Some ideas get so ingrained in an industry you struggle to remember where they came from. One such rule is the 90-9-1 rule around participation in Enterprise 2.0. The idea is that in any community, only 1% will contribute heavily, 9% will follow the 1% and contribute in-frequently, and the remaining 90% will consume content. This is not necessarily a bad thing – a community site where everyone behaved like the usual 1% would be very noisy and not necessarily a useful place to be.
Part of the success of the idea, which sometimes seems to be regurgitated as infallible truth at Enterprise 2.0 seminars and conferences, is that it translates somewhat to the offline world. In a seminar or presentation, there can be an awkward silence when the meeting ends and the floor is opened for questions. It is only after the first person asks a question (the 1%) that the flood gates open and others (about 9% of the audience) feel safe enough to ask theirs. The other 90% wish everyone would stop asking questions so they can get to the buffet lunch.
Most people have experienced a situation like the above, and so the concept is reinforced. Whilst it may hold approximately true in public on-line communities I think it is far more complicated in private social networks behind the firewall.
First, the concept of “Lurker” does not quite hold true. Is a busy sales rep who navigates a social network to find the correct subject matter expert who can provide the clinching three silver bullets as to why his or her company’s solution is better than the competition’s a lurker? They haven’t contributed anything to the social network, they have found the expert by virtue of the content that they have created and contributed, but the sales rep is hardly ‘lurking’ on the forums, soaking up information and ideas without paying anything back.
In fact, in some social software solutions that sales rep will have made a contribution. Some systems can track that the sales rep found the subject matter expert on the basis of the expert’s contribution, and will therefore rank that expert higher in future searches. So the ‘lurker’ becomes a ‘contributor’.
Forrester have done some great research in terms of fleshing out the concept of lurker/in-frequent/frequent contributor. Whereas the public communities can be fairly easily de-constructed in order to see how the ratios break down, we are probably at early stages for internal communities, and the organistations involved may not be so willing to share their data.
However, the importance of tacit contributions as described above, and low-level contributions such as simply tagging a profile or piece of content rather than commenting or even posting new content means that the 90-9-1 rule won’t really hold for internal communities, and will require something a bit more complex to analyse, plan and monitor activity levels