Forrester segmented the online audience into several different stratas – what they call a ladder of participation. They found that “Inactives” are by far the dominant group (52%). They’re followed by spectators, joiners, critics, collectors and last but not least creators. This last cluster, according to the analyst firm, dabbles in lots of different activities but few do all of them. See the chart below for more.

This is the first report I have seen that really delves into what drives and motivates people to engage with the web. It’s worth purchasing and it really has got me thinking about its impact on PR and marketing.

While extroverts get all of the attention, the thickest part of the ladder is in the vast majority of people who have no desire to participate. I imagine this number will shrink some in the years ahead, particularly as the generation that grew up with the Web enters the workforce. However, there will always be a meaty portion of the online audience that remains just that – consumers.

This got me thinking: what can the Participation Ladder teach us about PR and marketing? The answer is a lot.

If you work in either of these professions, cut the above chart out and stick it on your wall. For each program, assess where your audience sits on this continuum. Are they inactives, creators or somewhere in between? The key is to then devise the right kind of communication strategy depending on what you discover. Let’s put this into action.

For example, let’s say you have a start-up that has a new piece of blogging software that bloggers will love. Then you should execute a peer-to-peer program that primarily targets creators, collectors and critics while largely ignoring inactives. This means you can go guerrilla with peer-to-peer program that taps into social networks, blogging and other Web 2.0 communities. Place your chips there. Mainstream media coverage can help here too. Focus your attention on outlets that bloggers read.

However, if you have a tech product or service that has value say for all users, then clearly you want a broader mix that combines the best of new media/mainstream media, all while reflecting the ladder.