome to stop by.

    15. Awesome Find Jeremiah. Have re-posted on my Blog http://hellotxt.com/l/xusM. I know people who have made a living from Gen Y speaking/consulting. This is another level. Makes sense.

      Also applies to non Internet Communities, eg Churches, the Office, and Charities. Lurkers are everywhere. It is why from a customer service perspective we have to serve (even) the margins because you never know where the Contributors are. The contributors help define the brand just as the organisation does.

    16. Love your aside “Carter Lusher (analyst watcher) is impressed we can have a civil discussion, why couldn™t we?” because it reflects how social media has the potential to change the culture in the analyst ecosystem.

      For the most part, the largest analyst firms are fiercely competitive and would never appear to notice the other analysts. Nor would they ever say anything that would remotely indicate that a competitor might have an interesting insight. They think that acknowledging the competition could impair their (marketing) aura that their analysts are infallible experts and the source of unique insights. Silly, yes, but something that is ingrained in the culture.

      I got a tweet from a senior analyst at a major firm with “i”m curiousw if jeff and ray required corporate approval before responding…” and a Twitter DM from another senior analyst at one of the largest firms “maybe we’ll see more dialogue via blogs. And maybe the execs will shut it down. We’ll see….” that illustrate the perception internal to the analyst community.


    17. Great read and comments. Ray Valdes’ comment introduces a really important concept that needs closer scrutiny – the persona. Because a persona is different within every community, even though the *graphics are the same.

      I’m a fan of technographics; and Gartner’s finding s are a close cousin. But all these observable behaviors are really driven by two things that are rarely studied, observed, reported about. One is the dynamics of the community itself (often “set” by the community manager). The other is personality (far more closely tied to psychographics than either demo or techno).

      The persona within that community acts differently based on the dynamics and their own personality For example, an introvert may be a “chronic” lurker in nearly every community because they react to and process stimulus/information differently than extroverts. Except when the dynamics of the community are such that the introvert reacts differently – for example an avatar may change the dynamic for that person.

      I’d like to see the emphasis shift away from assigning “values” to the different activities to seeing them as equally important in every community. These are not “levels” – these are simply “types” of behaviors and ideally everyone does all of them.

      Even internal communities in which the stakes are high for participation cannot be judging their “effectiveness” on the number of people who fall into the contributor/creator categories, but on the tangible result of the community being available. Even those lurkers who may not “create” are taking back into the workplace/marketplace something that gets disseminated in other ways.

    18. A really good point Linda, psyhographics indeed comes into play. While I may be a spectator at the BMW forum, I may be very active creator in a social media forum –yet it’s still me.

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