#TipTuesday: From The 90-9-1 Rule to 55-25-20 – Start Focusing on Quality

PiperWilson HLV Staff
edited November 2023 in Talk Community #1

In the early 2000s, the 90-9-1 Rule was introduced to the world by Jakob Nielsen, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group. Originally, it was an observation of the way people behaved in large online communities:

  • 90% of members are passive observers.
  • 9% engage occasionally.
  • 1% are active contributors.

Eventually, this observation became the gold standard assumption for measuring community engagement – something it was never meant to be. Times have changed, and so have online behaviors.

Several factors are shaking up the foundation of the old 90-9-1 Rule. Here are just three.

  • Digital Literacy: As more people become digitally literate, online communities will see increased participation. These higher engagement levels will encourage even more users to join and contribute.
  • Community Structures: Modern platforms do more than just categorize users as active or passive. They now offer diverse roles, like hierarchical positions or specialized groups, providing avenues for more involvement and an environment where members feel valued.
  • Changing Behaviors: Thanks to platforms like social media, today's internet users are far more comfortable engaging online, resulting in more balanced participation ratios.

It's time to consider new research that shows members participate more often than the 90-9-1 Rule assumes. This research suggests that “a well-managed online community sees the following [levels of engagement] in a given month”:

  • 55% are inactive (learners, readers, lurkers, etc.)
  • 25% validate and consume content.
  • 20% create content – ask, share, and answer.

55-25-20 is a genuinely big deal because it transforms the way we measure community value. Silent observation is no longer considered a sign of a member’s indifference. Now, instead of counting how many members actively participate, the focus of a community manager can shift away from the quantity of posts to the quality of engagement and content.

The 90-9-1 Rule once served as a guideline for understanding how people interact within online communities. But nothing is certain except death and taxes, so we should be prepared to adjust. Now, the 55-25-20 framework recognizes that every member’s contribution, whether they're creating content or simply observing, adds value to the community.