Whether it’s that old friend on Facebook from your school days, or that ex-colleague on LinkedIn from way back, some people seem to hog your social media timeline with memes, sayings, and photos from yesteryear. And with social media platforms, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, common across a range of mobile devices, and online activity seemingly so central to many people’s lives, it seems rather ironic to be asking why so few people actually participate. In this article, I am going to discuss whether the “1% rule” still applies to levels of participation on social media and ask whether there is anything we can do about it?
The 1% Rule
In a seminal article at the time in 2006, the influential writer on technological matters, Jakob Nielsen, proposed that in most online communities, 90% of the users ‘lurk’ or don’t participate, 9% participate to a limited extent, whereas 1% account for almost all of the activity. You may be able to judge for yourself whether this so-called ’90-9-1 rule’, or ‘1% rule’, has any validity from the social media platforms of which you are a part, whether Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. It is often the case that participation, in terms of posts, comments, or videos, is seemingly provided by a relatively low percentage of your total friends, followers, or contacts, which anecdotally supports Nielsen’s thesis.
Nielsen referred to this phenomenon as ‘participant inequality‘ and he partly based his findings on some prior research relating to activity on earlier platforms that pre-dated the World Wide Web, such as Usenet and CompuServe bulletin boards. Nielsen’s 90-9-1 rule also reflects the Pareto principle – more commonly known as the ’80:20 rule’ or the ‘law of the vital few‘ – which suggests that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. If we apply the Pareto principle to sales, we might see that 80% of our sales came from 20% of our customers; and if we apply it to social media, then 80% of activity would be accounted for by a minority of 20% of the users.