As you implement your firm’s marketing plan, be sure to keep the 90-9-1 rule top of mind.
The rule – also known as the Participation Inequality Rule – is credited to internet researcher Jakob Nielson, who posited that 90 percent of online users are lurkers who consume content, nine percent are users who contribute occasionally, and a mere one percent are frequent contributors.
“[T]he 90-9-1 rule is one of many theories within internet studies that describe participation rates, and different scholars find support for different variations of this rule, “ according to Chron. “Reddit, for example, has over 1 billion monthly active users, but according to a 2017 conference paper, an overwhelming majority of Reddit users are lurkers. X, the website and app formerly known as Twitter, had around 350 million users as of 2023; however, research from 2019 found that 75 percent of its users were lurkers.”
From a marketing perspective, the key demographic is that elusive 9 percent.
“You need the 9 percent of active participants to help you engage the 90 percent of silent users,” recommends social media marketer Chris “Mohawk” Reed in this Forbes article. “If you don’t have the 9 percent, you can’t engage the 90 percent because this group is viewing and noting all the engagement (or lack thereof) between you and your active responders. From my perspective, social media — whether it’s LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or WeChat — is all about the 1 percent of creators engaging with the 9 percent of active commenters to disseminate information to the 90 percent of silent users. In doing so, you in the 1 percent get your social-selling wheel rolling to compel, entice, inspire and vouch for your credibility, influence, expertise and leadership, for everyone else who is engaging with or silently viewing what you have to offer.”
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Leveraging Participation Inequality in Your Marketing Efforts
The 90-9-1 formula is a theory, not a hard and fast rule. Some experts say while it might have applied in earlier days, it has now given way to more widespread participation.
The marketing firm Higher Logic, for example, breaks online users into four categories:
- Users who create posts, blogs, and other new content
- Users who reply or comment on the created content
- Consumers. Users who exclusively view or log in to consume the created content and its contributions (also known as “lurkers”)
- Inactive. Users who have not made any actions in the community in the last year
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