Digital DNA

Do you know what your digital DNA is?


Ever wondered if there is really such a thing as an online persona? According to a new global study from MasterCard, the answer is a big, yes.

The Digital Sharing and Trust Project shows that consumers actually shed their ‘real-world’ identities when they go online to assume ‘digital personas’ that better reflect how they feel, what actions they take around their personal information and how much value they place on their own data. These five personas – open sharers, simply interactors, solely shoppers, passive users and proactive protectors – are spread evenly throughout the global population and ignore any regional or demographic boundaries.

“The new study included a survey of more than 9 000 digital consumers in nine markets including South Africa”, says Theodore Iacobuzio, vice-president of MasterCard’s Global Insights Group.

He says the study reveals that consumers are increasingly savvy in managing their online identity, and there is a clear hierarchy in the kind of information they are willing to share – and 64% of consumers believe their personal data has value to merchants and advertisers.

“Nearly 2.5 billion people around the globe use the Internet every day. This research shows that regardless of who they are and where they live, they all share something in common when it comes to how they act and behave online – these five unique global personality types. It also shows us that when consumers go online, characteristics such as age, gender or nationality become secondary and they instead assume a sense of what we refer to as ‘social citizenship’.

“In today’s digital world, consumers are continuing to spend more of their time and money online. That’s all the more reason that understanding these five distinct personas will be important for a variety of audiences, but perhaps most especially for retailers and marketers. By better understanding why consumers want to share their information online in the first place, companies can be better prepared to engage with them in more meaningful and relevant ways,” says Iacobuzio.

Though consumers are increasingly savvy in managing their online identity, the there is a clear hierarchy in the kind of information they are willing to share.

Looking at the five personas

Open sharers: A total of 21% of online consumers fall into this category, which tends to skew more male (60%). Open sharers are the most highly digital group of the five and tend to lead less risk-averse online activities. Half of them are online more than 10 times per day and when they share their personal information, they expect deals, access and offers in return.

Simply interactors: This persona accounts for 21% of online consumers and includes some of the most dedicated social networkers, yet they are not particularly tech-savvy consumers. As for online shopping, 80% will research products online, but 63% prefer to shop in person. Though they are aware of targeted marketing, they do not see their data as valuable and thus do not express significant concern about it.

Solely shoppers: This online personality is characterised by their reliance on the Internet for savvy shopping research and purchases. Making up 21% of all consumers online, the majority (90%) of these Internet users researches products online before buying and half use their mobile phone to price check in-store in order to get the best deals. Surprisingly, they have low awareness of target marketing – as only 37% know that social media sites use their personal data to inform ads.

Passive users: As the name suggests, this group’s members are not fully convinced of the Internet’s value and therefore tend to spend the least amount of time online of all the other four personas. Accounting for only 0% of all online consumers, passive users are less frequent on social networks (only 48%) and not heavy online shoppers. Compared to other personas, they are much more likely to shop from their mobile device and more willing to trade their data for something in return.

Proactive protectors: Comprising 17% of all online consumers, the proactive protectors are highly aware of targeted marketing – in fact 82% are knowledgeable that marketers can target them based on their search and browsing history. They are unlikely to use social networks and the most guarded with their privacy settings of all the personas – taking steps to protect and control their digital footprint.

Curious about your online persona? Go to and take a quick quiz.

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Issue 68