Community Management:
The 90-9-1 Rule is Dead

Sam Fiorella


We’re all familiar with the 90-9-1 rule, which states that in any group of 100 people there is/are:

  • 1 member that is a super active communicator, actively engaging everyone else in the group –  he/she becomes the thought leader
  • 9 who are somewhat active, engaging the rest of the group occasionally
  • 90 who are content to simply listen or follow the 10



This model has been used as the basis for many sales and marketing strategies including the growing popularity of influence marketing. Applied to social media, the 1% represents those who actively produce content across multiple digital and social channels; the 9% produce and share content as time permits and the 90% are “lurkers,” those who simply read the content produced by others and rarely – if ever – respond, contribute, or share.The top 10 percent are those whom marketers have sought to engage in social media marketing, with hopes of encouraging referrals and recommendations that will eventually get the 90 percent to act in their favor. However, the Internet has changed the make-up of this grouping. Web 2.0 and social media, which is accessible 24/7, and at our fingertips thanks to mobile devices, has made it simpler for a greater number of people to become “active” contributors.  In fact, it encourages us to become more active; the more active we are, the greater tools such as Google and mobile devices can help us be more productive.

Community Management: The 90-9-1 Rule is Dead

So what does this mean for the 90-9-1 rule? Is the 1 percent still a realistic number and target for marketers? With the estimated 6.7 million people posting to blogs and 12 million people blogging on social networks, not to mention the even greater number that comment and share this content, the 1 percent category certainly doesn’t seem a big enough container for active users.

Paul Schneider presented an alternative representation of this rule based on his research of online communities; he suggests that it’s more 70-20-10. Assuming that the entire target audience is online, more people are becoming “active” or “somewhat active”, because those that were not comfortable creating content are comfortable commenting on other people’s content or sharing that content. Those who did not see themselves as thought leaders are becoming thought leaders, or at least influencers in some form, by virtue of the content they share or comment on.

What Does This Mean for Sales and Marketing Executives?

As our social communities grow larger and larger, they become less manageable and, as a result, less effective tools for building relationships to acquire new customers or develop existing customers. In turn, the role of active participants in the social conversation becomes that much more critical. As a result, the role of influence marketing takes on renewed importance for sales teams. With a greater number of people creating content within our online communities, there’s a greater threat that brand messages or brand perception will be derailed by their commentary. Of course, this is also a greater opportunity for those who can engage and sway this larger group of active users to advocate on the brand’s behalf.

Business Results or More Noise?

Further, as overall community engagement grows, identifying who within the group actually drives business results vs. creating more noise becomes a greater challenge. Volume and reach of one’s social presence becomes less important; the relationships among community members and the context of their dialogue grow in importance. At a minimum, there are greater complexities in managing online communities, identifying influencers, and deriving meaning from those engagements. This is the great paradox of social media marketing: As our communities become larger, the more important one-to-one relationships become. If not the one-to-one relationships between your brand and your customer, certainly we should be paying attention to the one between the customers themselves.

Traditional community building, just for the sake of building community, is a fruitless exercise. Plan your community building with an analytics underpinning that monitors and measures how communications flow, who shares what information with whom, and the net effect of those communications on customer lifetime value. Only then can online communities be considered effective customer acquisition or customer development tools. The larger the”active” and “somewhat active” group becomes, the more important strategy and analytic tools using natural language processing will become.

If at some point, you realize it’s time to formalize your community as a business enterprise, you may want to look at how to get an llc business organized.