I had a little think about the differences between active and passive consumers this morning and it struck me as an interesting point and one worth elaborating on a little. Now this may not be the accepted definition (if there is one) of the different types of consumers as these are purely my thoughts so don’t take this too to heart if you disagree (I would be interested in discussing it though).

And when I use the word consumer here, I’m referring to consumer of content as opposed to a consumer in the traditional someone-who-has-bought-a-product sense. Though I’m sure there are many similarities and crossovers.

Passive consumer

A passive consumer is an absorber. They watch a talk on TED, they read an article, or a blog post, whatever (consuming content in any way they’d like). But they let it wash over them. They don’t reflect on it, there’s no discussion, and any thoughts that they may or may not have had are lost. That video is not shared, the article is not spoken about and that blog definitely does not get any more readers or subscribers as a result of this person.

I think this is by far the easiest and most popular route and in most cases, this is what people do.

Active consumer

An active consumer is precisely the opposite. They watch a talk on TED, and they immediately give the link to a couple friends via email. They may read an article, and follow this up by writing a blog post discussing it, looking into some of the subtleties and investigating the topic a little further. These kind of consumers are the kind that the content creators love. They create the basis of virality, allowing stories/posts/videos to go BIG. The benefits do not end there however. The consumers themselves take so much more from the content, understanding it on a better level and through their reflection on it, they are able to remember it much better and evaluate its immediate and potential long term impact on their job/industry/lives etc. The active consumers are perhaps the type of people termed connectors by Gladwell in The Tipping Point. They are socially active and have a large network with which to share and distribute information.

An active consumer’s role can be summed up quite nicely as someone who takes information, adds their opinion and criticism on the matter, generating discussion, and then passing it on to other parties, generating a larger audience for the original content. Gruber of daringfireball.net does this very nicely, each of his posts is essentially an interesting link with some his thoughts about it.

Ultimately, an active consumer is an opinionated aggregator.


And I guess there is a sort of middle ground. People who read something, and while they don’t quite shout it out to the world on their twitter feed, they may mention it in passing to someone else. They will likely not add their own thoughts or opinions on it, and as such are mainly passive consumers.

I want to conclude by encouraging more people to actively consume content. Instead of just watching that video and moving on, watch that video, have a little think about it and pass it on with your thoughts to a friend of yours who would be most interested in it. It’s simple, and most websites actively encourage and make it easier for you to do this. It’ll benefit both your understanding of the content, and allow its introduction to someone else. Give it a go today.

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