The following is excerpted from Digital Government through Social Networks: A Natural Alliance? by Britt Blaser, Joe Trippi, and David Weinberger (read the entire paper here).
The progression from passive observer to fire-breathing activist is now well known and has now been built into the architecture of all future successful campaigns. In fact, the universality of that progression is predicted by a study published in 2006 by Forrester Research, which described the progression as a ladder of engagement with six rungs:
Four national campaigns have provided laboratories that demonstrate that the pattern of its steps is universal. Chronologically, the beginning of these campaigns is most significant, because that’s when the architecture is set and proves its success:
Howard Dean, 2003-4
Ron Paul, 2007-8
John Edwards, 2007-8
Barack Obama, 2007-8
Forrester’s Ladder of Engagement is generalized to all “social” online activity, so we developed a more granular ladder to model the activist’s progression. In both cases, only some people will make the full progression, but any progression by any member of the campaign adds to the campaign’s success.
They demonstrated that “Creators” are not the top of the activist ladder, but just below the middle, starting as casual readers:
By any standard, people progressing through that sequence within any campaign comprise a social network, whether they’re on line or off, whether they know each other before or because of the campaign, whether by name or an obscure “handle”. All that matters is that an individual voice has an evolving reputation visible to others, with weak or strong ties among them, and that their effort is perceived as a shared and growing success. But only when the campaign is coordinated online can it unlock the full force of its members’ participatory surplus.
“Real” campaigns–mailings and meetings and calls and glad-handing and fervor–live only in collective, faulty memories and ephemeral news reports.
Counter-intuitively, a “non-real” online network is continuously accessible to its members, to inform us, impress us and to add to whenever we want. Invisible bits of magnetism on unseen machines present and maintain for us evidence of our actions and importance to each other, apparently permanent and always meaningful. Improbably, online networks are far more real and accessible, so we use and rely on them more and respond to their signals with more alacrity.