Enterprise 2.0 and the 90-9-1 rule

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

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One Response to Enterprise 2.0 and the 90-9-1 rule

  1. Steve Dale says:


    liked the blog post. I’ve also heard this referred to as “the 1% rule” as if there is some underlying force of nature or physics that makes it immutable. In my experience (350 communities of practice active across local government – http://www.communities.idea.gov.uk) the contribution rate is related to the type of CoP. Learning or knowledge stewarding CoPs seem to have a fairly long life cycle and fit the 90-9-1 ‘rule’. CoPs devoted to innovation (e.g. policy development) have shorter life spans and more intense activity. Some of these have a 40% contribution rate (i.e. power contributors), primarily because the community itself has committed to delivering something within a defined time scale. So, I think we also need to factor in the type of community when anticipating the contribution rate.

    Interestingly, if I measure the contribution rate across the whole platform (350 CoPs), it does seem to average out at 90-9-1. Not sure what to read into this yet, but I do know that the overall stats are being dragged down by a relatively small number of CoPs that have little or no activity. If I eliminate these from the aggregate, I get something like 60-30-10 – which I reckon is pretty good.

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