The More We Stay, the Less We Say

Forrester recently updated its Technographics profiles (made famous in the book Groundswell) for global social media consumption, surveying 95,000 consumers across 18 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America. One primary finding was the lack of commenting occurring in mature western markets, including the United States.

Adoption is pretty much complete in the U.S. (86%) and globally. Almost everyone who is online also is using or has used social media. Comscore recently corroborated this data, saying 83% of the world’s online population participates in social media.

But, most of us in the United States are not social and care not to converse. The Forrester report finds that 2/3 of the US adult social media population doesn’t comment. This is notable.

Commenting seems to have decreased over the past six years. Perhaps it’s because of the widespread proliferation of mobile media with smaller screens and touch input. It’s certainly harder to type in a blog comment or critique a product on a smartphone.

Or perhaps now that older generations are online and participating in social media, we see less commenting by percentage. These latecomers simply don’t feel comfortable chatting it up online like digital natives do.

Or maybe, just maybe, as we continue down our social path, we have less to say. The shine wears off.

Some long time friends confess they are pulling back on social media. They have had a realization about balance; the necessary social media for business versus unproductive simply busy work. They retract to a more measured pace, taking a marathon runner’s approach to social media. Others simply stop participating on a regular basis.


More than likely the lesser percentage of U.S. commenters is a combination of mobile, age and user burnout. Companies and organizations who are looking to harness social power will have a harder time than in other countries. If you dive deep into the report, you’ll see developing countries have much more conversational cultures.

“Companies in Europe and North America love asking users to post content like product reviews, user-generated photos and videos, and Facebook wall posts,” conclude Forrester Authors Gina Sverdlov and Nate Elliott. “But while most online users in those markets are willing consumers of social media, few post often on social sites.”

This conclusion is important. While a third of U.S social media users do comment, they are not necessarily inclined to comment on business pages.

In fact, most people won’t interact with brands via social media. If they do comment on a business page, it’s likely because of a personal interest or to complain. They are also growing fatigued of polls and surveys.

Don’t make the mistake of separating media. The consumer doesn’t distinguish between social, traditional web or plain paper and old telephone feedback. Stakeholders see all of those as feedback mechanisms for a brand. Further, they are starting to feel tapped out, and more selective about providing input to brands.

Moving forward, companies and nonprofits need to treat participating customers and donors with more care. They are a vital community, the few that care enough to interact and come back. As time and media progresses, this precious feedback will become more sparse and valuable.

What do you think? Are we saying less? Why?


  • Love this post – thanks for laying out all the data around a topic many bloggers have noticed. I believe commenting has been the victim of the growth in active participation in social media. Not only has the conversation fragmented across different networks, but there is much more of it. Because we have a desire to consume and stay on top of what others are saying as much as possible, weighing in with our own responses is less of a priority.

    The old idea that the blogs getting the most comments are the most read/appreciated is no longer true — an adjustment in that kind of thinking is an important one for us all to make.

    • That’s the truth.  And I have experienced the opposite, too. A lot of comments, but not a lot of reads. Hmm.  I’ll need to noodle over that conundrum separately. Thank you for commenting, Kellye.

    • Completely agree Kellye–with additional networks come time constraints on the amount that can be spent on each. Taking the time to weigh in, comment thoughtfully, etc. falls by the wayside when you’re just trying to keep your head above water with so many more demands.

      That said, I still find more value in thoughtful blog posts (like this one) than I do passing comments on Twitter. Except for when the passing comment on twitter pointed me to the blog post…

  • I think we all shift from time to time. I know, depending on my schedule, I may have a season where I spend more time on Twitter, and then a season where I comment more on blogs, or on Facebook. A lot of it has to do with what is going on in my world at a particular moment, or what changes are made to platforms.

    But overall, I think this is all part of that settling in process where social media is becoming more integrated into every day life. It’s no longer shiny. Look at Pinterest. There’s a lot of activity over there, but it will settle down as people no longer view it as “new”. And then it will be further integrated into our overall routine.

    Businesses and non-profits need to understand all of this as they move forward. 

    • I agree.  Euphoria has passed, and people are settling into their natural comfort zone with social media. And, frankly, we are seeing new media and developments with mobile/tablets. Application driven content competes with social, so there are more mouths at the table.  Good point, Ken!

  • I think Ken’s got it right. Part of the settling process as we move to the next phase of truly integrating social into larger, more valuable digital strategies. We’ve worn people out trying to get them to comment on our Facebook pages and take polls. With the 90-9-1 rule, there was always only a percentage of really active people anyway, and they’ve been attacked from all sides trying to get them to engage. I know I’m wiped out!

    • Yup, the well is dry. People are tired of the constant calls to “Join the Conversation!” For what? For who? LOL.  OK, quoting Alan Iverson is probably not a good idea.  Hope you are doing well, Neicole.

  • Great insight Geoff, and as Kelly mentioned, part of what a lot of us are both seeing and feeling. Social media seems to be moving solidly into that point where rather than being a phenomenon, it’s simply part of the accepted way we now communicate. The barrier to entry is higher because it’s just…well, expected. So you have to stand out all the more to really pull interest levels. The plus side of this seems to be that the remaining conversation is stronger, more focused, maybe even more loyal?  I’m finding the most interesting clients I work with these days are the ones who have a physical presence somewhere that allows us to cross offline and social media based conversation for a much better impact. The game isn’t fading, it’s just maturing.

    • I think so (re: loyalty).  There is an uthenticity to the time investment with commenting. People don’t waste their time unless they care.

      Side note:  It’s so odd seeing your maiden name in paren!!! Hope you are doing well, Jennifer.

  • I think we’re seeing the differences in eastern/western culture play out, digitally. We, in the west, generally like to play with the new and shiny, but once it becomes old hat, we revert to our feelings of independence and privacy – we pull back. Eastern cultures, on the other hand, still revolve around huge, extended families and immersive social morays.

    We use the tools because they are new and shiny. 
    They use the tools because they serve a specific need.

    New and shiny will only get us so far, though. Sadly, it seems a lot of western businesses are constantly pursuing “new and improved” if only to trick more eyeballs to also-ran offerings. That’s a recipe for a race to the bottom, and I don’t see it competing long term with efforts to use social technologies to help people actually DO things. 

    And that’s the tricky part – what do our customers want to DO and how do WE help them do it?

    • Very interesting perspective, Brian. Totally did not think about this, and I will mull on it a bit.  Do you think Latin cultures are also strong commenters for the same reason?

      • I would think so, Geoff. It seems to me social media scales our existing communication tendencies. How do people in America interact with one another in person versus people in Chile or China?

        It’s pretty neat and one of the reasons I love following people in other countries on Twitter. It’s nice to see how conversational they can be – and almost always open to a stranger saying hello. :)

  • Well, I know for sure that I am tweeting less. When I first started tweeting, or shortly thereafter, I did 1-2 chats every night of the week except Fridays. Just cutting my chats down signifies a major decrease for me.

    I’ve also noticed that my ratio between reading and commenting has shifted. I used to comment on every post I read. Now I know a lot more people and sadly they are all awesome writers. That means I have a lot more great stuff to read and hence less time to leave my 2 pennies on the post.

    I agree with Ken and Neicole – I think we’re starting to settle into comfort zones. I just take for granted that I can converse with people using my keyboard now. What I am worried about is that the people who still are not ready to jump in will have a real hard time getting out there once they start. I think it’s really easy to just keep on talking to the same people, and the ability people have to accept new people into their circles seems to diminish as time goes on. That’s not a really good scenario for any of the parties involved.

    Great post, Geoff! Thought provoking as per usual.

    • I think sometimes we forget that a tweet or a share is a nice acknowledgement for a blogger.  So I know you have a lot of good mojo still going.

       I do agree on the circles stuff. I am resistant to new conversations on social, as you know, and that’s not necessarily a good thing for me.  I need to remain teachable.  Thanks for the great comment!

      • I think that will be a huge point as we move forward, Geoff. I think people who will start using social media tools this year or next will have a radically different experience than you had when you started or that I had when I started. We all need to keep our eyes and ears open for new perceptions, new experiences, and new lessons to learn. Now is not the time for grizzled veterans to say, “Hey, I’ve been tweeting for 10 years and this is how it’s done.”

        And of course, who knows what new tools and platforms may overcome Twitter and Facebook. Then we’ll all be starting from scratch again.

        Interesting conversation :)

  • I think it’s a little of everything and mainly that people have so many places to be active online just keeping up can be daunting. Even a short comment can take a few minutes and that adds up.

    • This seems to be a common thread here.  I personally have stopped commenting and generally visiting LinkedIn and StumbleUpon.  Google+ has become a tertiary network instead. But I also have work and a kid.  Commenting is a not a priority in context :/

  • Excellent post. 

    I think it the lack of commenting and feedback comes down to time and attention.  

    One of the side effects of the proliferation of all of these social media networks is that we have more to do. We have to push a blog post out. We have to update on Twitter. We have to post to our Facebook page. We need to push a photo to Instagram. 
    All of these things take time, and out amount of free time is finite. Only so many hours in the day, and something has to get jettisoned…since most of our blogs don’t get any comments, what do you think is the first thing to go? Especially when a share is an implicit endorsement…

    One wonders what is next to go? Geoff, you say you are getting fewer reads, but more comments….could it be that blog reading is passe too?

    Lots of food for thought! Thanks!

    • Oh, I think that had to do with royally pissing off an A-List blogger whose close friends proceeded to black ball me, literally DMing anyone who tweeted my stuff saying, “A tweet for Geoff Livingston is a tweet against XXX.”

      I do agree with you, we have less time, and the medium — particularly mobile — is less conducive towards commenting.

  • The trend is not that we’re commenting less — but we’re commenting more with pseudonyms and less with our real names. Or at least that is the takeaway from jaw-dropping data out of Disqus, showing 61% of comments on their platform (which includes this blog, incidentally) are attributed to fake names:

    • So does that mean Disqus counts the incredible and prolific amount of spam it passes through? LOL.  That may be so with blogs (particularly those savvy enough to add Disqus), but what about social networks and other sites? I do think it’s interesting, but I wonder if it is isolated and blown up because of the Disqus spam issue.

      • I see what Ari is referring to here re: pseudonyms. We see it on our school district blog commenting system, Intense Debate. Solid traffic, time on posts, shares, and comments. But they are doing so anonymously. Also, as news outlets have keyed in on making it easier for viewers/readers to provide story/article commenting, those anonymous handles show up with greater frequency.

        Interesting thoughts and data, Geoff.

  • I’d definitely agree that people are tired of surveys.  There’s so many of them, I believe there’s a need to vet them and separate the ones worth studying from those that lack any sense of methodology.  As for comments, I still see quite a few, though I like all of your theories.  Speaking of “like” — between that and the RT button, perhaps it’s made us lazy too. 

  •  I loved this. Thank you. I find myself now gravitating towards reading blogs that are about people with lives similar to mine or those that inspire me. I rarely leave comments anymore, either.  There are only so many hours in a day , hell yeah and if I’m going to spend my time reading, it’s going to be to the benefit of my business or my psyche.  I think people do settle in and find their comfort zone although I’m always on the look out for something/someone new to read. 

  • Seeing spectators are on the rise again. It really gives more meaning to the idea of passive engagement. They can be engaged, but won’t do muc until they have a reason to. Great post, Geoff.

  •  But the quantity of games have increased in several times. They want people just playes stupid games on their computers, mobile phones.. but not read news, interesting articles about science, study..

  • Simply lovely!

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