UK PR firm Lansons recently released the results of an exercise to profile the country’s social media users. Called the ‘Social Media Census’, the study delivers a wealth of interesting information, and also segments users into what it calls the ‘9Cs of social media.’

In the following interview, Lansons head of digital Simon Sanders explores some of the findings from the survey, and also sheds some light into why financial services clients - his firm’s core customer base - have been relatively slow to adopt social media.

What are the objectives of this exercise? How can it help your clients?

The seed of the idea was the official UK census which was carried out in March of this year. We wanted to use the same moment in time to benchmark UK usage of social media. Not just how many people are active but also how they are active - how they are behaving within social media.

There’s a vast difference for example between the type of person who may mainly watch funny videos on You Tube to someone who makes a point of posting reviews of any restaurants, holiday, books or gadget they buy. The importance for clients is that in understanding the distinctions and not simply regarding social media users in one way you can better plan how you should be engaging with them.
As a crude example, you wouldn’t want to encourage a client to launch a campaign which required the target audience to script, rehearse, record, edit, soundtrack and upload a short film about how they use your product to a You Tube channel, if, their target audience is not likely to be creating content and is just, at best, watching content created by others.
Our infographic provides a summary of the data and we have managed to classify user types into what we call the 9 Cs of Social Media Users, which set out different evolutionary stages from being Completely Inactive right through from then being a Crowd-member to a Conversationalist and so on.  The insights are more dramatic when you look at gender and age bands and it’s this that can help clients as part of social strategy planning.   
Which findings, if any, surprised you?

Our research was inspired by the Social Technographics work conducted by Forrester Research in the US. Back in 2007 they identified six types, including Joiners, Spectators and Critics, and later added a seventh, that of Conversationalists, to account for the rise of Twitter. The big surprise for us was the emergence of two new categories of social media user types which allow us to state that in 2011 people are using social media in new ways, both to collaborate with others, and for directly commercial reasons. Now, these behaviours may have been there before, but in classifying them we can now not only track their growth but also plan for them in our social strategies.
The second surprise finding is really one that I hope might surprise others: namely that 61 percent of UK adults are now active in social media, and that there are more than 8m over 50s active in social media. We should surely now recognise that social media is not a niche activity to be disregarded nor a Generation Y-only phenomenon – and if it is not being done already, social media should be incorporated and integrated into communications strategies. If our research helps to provide validation, rather than surprise, then that would be great, and I hope it will help turn some red and amber lights firmly green.
Which of these groups do you think is most relevant for financial services clients?

Listening is always the starting place in social media – listening to those who are talking about your brand, your sector, your competition and so on.
As such, the Conversationalists are likely to be the most relevant place to start, since these are the users who are posting messages, updates and comments to social networking sites and forums – and it’s an opportunity to get pretty uninhibited and honest opinions and feedback which can be incredibly useful to many areas of a business, in a variety of ways, not least reputation and customer service, but also informing messaging.
Many of the other Cs also have their place – for example, if you consider how many people are just what we have classified as Crowd-members, these are people who are simply watching or reading social media content: this could be videos that you are creating, it could be a blog in which you are providing relevant and helpful content. Even if the numbers you reach aren’t huge, you are still providing it for the people that are most interested in watching it or reading it. Ultimately, a social strategy is about humanising your brand, and there is no reason why financial services clients can’t do this, and there are lots of reasons why they should.  

Financial services companies, and their agencies, have not necessarily been the quickest in terms of social media adoption. Why?

The financial services industry is, of course heavily regulated. This covers how companies promote themselves, the type of information they can provide and any disclaimers that may need to be included. This then brings in issues of legal and compliance clearance even in areas where there is no L&C requirement. In addition there can be client concerns that confidential information or personal data might be inadvertently shared over what are publicly accessible social network sites. The sector has also been slower to embrace the idea that social media is an opportunity to engage in dialogue and not just use it as a channel through which to push messages, and it’s also worth noting, on a practical basis, that with firewalls preventing access to social media sites, it is always going to be hard for staff to actually even visit some websites during working hours let alone participate on social media sites. Finally, and not unique to financial services companies, there is the issue of who ‘owns’ social media within an organisation. Is it a communications or customer services function for example?
And as the head of social media at a financial services firm, how tough is the job?

It can be tough but I think the tide is turning. From an agency perspective, Twitter has changed how journalists might source contributions and allowed for quick-fire exchanges of info and everyday banter, and I think this has helped accelerate people’s day-to-day involvement, exposure and interest in social media – and the ability to handle everything from blogger outreach to LinkedIn groups, managing Twitter accounts or Facebook pages or creating online events is becoming par for the course.
From a client point of view, and without wishing to generalise to broadly, consumer personal finance brands and B2B clients are the more interested and evolved compared to many institutional and investment clients. With the latter examples, many of their staff will have a presence on LinkedIn (fitting the ‘Connectors’ profile of our ‘9Cs of Social Media’) and they may also be on Twitter or even Facebook (‘Conversationalists’) and this presents both opportunities as well as challenges. A frequent trigger to discussions is some form of emerging reputational issue, where people might be tweeting or discussing something in a relevant forum, and I hope this research gives us the opportunity to create more client conversations about the ways in which they can participate in social media – not just being aware of the conversation they are being mentioned in but being truly visible, active, engaged and engaging.
Which of these groups would you classify yourself in? And which would you like to be?

The 9 Cs of social media are not really discrete segments but user behaviour types which inevitably overlap. So, me, I’d claim to be many of these, but in the main, a creator, conversationalist and a crowd-member. I am excited personally by the opportunities that collaboration offer, and professionally I think that the rise of the commercialists will be the one to watch. What has been interesting from the hundreds of tweets I’ve seen is that people have found it helpful to analyse and declare their own user types.