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Why Does 90-9-1 Matter Anyway?

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

90-9-1.jpgIf you've looked into online communities in any way, chances are you've heard of 90-9-1, also called the 1% Rule of Participation Inequality. What it describes is that about 90% of visitors will rarely contribute content to online communities at all, 9% will post infrequently and a small proportion of members, the 1%, will tend to post the majority of all content in the community. At Lithium, we call that 1% the Super Users of your community.


But so what? Why does this matter so much that nearly everyone in the social media world feels compelled to talk about it?


Some folks seem to regard this as a challenge or opportunity - if we can just figure out the right magical formula, they say, we can unlock all that potential activity from those 90%ers to make our communities successful. Like turning lead into gold, but perhaps just as hard to do.


Others try to use 90-9-1 as a benchmark or average by which to measure their success, and spend a lot of time and effort raising their 'scores' one or two percentage points closer to the mark or above it. Even though studies have indicated that this ratio tends to vary by both scale and modality.


And finally there are those who seem to take it as an excuse to avoid online communities altogether, and perhaps marginalize them as the fringe that only represents the minority view. This view forgets or purposely ignores the other 90-99% who are paying attention to what's going on.


There is still a lot of work to be done to determine why 90-9-1 seems to occur over an over again and whether it can be influenced or altered in any way. But until that day, there are some ways this knowledge can actually help us to build more healthy and effective communities. Here's three things 90-9-1 means to you:


  1. If you want to increase quantity of activity in your community, it’s more effective to increase the total population who visit your site than to try to get current members to participate more (not that you shouldn't do both, but the former will typically be more effective than the latter).
  2. If you want to increase the overall quality of activity in your community, it is generally more effective to focus your efforts on those 1% who contribute the most.
  3. If you want to find out what the total reach is of your community, be sure to count the 90% or so who are spectators as well as the 10% who are posting.


Are you worrying about 90-9-1? Or are you using it to your advantage?

Version history
Last update:
‎05-17-2012 07:18 PM
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