social media marketing lurkers

Why you need to dispel the myth that ‘everyone is social’ & set expectations around social media engagement

In this hyper-social age it is easy to imagine that everyone is sharing photos of their breakfast on Instagram, streaming their walk to work on Periscope, discussing the day’s news on Facebook or Twitter before going home to blog about their day on Tumblr. This doesn’t happen. In reality people are inherently voyeurs on social media – scrolling through content feeds and only clearing the lowest engagement barriers – clicking like, reposting, adding LOL or ;).

Remembering the 90-9-1 Rule

In 2006 some wise souls first discussed the ’90-9-1 Rule’. This guiding principle around online participation states that there are three main user types:

The 1% Rule of Online Participation

The 1% Rule of Online Participation

1% are the Creators – actively engaging in social conversations, creating and sharing content.

9% are the Reactors – somewhat active, occasionally posting content and liking/re-sharing.

90% are the Lurkers – searching, browsing, reading or observing but not contributing.

There have been many articles (some listed at the end of this post) over the years questioning if this rule still applies given the proliferation of social networks and niche communities. Looking at my own interest area, digital health, there was an interesting study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research last year which verified that the 1% rule held true in online health networks such as those around alcohol dependence, depression and smoking cessation. The general consensus across sectors is that the Lurkers remain the majority…you can quibble as to whether they are the 90, the 80 or the 70% but they still dominate.

Why then do so many digital marketing campaigns raise the bar for customer interaction so high?

This week I stumbled across a great Tumblr site – ‘Tell Us Your Story’ which has been cataloging campaigns which invite people to share their brand stories online.

crowd sourcing stories from consumers

Would you share your hemorrhoid story?


I once had a colleague whose favourite thing to shout out in brainstorms was ‘there is no such thing as a new idea’. Whilst that’s true to a certain extent – it is remarkable to see brands across sectors…from adult diapers, to airlines, to hemorrhoid cream, to Nutella replicating the same call to action with almost the same campaigns and all aimed at stimulating people to go beyond their comfort zone and ‘share their story’.

tell us your story blog what is your bleach story

You could only hope for a Dexter Morgan-type character to brighten up the bleach stories

Understanding the 1% rule it seems almost counter-intuitive to spend so much time and money chasing the minority…the creators.

For every one hundred customers your campaign reaches you are reliant on one of them being compelled to act. However these individuals are likely to be the social media influencers – they are the ‘Pied Pipers’ to the Lurker hoard. As such they are worth the effort – provided expectations are set around your campaign. It is important not to get carried away on a sea of social media hype and to remember your message might be seen but not shared, read but not commented on. When developing your digital strategy remember the silent social majority. They may never set your KPI dashboard on fire, in fact they may be an analytical blind spot, but they are the ones who you really need to reach.

Interesting reads on the 1% Rule:

  • HBR: Your Biggest Social Media Fans Might Not Be Your Best Customers
  • Marketing Pilgrim: The silent social majority: what social media analytics don’t tell you
  • Forbes: What Is The Value Of Social Media Engagement?
  • GigaOm: Is the 1% rule dead? The BBC thinks so, but it’s wrong
  • BBC: The Participation Choice