Are you Active or Passive when it comes to Social (Media)?

By Amanda Guisbond, @agbond

You’ve likely found yourself on the receiving end of the question, “Are you on X?” when X could be one of any number of social or location-based (SoLo) sites; Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, LinkedIn, etc.  My question is, does anyone ever ask, “Are you an ACTIVE user on X?”

I had dinner with a friend last week that I hadn’t seen in months. She started rattling off questions about my trip here, my day there – I was confused how she knew I’d been travelling and she said, “Oh, I’m a silent participant on Facebook.” I realized then that because she hadn’t posted any status updates, uploaded any pictures, or done really anything on Facebook in a while, I forgot she was there – but she didn’t forget me.

So, that being said, I have some thoughts about being an ACTIVE user, as in actively makes contributions to SoLo sites, vs. a PASSIVE user, who maybe observes or benefits from a site without actually sharing information on it.

The comfort factor

PASSIVE: Get uncomfortable – For people who aren’t active on any given site, or who “lurk” in the shadows of social media watching others, get out of your comfort zone! It’s fun to find that you CAN post a thoughtful 140-character tweet that others will re-tweet. Case in point: After 2+ years using Yelp to find awesome local restaurants, I finally started reviewing some on my own (Thanks to SHIFT-er and Yelp elite Megan L.) and quickly received my first note from the owner of a restaurant I live for, thanking me for my review. I am getting a kick out of Yelp-ing, and yet, I was so afraid to do it for so long. Why? Because I was scared.

ACTIVE: Don’t get too comfortable. I forget sometimes that other people can see me online. I forget that my dear friends who never post a Facebook status update are checking out my pictures, or taking note of my time away. I guess that also goes for people I don’t know – on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Yelp – so I can say what I want to say, but I should also be prepared to live with it. There’s a lot of high-profile, recent examples of where someone learned that the hard way. In short, celebrities – or anyone that speaks before thinking – should be required to take Twitter 101 before hitting the 140 character soapbox.

You’re supposed to share… sort of

PASSIVE: Ok, you don’t need to be active online. But if you’re taking advantage of others intel, you might as well give a little back, no? If you’re not comfortable sharing it online, say, posting your resume on LinkedIn, or a great article on Facebook, then at least pass it on in the context of your everyday life. Refer someone to a friend who’s hiring. Discuss a great article you found on Twitter. And try to give credit where due!

ACTIVE: …. You guessed it. Sometimes you can over share. I tried “checking in” to a restaurant recently and got really scared that my waitress would find out and treat me differently. I quickly realized that I shouldn’t “check in” because, for me, that level of sharing is too much. Some people, however, cannot stop sharing! I don’t want to know you checked into a bar at 4 a.m., I don’t want to know you’re thinking of breaking up with your boyfriend, I definitely don’t want to see a video of you potty training your kid. Am I alone??

Upon reflection

PASSIVE: You’re more active than you know.  Another case in point: Some of my closest friends are completely inactive users. My roommate has never joined Facebook – it amazes me, because here I am talking about social media everyday at work, and when I get home, I tell her about stuff and she knows what things are, but it’s not the same. The funny thing is if my roommate ever joined Facebook, she’d already have a digital footprint ready-to-go – between my account and others, she’s in several pictures and mentioned in status updates. Clearly her decision not to join Facebook still does not eliminate her altogether from Facebook. So, why not join and own it? (Hint, Hint :))

ACTIVE: Sometimes, I wish I could go back to simpler times, when I didn’t want to Tweet, Facebook, and share information as if it was a compulsory thing. It’s when I see that my phone is growing out of my hand that I try to pause, reflect and take a break. Sometimes I go cold turkey on Twitter for a week. When I’m on a beach I avoid Facebook. And I also think critically about which SoLo sites I’d really like to be on – for example, Foursquare was not for me, but Yelp I’m enjoying.

I’m sure there’s a spectrum of ACTIVE and PASSIVE users– I am by no means the most active online user, and to some I could appear passive, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on pros and cons to both, and where you think you fall!

3 Responses to “Are you Active or Passive when it comes to Social (Media)?”


  1. 1 Mandy February 17, 2011 at 12:49 am

    I love this post – and have people in my life that fall into both camps. I am an active user on Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, etc. – and some might say HYPERactive on Facebook, mostly with content sharing. I think the biggest reason is because my whole family and many friends are on the East Coast so I feel like it’s an easy and somehow personal way for me to keep in touch.

    The biggest downside I see to being a passive user is that, without taking any action, you could be perceived as inactive – which could have its repercussions in a business like ours.

    • 2 Amanda Guisbond February 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Mandy! I love that you find that social media allows you to stay connected to people who live far away.

      I agree, there are repercussions to being “passive” online in an industry like PR/marketing. I think for some verticals – pharma, for example, as opposed to tech – the rate of adoption is slower and less folks have embraced SM on the business side, so being “passive” may not be a huge impediment to success… for now.

      On a side note, I’m thinking about a follow-up post exploring how PR/marketers can successfully engage passive users, and how to measure “passive” engagement.


  1. 1 Tweets that mention investigates Active vs. Passive #socialmedia users Where do you fit in? #SLICE -- Topsy.com Trackback on February 16, 2011 at 2:58 pm
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