“This is the first of a series of three articles on qualitative audience research”
Understanding digital behaviour can help us improve the way we deliver and facilitate access to information.Digital natives. It’s a phrase that’s been commonly used in the media for some time now. The theory of digital natives emerged as a result of a paper by Marc Prensky called Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants [PDF] in which he noted a radical change in students thanks to their immersion in new digital technologies. Of course, this theory now sounds not only misguided, but dangerous given the assumptions it makes about individuals and how they engage in digital spaces.
In 2011, David White and Alison Le Cornu posited a new way of looking at how people engage with digital technologies. They introduce the concept of two particular types of behaviour – visitor behaviour and resident behaviour. These behaviours are defined as follows:
Visitor – visitors get what they want and go, they don’t see the internet as a social space and have no interest in prolonged engagement.
Residents – residents see the internet as a social space and are happy to engage with others.
This approach to understanding internet behaviours can be a particularly valuable way to consider the ways in which we deliver and facilitate access to information. Once we understand the ways in which people use the internet, the behaviours they exhibit and the needs they have, we can better orientate services to ensure that these needs are met effectively. For example, how we use social media in the context of visitor and resident behaviours can be a useful way to consider how these tools are utilised, ensuring that they are orientated in a way that takes into account these behaviours.
Social media and visitor behaviours are not, therefore, mutually exclusive. You can still act in visitor mode and use social media as a tool, just a tool with a specific focus rather than as a tool to facilitate communication.
For example, blogs have great potential to be used as a tool to meet visitor behaviours. We know that when people want to access information, exhibiting visitor behaviours, they just want to be able to access the information quickly and efficiently. Large library websites are often a barrier to this, a more focused blog offers a way to meet visitor behaviour without provoking frustration as time is wasted finding the information they require.
Alternatively, tools such as Instagram are great tools for those operating in resident mode. Instagram users spend approximately 257 mins per month on the site. At just under 10mins per day, it appears to suggest the tool is used by those happily exhibiting resident behaviours. Whilst it is useful to consider social media in reference to visitor and resident behaviours, it’s important not to be restrictive in how it is factored into social media use. As David White himself explains:
“What’s key here is to recognise that the type of platform does not mandate the mode of use. Apparently ‘resident’ style platforms such as blogs and Twitter are used very effectively by individuals in ‘visitor’ mode. Focusing on mode of engagement rather than specific technologies leads to more elegant and effective engagement strategies.”
Whilst it is useful to use these behaviours as a framework, it’s important not to fall into the trap of believing that Twitter is only ever used in resident mode. Tools such as Twitter are equally used effectively by those wishing to obtain information without leaving a footprint (searches and hashtags are particularly helpful in this regard). Social media platforms aren’t visitor or resident specific, rather they often meet the needs of these modes in different ways.
For further information, download THE GUIDEBOOK OF DIGITAL USER BEHAVIOUR.