Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn: Why Do So Few People Actively Participate Upon Social Media?

Candle Time By Henti Smith: https://flic.kr/p/asTDXx (Creative Commons)

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.

Participant Inequality

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.

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William Trevor
About William Trevor 18 Articles
Will Trevor is the Faculty Program Director for Marketing in the School of Business and Technology, in which role he is responsible for overseeing and developing the college’s marketing programs. He has a background in sales and marketing, where he filled a range of positions encompassing both consumer-to-consumer and business-to-business markets and across a range of industries. His experience spans both agency-side and marketing management roles, which have helped to inform his perspective on marketing from both a practitioner and an academic angle. And as a longtime member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he was recently honored to attain the designation of Chartered Marketer. Will has taught in higher education for a number of years and on both sides of the Atlantic: in the UK as a faculty member with the University of Essex Online, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds City College, and Askham Bryan College; and in the USA he has taught for both Excelsior College and the University of the People. In 2013 Will was recognized for his qualifications and experience in the field of higher education and he became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. From his practical experience in consultancy and market research, Will developed an academic interest in fields of marketing that relate to market research and the role of big data. He also explores issues of consumer behavior and the impact of the evolving field of behavioral economics on the marketing discipline. And his previous experience in sales also fuels an ongoing interest in sales and sales management and the role of sales professionals in a global context and in terms of cross-cultural issues.

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