It has long been an axiom that getting people to participate in online communities is hard, and the 1/9/90 rule helped explain why. 1% will be die-hard content creators, 9% will participate and 90% will be passive consumers and sit on the sidelines.
A recent BBC study claims the old rules are dead and that a whopping 77% of adults should be considered participators in some capacity. Interestingly, GigaOm pounced and claimed the old rules still apply.
I think the BBC research is on to something and that the online participation patterns have changed. Few of the things may have contributed:
- Consolidation: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter consolidate for us updates and posts from multiple communities and allow us to respond directly from there. You no longer need to go and check on 7 different communities to see what is going on.
- Ease of content creation and sharing especially from mobile devices. Probably too easy if you ask me. if you allow it, your phone will post your location, the pictures you take and more without even asking. The success of Instagram is just one example. Being connected 100% of the time allows us to interact 100% of the day.
- We are not anonymous anymore. It has been a slow change but if the late 90’s were about virtual identities and avatars, now we interact as real people. It may look like a small change but the whole nature of online interaction shifted from an outlet to interactions we wanted to have outside of our normal (and sometimes restrictive) social circle to where now most of the online interaction is with our social circle. More and more the online communities and social networks augment and extend our real relationships with people and brands.
- While some people who came to the party felt a bit out of place and stayed close to the wall for a while. After some time you realize that keeping to yourself in a social setting is not very nice and that people actually notice. If you are part of the community, participation is now expected.
So if the BBC is right and we should be expecting more participation what does it mean for businesses?
Business social participation may still be closer to the old rules because they do not reflect a close knit social group but as more people become comfortable in sharing it will start to have an impact.
Internally, collaboration and social networking with colleagues will eventually follow the same pattern of heightened participation if you allow the same enablers. Aggregate and consolidate activities and updates so they are easy to access, make it easy to respond to them and embed interaction and sharing everywhere in internal web applications, sites, tools etc. Making sharing a social norm may not be too far off.
Externally, in addition to the brand enthusiasts and deal seekers there is now a potential in making a lot more people participants
- Think about creating content that people would want to share. Too many websites and social media sites focus on the marketing side “what we have to sell”. Cool or useful things to do with the product or that are just related to the category will more easily be viral.
- Many websites have added sharing and likes to their pages but few take it to the level of actually allowing specific questions or comments through social networks on content or products.
- Think mobile sharing. From QR codes in trade show booths to special coupons for scanning or photographing in the store. Even my dentist has a promotion for getting free whitening pen if you scan a code and like him on Facebook. Brilliant.