I recently joined an online group. I’m not a big online contributor, but I thought the things people might have to say in this group would be of interest to me. However, what I didn’t expect was to be scolded for not contributing! The group administrator sent out a note saying non-contributors would be removed from the group; that this was a participation forum, not a viewing platform.

It got me to thinking – we constantly talk about time spent online but not really about the level of engagement – outside of Twitter and Facebook? So when the opportunity came up to test this, I did so among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents online.

The results showed that under one in five (18%) classified themselves as ‘Contributors’.

Contributor‘I often comment on sites, articles, or in forums. I fully engage online.

Males under 45 had highest incidence at 1 in 4 (26%), with only 1 in 8 over 55’s classifying themselves as contributors.

But what about those people like me? The ones who were “Members” but not necessarily engaging to the fullest degree? It seems I’m not on my own – almost 1 in 4 are like me (23%) and only go some way to engaging online.

Member‘I join groups & forums but rarely comment or become actively engaged in these.

In fact for my demographic, I’m not unusual as 1 in 3 women under 45 place themselves in this ‘member’ category.

Thinking of a range of the popular sites available I wondered how usage of these sites varied overall and by these categories of ‘Contributor’ and ‘Member’ that I had identified.

The results surprised me. Among an online panel only 4 in 5 are regular or occasional Facebook users, and Boards.ie outperforms Twitter for use (51% vs 40%).

Pinterest and Instagram, although having relatively high awareness levels (66% & 83%), have much lower usage levels (22% & 15%).
YouTube is used by almost 9 in 10 (88%) and Skype by just under 2 in 3 (63%).

Sites like Imgur & FourSquare have low awareness (26% & 29%) and therefore use is very low (6% & 2%). Reddit on the other hand has overcome some of this awareness issue (45% aware) but usage is low at just 1 in 10 (9%).

For the most part my Member & Contributor categories showed higher usage levels across all sites but the degree of variation was greater for Contributors on Twitter, Boards.ie, LinkedIn & Skype.


What this data told me is that being online for one person is not the same as for another. Over half of the online community only engage to a readership level and just 1 in 5 are real Contributors. In essence, the online game could be similar to a football match – some just want to watch from the side-lines, others just want to be part of the team, while the remainder want to be the goalscorers.