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Playing the Percentage Game with the “One Percent Rule”

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90% of internet users are lurkers, just 1% of users will actually create content.

When we’re creating digital strategies for our clients, we always bring up the idea that online engagement is a very difficult nut to crack. We often cite the One Percent Rule  which suggests that 90% of internet users are lurkers, 9% will contribute in some way (retweeting, re-posting, liking) and just 1% of users will actually create content like posting comments, asking questions and initiating discussions. Of course this is an “internet version” of the Pareto principle which posits that 20% of a group will produce 80% of activity.

The One Percent Rule has fallen on hard times in the past couple of years as at least one study on digital participation conducted by the BBC showed that their participation is more like 10%, not 1%. Instead of jumping on the One Percent Rule bandwagon, the BBC team created their own rules, saying that the digital consumer has matured, experimented and “evolved” into a more participatory creature.

They concluded:

“Digital participation now is best characterised through the lens of choice. These are the decisions we take about whether, when, with whom and around what, we will participate. Because participation is now much more about who we are, than what we have, or our digital skill.”

From there they went on to create a model that seems useless to me, creating a matrix of “partipation choice.” But they were onto something and to me, that something is that “participation is now much more about who we are.” Identity. Belonging. Social approval. Having something in common with other digital users.

We can see this in the communities that we’ve created here at Signals. A “top-down” corporate engagement tool has attracted fewer users than an “organic” community (no matter how manufactured) that engages users on a subject that makes them feel “as one” with others. Our birth community is an example of that, as is our community that encourages acts of inclusion and kindness.

So, while I don’t think the One Percent Rule is far off for online interaction that doesn’t cater to a user’s sense of “social inclusion,” I think that creators and managers of online communities should think more about how to create an atmosphere that helps users express “who they are” and get acceptance from those around them. For corporate enterprises, this means forming communities around subjects that might appeal to its employees or customers, rather than around the organization itself. Getting buy-in from executives on this approach is an ongoing challenge as it doesn’t seemingly meet immediate corporate needs. But an investment in community building will ultimately encourage more engagement and participation, which is what social media and online communities are all about. Arent’ they?