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What don't you know about your social media audience? That is the question we tackled this week at the Mesh Confence, where we shared a sneak peak at the latest social media study from Vision Critical and Emily Carr University. Our slides presented info graphics created by Cheryl Loh, the Emily Carr student who also designed our recent infographic about Pinterest.

We launched this study earlier this spring with a survey deployed to 80,000 respondents in Canada, the US and the UK. About 70% of these respondents use one or more social media tools; the resulting data takes us inside the online habits of more than 55,000 social media users - the largest study of social media usage to date. That data provided fresh insights on everything from divorce rates to pet ownership among social media users.

But what emerged most clearly is that we are not talking about a single social media audience: we are looking at two very different audiences, one of which participates actively, and the other of which largely logs in and listens. The "sharers" are different from "lurkers" in a variety of ways. For example:

  • Among people who share actively on Twitter, 61% are the people who influence, approve or decide on budgets. But only 32% of Twitter lurkers have that kind of influence on budgets. The gap between FB sharers and lurkers is less dramatic: Only 35% of FB sharers are influencers on workplace budgetsÛ_.but even fewer FB lurkers are influential (just 24%).
  • 1 in 3 Twitter sharers say that they like to be the most fashionable person in the room, compared with just 1 in 5 Twitter lurkers. And while 1 in 5 Facebook sharers wants to be the most fashionable person in the room, barely 1 in 20 FB lurkers care about being fashionable.
  • 2/3 of Twitter sharers are supreme shoppers - the trendy, premium shoppers - whereas only 1/3 of lurkers are supreme shoppers. But twice as many lurkers as sharers are reluctant shoppers - the people who want to get in and out of a shop as quickly as possible.

These differences have dramatic implications for any company that is trying to reach its customers through social media. By relying on social media monitoring to tell you what matters to your online audience, you may be treating social media sharers - the people who tweet, comment, like and post - as proxies for the sentiments and attitudes of your social media audience as a whole.

Once you recognize the difference between the attitudes and behaviours of sharers and lurkers, however, it looks downright dangerous to rely on tweets and mentions to tell you about what you should be sharing and posting. Yes, you may get lots of retweets from the tweets aimed at workplace decision-makers, or likes and shares for the Facebook posts about your high-fashion products, but those retweets and shares may do little to impress the lurkers who have less workplace influence and care less about the latest style.

Considering that the vast majority of your online audience is made up of lurkers - 68% of Facebook users, and 61% of Twitter users - you can't afford to focus your social media efforts on the sharers alone. Those lurkers may not post very much - about 1/3 of Facebook users post 1-4 times a week, 1/3 post less than once a week, and 1/3 have posted fewer than 10 times in the past year. But they are online all the time: among the Facebook lurkers we surveyed, 87% of them login to Facebook at least once a week, 70% login more than 3 times a week, and 57% are on Facebook every single day. In fact, a full third of the lurker audience on Facebook checks Facebook several times a day!

That is a huge number of social media eyeballs to overlook, or to treat as identical to their more active counterparts. Your invisible customers are numerous, they're online, and they're using social media. Considering how much these customers matter to your bottom line - and how readily you can reach them via social media - you need to know as much as you can about their unique tastes and preferences. The data we released at Mesh, and the data we will be sharing in the coming weeks, will help you get to know them.

To find out more, view the presentation that Alexandra Samuel, director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University delivered, alongside Vision Critical's Founder and CEO, Andrew Reid, at the Mesh 2012 Conference:

Vision Critical Mesh Conference Presentation

View more presentations from vcuniversity.

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