Are We at the End of the Social Side of Networking?

As I consult with enterprise companies there is always a question of participation.  It starts when I land and managers tell me (some proudly, some ashamed) how many people participate in their current efforts.  I don’t give this much weight because usually the initiative was set up once and never touched again.  This is hard to draw any conclusions from.  Then as we begin deploying or re-deploying an initiative, everyone wants to know (magically) what to expect. 

That’s when I pull out the old 1% rule, make some calculations, and come back (magically) with some numbers.  Funny thing is that no one ever asks how I got the numbers or where they came from, they are just happy to have a goal.  Interestingly enough, the projects that have matured a bit are always very close overall to those numbers.  One caveat that I have seen is that the broader the audience, the closer the rule is.  The more focused the audience, the more that rule turns up-side-down.

The 1% rule (1/9/90) as defined by Wikipedia: 

The 1% rule states that the number of people who create content on the internet represents approximately 1% (or less) of the people actually viewing that content (e.g., For every one person who posts on a forum, there are at least ninety-nine other people viewing that forum but not posting). The term was coined by authors and bloggers Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba[2] although there are earlier references to the same concept[3] that did not use this name.

The “90-9-1” version of this rule states that 1% of people create content, 9% edit or modify that content, and 90% view the content without contributing.

The actual percentage is likely to vary depending upon the subject matter. For example, if a forum requires content submissions as a condition of entry, the percentage of people who participate will probably be significantly higher than one percent but the content producers will still be a minority of users. This is validated in a study conducted by Michael Wu, who uses economics techniques to analyze the participation inequality across hundreds of communities segmented by industry, audience type, and community focus.[4]

This can be compared with the similar rules known to information science, such as the 80/20 rule known as the Pareto principle, that 20% of a group will produce 80% of the activity, however the activity may be defined.

A case in point:  I have a sample of data from a Fortune 50 company who set up an external Yammer network.  A look at X Company Yammer participation bears this out. Currently there are over 2,050 members of the XYZ Yammer network. Of that number, 1.29% of those, or 27 people, are responsible for 57% of the total posts. And 1972 people, 94% of the member population, are responsible for only 26% of all posts – each of those people have posted less than 25 times. This data was from January of 2010.  I looked at the recent numbers (1 month ago) and while the number of participants has increased significantly to over 7k members, the number of active participants have risen ever so slightly to 38 people that are responsible for 57% of the overall posts.

So what’s happening to the network?  Employees are reporting higher amounts of value from the network and IT dept is taking notice at the, (now) statistically relevant, number of people migrating onto the network.  Yet, the number of power users as a percent is down.  One behaviour that I noticed was that the network has transformed in use.  In the “new shiny toy” phase, employees were posting everything from musings, to rants, to accomplishments, etc.  Now the network is being used more as a shortcut to get things done, get access to the “right” people and generally as a utility to collaborate more efficiently.

 This coincides with a recent research report from Forrester onGlobal Update of Social Technographics that found a slowing of the Creative class while the Joiner class was in an upward climb.  Interesting, I know!

Which leads us to the topic for this week’s chat.  With this topic of the decline of the “Social” in Social Networking, we went right to the horse’s (nothing meant by that) mouth.  One of Forrester’s most prolific Senior Analysts, Augie Ray, has agreed to moderate this insightful topic.  This issue has many implications that we will cover including the decline of participation and what that means to communities and also if communities decline what does that mean to the digital marketing arms of companies who are transitioning entire departments to better manage social.  This week’s topic and questions are:

Topic:  Are We at the End of the Social Side of Networking?

Q1:  Is there too much content being created?

Q2:  What will marketers do if fewer are willing to generate new content?

Q3:  How will social networks change with more joiners and less creators?

 Join us this week on Tuesday 10/5/10 at noon eastern for this lively discussion.  Follow along with #sm80 from your favorite Twitter client or check out the new features in our recently updated LIVE page at

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