The 90-9-1 Principle

If you spend any time at all talking about online communities, you’re bound to stumble across the 90-9-1 Principle. The idea is simple: In social groups, some people actively participate more than others. Researcher Jakob Nielsen calls this “Participation Inequality“.

These three groups make up an ecosystem, of sorts. Pulling on one group affects the distribution of the other. Of course, it’s typically not possible to change the distribution in significant ways, as the more people added into one group directly drives the growth of the other two groups, maintaining something close to a 90-9-1 split.

 

 

Social participation tends to follow a 90-9-1 rule where:

  • 90% of users are the “audience”, or lurkers. The people tend to read or observe, but don’t actively contribute.
  • 9% of users are “editors”, sometimes modifying content or adding to an existing thread, but rarely create content from scratch.
  • 1% of users are “creators”, driving large amounts of the social group’s activity. More often than not, these people are driving a vast percentage of the site’s new content, threads, and activity.

Can you drive that 1% group closer to 50%? Or 60%? Or beyond? Possibly.

The real question is one of strategy: how can you best understand what your community’s percentage breakdown currently is, and what you want it to be. How do you design and support a social structure that moves you to where you want to be?

Here are a few tips to improve the social dynamic across these three groups:

  • Make contributing easy for everyone. Design contribution tools that scale in complexity, giving power tools to power users, while easing usage for light users.
  • Encouraging editing over creating. Blank pages are scary. Create templates, rough examples that can be easily edited, content suggestions, and tons of examples that help eliminate the fear factor.
  • Reward participants. People will give up their first born for a gold star next to their name. Go easy on the rewards, but certainly bake them into the process of participation.
  • Identify both power users and up and coming users. Call out your power users with featured spots on your home page or corporate blog. And don’t forget that if you always call out the top 10 users, the other 90,000 won’t feel like they have a chance. Shine the spotlight on the up and comers too!

 

Want to learn more about the 90-9-1 Principle? Here are a few additional discussions