I have to be careful here and try to avoid sounding like a curmudgeon.
A few words of caution for anyone about to launch an online community;
- Most people will not participate (even if they say they will),
- Many of those that participate initially, will stop after a few months (weeks probably),
- You will be left with a core of ‘die hard’ enthusiasts (talking to each other), and
- An (increasingly disillusioned) ‘community facilitator’ working at
full stretch to keep the community alive.
Sorry if that sounds very negative, but it is a fair reflection of the reality in some of the online communities I’ve experienced It’s also part of the 1% rule of Internet culture.
The 1% rule or the 90–9–1 principle is a hypothesis that more people will lurk in a virtual community than will participate. It’s been around since the mid 2000’s and has been likened to the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle), where 20% of a group will deliver 80% of the activity.
For online communities the 1% rule states:
- 1% of people will actually create content;
- 9% of people edit, modify or comment on that content; and
- 90% of people will view the content without contributing.
Based upon my experience this feels about right and seems to be a very plausible hypothesis. It could also apply to some of the offline physical communities I’ve also experienced.
I appreciate that this sounds awful. Why would anyone bother with an online community with participation rates like that?
Well, there are many positives that can come from an online community, and some have much higher participation rates than 1% (it is after all an average figure from across the internet).
The good news is that you can boost your participation rates, and there are lots of helpful resources (many of them online) which will help you achieve this.
One of the key activities I would suggest is to ask why? Why do we need this online community?
To answer this question it is worth thinking about why people would participate in an online community, and designing the community to meet these needs. Lots of the online advice suggests six main reasons for participation. If you can provide an answer that is specific to your potential community members, you are probably heading in the right direction. Just ask, “will our online community satisfy members need for?”
- Anticipated reciprocity (you will get something in return),
- Reputation (it will make you look good),
- A sense of achievement,
- Altruism (doing good for others),
- A sense of belonging (the community provides this), and
- Emotional connection.
One of the key messages in much of the advice about online communities is that participation rates will decline after an initial peak. The secret to keeping the community alive is about making sure that activity bounces back to a sustainable level that makes it worth the investment, again, lots of advice about this online.
Finally, I did hear of an example a successful online community that had 1,700 members, discussing the finer details performance management. This community was held up as an example of success and ‘how things could be’. When I asked the Community Manager what was the secret of success they said, “the hard core of about 20 people who are always online, posting questions and commenting on what others have to say”.
I wasn’t aware of the rule of 1% at the time, but 20 active people in a community of 1700 feels quite close to the rule of 1% to me (1.2% actually).
3 things I’ve learnt:
- Online communities are not ‘resource free’. In most cases somebody needs to facilitate the community and help to keep things ‘ticking over’.
- Most people in online communities do not actively participate. The rule of 1% probably applies, even to your online community.
- There will be an initial burst of activity when the community is formed. This will drop off over time. Unless something is done to invigorate the community, there is a danger it could become dormant.
This post is based upon two posts that were written on my personal blog in May and June 2012. http://whatsthepont.com/ Links below: