Understanding Participation Inequality on the Web

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The 90-9-1 Rule

You may wonder why it seems like only a small percentage of your audience is engaged. The answer is called the rule of Participation Inequality, also called the 90-9-1 rule.

According to this rule only 1% of the community is creating, 9% are interacting, and 90% are consuming information and observing on the web.

Community Roles Defined

The 90-9-1 rule has been used to define online marketing strategies and tactics for the last twenty years. I believe it’s still relevant.

There are different opinions on how the ratios unpack into community roles. The figure, below illustrates my experience of how communities surround a social issue or concern.

community model

Role Definitions:

  1. Pundits: Professional media opinions, can be objective but mostly represent a particular solution or slant (i.e., money talks). At the top of the profession: highly interconnected group of individuals and organizations that mutually reinforce and elevate each others SEO rankings. Attempt to set the social agenda favorable to maintaining traffic to their publication.
  2. Advocates: Individuals with a burning compassion for the social issues — represent a particular solution or slant to the issue. Generally, very knowledgable and may be labelled as subject matter experts or mavens.
  3. Syndicators: Curate content and information and circulate to the joiners and speculators, play an important role in dissemination of opinions; important social influencers and leaders of social movements. Ranks include celebrity media, business and political leaders at the high-end; but represented by local organizers in niche, “long-tail,” domains of interest and geographies.
  4. Joiners: The general public with a stake in the social concern or issue and its outcome. Generally follow a syndicators, advocates and pundits for their insights and opinions. May occasionally “follow.” “like,” or “share” content used on social media.
  5. Speculators: Caught between joiners and observers, generally follow the joiner crowd to avoid missing out on solutions or afraid of being outcasts for not being involved.
  6. Observers: The mass of people not affected by the social concern or issue and don’t really care.

How these roles relate to the 90-9-1 rule:

  • The joiner, speculators, and observers comprise the remaining 90%;
  • The syndicators are the 9% interacting and curating content created by advocates and pundits; and,
  • The advocates and pundits represent the 1% creating content.

I will be returning to this model to describe online strategies and tactics in future posts.

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