Community Management: The 90-9-1 Rule is Dead

We’re all familiar with the 90-9-1 rule, which states that in any group of 100 people there is/are:

- 1 member that is a super active communicator, actively engaging everyone else in the group –  he/she becomes the thought leader
- 9 who are somewhat active, engaging the rest of the group occasionally
-90 who are content to simply listen or follow the 10

90-9-1.jpgThis model has been used as the basis for many sales and marketing strategies including the growing popularity of influence marketing. Applied to social media, the 1% represents those who actively produce content across multiple digital and social channels; the 9% produce and share content as time permits and the 90% are “lurkers,” those who simply read the content produced by others and rarely – if ever – respond, contribute, or share. The top 10 percent are those whom marketers have sought to engage in social media marketing, with hopes of encouraging referrals and recommendations that will eventually get the 90 percent to act in their favor. However, the Internet has changed the make-up of this grouping. Web 2.0 and social media, which is accessible 24/7 – and at our fingertips thanks to mobile devices – has made it simpler for a greater number of people to become “active” contributors.  In fact, it encourages us to become more active; the more active we are, the greater tools such as Google and mobile devices can help us be more productive.

Community Management: The 90-9-1 Rule is Dead

So what does this mean for the 90-9-1 rule? Is the 1 percent still a realistic number and target for marketers? With the estimated 6.7 million people posting to blogs and 12 million people blogging on social networks – not to mention the even greater number that comment and share this content – the 1 percent category certainly doesn’t seem a big enough container for active users. Paul Schneider presented an alternative representation of this rule based on his research of online communities; he suggests that it’s more 70-20-10. 70-20-10Assuming that the entire target audience is online, more people are becoming “active” or “somewhat active” because those that were not comfortable creating content are comfortable commenting on other people’s content or sharing that content. Those who did not see themselves as thought leaders are becoming thought leaders – or at least influencers in some form – by virtue of the content they share or comment on.

What Does This Mean for Sales and Marketing Executives?

As our social communities grow larger and larger, they become less manageable and, as a result, less effective tools for building relationships to acquire new customers or develop existing customers.  In turn, the role of active participants in the social conversation becomes that much more critical. As a result, the role of influence marketing takes on renewed importance for sales teams. With a greater number of people creating content within our online communities, there’s a greater threat that brand messages or brand perception will be derailed by their commentary. Of course, this is also a greater opportunity for those who can engage and sway this larger group of active users to advocate on the brand’s behalf.

Business Results or More Noise?

Further, as overall community engagement grows, identifying who within the group actually drives business results vs. creating more noise becomes a greater challenge. Volume and reach of one’s social presence becomes less important; the relationships among community members and the context of their dialogue grow in importance. At a minimum, there are greater complexities in managing online communities, identifying influencers, and deriving meaning from those engagements. This is the great paradox of social media marketing: As our communities become larger, the more important one-to-one relationships become. If not the one-to-one relationships between your brand and your customer, certainly we should be paying attention to the one between the customers themselves.

Traditional community building, just for the sake of building community, is a fruitless exercise. Plan your community building with an analytics underpinning that monitors and measures how communications flow, who shares what information with whom, and the net effect of those communications on customer lifetime value. Only then can online communities be considered effective customer acquisition or customer development tools. The larger the”active” and “somewhat active” group becomes, the more important strategy and analytic tools using natural language processing will become.

Sensei Debates

Does the increase in socially active users affect a brand’s media marketing practices? Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego

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7 comments
PeterJ42
PeterJ42

This idea is held back by old-fashioned thinking about discrete products and discrete markets.

Re-imaging your triangle as one of a group of triangles, which overlap.

Take technology. You may have a key influencer who knows about Macs. Another who knows about phones. Another who knows spreadsheets. Each is the 1 in their 100.

All of those may influence someone buying a Tablet. But none of them will be the 1 key influencer.

Perhaps this is part of the reason you are seeing a larger influencer group.

Markets are not the strict sectors of old. They are much more fluid.


tamcdonald
tamcdonald

Assuming your entire target audience is online, is a huge mistake. I'd say that the percentage of truly active and engaged members that we should be focusing on in community management is actually less than 1%.

Tinu
Tinu

Meh. No disrespect to Paul, and hats off to his research, but I still think the number is 99-9-1. Hi proposed number change holds up completely you get into the murky waters of sharing/curating as thought leadership.

While I agree that we have to allow for considerable blur in the wide margins of the pervious numbers, tweeting a link that they probably didn't fully vet or even click does not a thought leader make. In fact, I'd argue that people in the "lazy curator" category, who don't vet what they share are adding to the noise. Since that's worse to me than silence, I'd lump that back in with the 99.

I also believe sharing, even at its best, puts you in the 9 percent. Even creating blog posts and going through the thought leader motions, to me, just puts you at the top of the 9 percent - most people spread the concepts of others, they don't create or inspire thought based on discoveries, experience or experiments. (Present company excluded of course).

If we keep sliding the bar for what a thought leader and community leader is and does, we're going to start having some really sucky excuses for community as a result. I would have 70-29-1 but that big a jump assumes that the people in that 10 percent are far more uniform than reality dictatces.

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samfiorella
samfiorella moderator

@tamcdonald  I have to disagree with you Tim. While I agree that the online audience (for many businesses) is smaller than its offline audience, I believe it's much greater than 1% today...remembering that online is more than just social media networks but blogs, new sites, comment engines, etc. 

Further, those online tend to be the more active of the entire audience population, and so they're more likely to influence those offline through their word of mouth, etc. 

samfiorella
samfiorella moderator

@Tinu  Definitely murky waters. If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it...did it make a noise? The fact that someone shares a link (without reading or vetting it first) just because they admire or trust the author, does that mean that those who see his/her share don't read it?  No. 


I can tell you that within seconds of my publishing this post (literally) I say 5 shares on Twitter. There's no way anyone could have read it and shared it in that time frame. Just seconds! I also get a lot of shares via Triberr and others within the first 30 minutes of the post that I know they sharer did not read. 


However, I've been tracking the unique visitors, bounce rate, and length of time on the site immediately after I post and the results would seem to indicate that there are people opening and reading the post from these "blind shares."   

Are they creating noise? Yes. Most definitely. But, does that mean that it doesn't reverberate someplace useful? Dunno. 

tamcdonald
tamcdonald

@samfiorella The online audience is, in most cases, greater than 1%, but the actual people in the community we should be focusing on is no greater than 1%, otherwise we are wasting time and resources. If we look at putting resources toward the 1% who are passionate and emotionally attached to your brand, we will see greater influence and return on that influence, than if we try to focus on the 10%.

samfiorella
samfiorella moderator

@tamcdonald Ah, fair enough. Makes a great case for "influence marketing" strategies. Someone should write a book about that. :) Speaking of which, my concern with the 1% - from practice - is that most tend to rank the 1% by the largest following or the most vocal within the community. 


My experience is that in most cases, those who drive real action (purchases, etc.) are based on relationships within the community as specific time periods. These are often those in the 10% (or 20% even) that spend less time blasting messages to increase scores, personal agendas or other factors but those who focus on relationship nurturing. 

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  1. […] Community Management: The 90-9-1 Rule is Dead (#Socialmedia #B2C Community Management: The 90-9-1 Rule is Dead http://t.co/gBZNmWpixg)  […]

  2. […] .So what does this mean for the 90-9-1 rule? Is the 1 percent still a realistic number and target for marketers?With the estimated 6.7 million people posting to blogs and 12 million people blogging on social networks – not to mention the even greater number that comment and share this content – the 1 percent category certainly doesn’t seem a big enough container for active users. Paul Schneider presented an alternative representation of this rule based on his research of online communities; he suggests that it’s more 70-20-10.Assuming that the entire target audience is online, more people are becoming “active” or “somewhat active” because those that were not comfortable creating content are comfortable commenting on other people’s content or sharing that content. Those who did not see themselves as thought leaders are becoming thought leaders – or at least influencers in some form – by virtue of the content they share or comment on….  […]

  3. […] Community Management: The 90-9-1 Rule is Dead  […]

  4. […] Community Management: The 90-9-1 Rule is DeadWe’re all familiar with the 90-9-1 rule, which states that in any group of 100 people there is/are:- 1 member that is a super active communicator, actively engaging everyone else in the group – he/she becomes the thought leader – 9 who are somewhat active, engaging the rest of the group occasionally – 90 who are content to simply listen or follow the 10This model has been used as the basis for many sales and marketing strategies including the growing popularity of influence marketing. Applied to social media, the 1% represents those who actively produce content across multiple digital and social channels; the 9% produce and share content as time permits and the 90% are “lurkers,” those who simply read the content produced by others and rarely – if ever – respond, contribute, or share. The top 10 percent are those whom marketers have sought to engage in social media marketing, with hopes of encouraging referrals and recommendations that will eventually get the 90 percent to act in their favor. However, the Internet has changed the make-up of this grouping. Web 2.0 and social media, which is accessible 24/7 – and at our fingertips thanks to mobile devices – has made it simpler for a greater number of people to become “active” contributors. In fact, it encourages us to become more active; the more active we are, the greater tools such as Google and mobile devices can help us be more productive.  […]