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Ask Not What Your Community Can Do for You

I’ve never been the most social guy, which makes it ironic that I make my living through consulting on social media. I’ll be saying as much in my June Pint of View column for CRM magazine, but I wanted to get out in front of it with this. Social CRM and community software vendor Lithium—specifically Dr. Michael Wu, Lithium’s principal scientist of analytics—just released a study of Lithium customers that sheds light on just who participates in online communities.

Conventional wisdom states that 90 percent of online community members are passive participants, or lurkers; they monitor the content and events but don’t contribute. The next 9 percent are active participants who post and engage with some regularity. But the majority of activity in the community comes from just 1 percent of members, called hypercontributors (or grognards, to some). This is sometimes known as the 1-Percent Rule. Conventional wisdom isn’t always wise, so Wu set about putting numbers to the theory.

It’s hard to get decent data on how non-participants contribute to a community—it’s like proving an unbounded negative—so the study focuses on the top 10 percent of community contributors. Lurkers aside, it turns out that conventional wisdom is actually wise: The hypercontributors in the top 1 percent create an average of 56 percent of community content, with the rest coming from regular contributors in the next 9 percentiles.

There’s more to it than this brief outline, and I recommend reading the study results in depth. Knowing your audience is key to serving it.