The Public Relations BlogMedia & PsychologyPR TheoriesThe Engagement Pyramid (The 90-9-1 Principle)

The Engagement Pyramid (The 90−9−1 Principle)

How the 1% feeds off the attention of the rest.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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The Engagement Pyramid is a simple yet power­ful PR model.

How do you max­im­ise the engage­ment for a digit­al PR campaign?

Getting 1% to offer their engage­ment as co-cre­at­ors is a good res­ult. However, to launch a suc­cess­ful social media cam­paign, you must also attract con­trib­ut­ors and lurk­ers — even if you can’t expect them to invest as much engage­ment as your top creators.

How does the Engagement Pyramid work?

Here we go:

The Engagement Pyramid

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The Engagement Pyramid

The 1% rule of online engage­ment was mainly an urb­an legend on the inter­net. However, a peer-reviewed paper from 2014 con­firmed the 1% rule of thumb. 1Trevor van Mierlo. (2014). The 1% Rule in Four Digital Health Social Networks: An Observational Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(2), e33 – e33. … Continue read­ing

Active pub­lics dis­trib­ute them­selves in a way proven sci­en­tific­ally by soci­olo­gists — long before the inter­net and social media emerged. 

The Engagement Pyramid divides pub­lics into three dis­tinct groups:

  • Creators (1%)
  • Contributors (9%)
  • Lurkers (90%)

When study­ing inter­net for­ums spe­cific­ally, it’s not uncom­mon to find that 90% of users have nev­er pos­ted (lurk­ers), 9% are adding only to exist­ing top­ics and threads (con­trib­ut­ors), and 1% are act­ively start­ing new sub­jects and threads (cre­at­ors).

The Engagement Pyramid is some­times called the 1% rule or the 90−9−1 principle.

The 90−9−1 prin­ciple and Zipf’s Law both effect­ively clas­si­fy mem­bers in online sup­port groups, with the Zipf dis­tri­bu­tion account­ing for 98.6% of the vari­ance.”
Source: Internet Interventions 2Carron-Arthur, B., Cunningham, J., & Griffiths, K. (2014). Describing the dis­tri­bu­tion of engage­ment in an Internet sup­port group by post fre­quency: A com­par­is­on of the 90−9−1 Principle and … Continue read­ing

Learn more: The Engagement Pyramid (The 90−9−1 Principle)

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Engagement Levels: Our Identities and Roles

The engage­ment pyr­am­id (or the 1% rule, or the 1−9−90 rule) is a rule of thumb and shouldn’t be applied to broad demo­graph­ic pop­u­la­tions but to pub­lics, i.e. situ­ation­al interest groups.

If I use myself and my interests as an example:

  • I’m a 1% cre­at­or of pub­lic rela­tions and pho­to­graphy.
  • I’m a 9% con­trib­ut­or to sur­viv­al­ism and prepping.
  • I’m a 90% lurk­er for gam­ing and physics.

Online engage­ment relies on the dynam­ics of spe­cial interest groups of like-minded people. We all belong to vari­ous interest groups — and our engage­ment in each varies:

Social network identities and roles.
Social net­work iden­tit­ies and roles.

Coincidentally, bring­ing such like-minded people togeth­er is some­thing the inter­net does very effi­ciently. 3Leon Festinger’s the­ory of cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance from 1957 explains why hand­ling con­tra­dict­ory inform­a­tion is psy­cho­lo­gic­ally chal­len­ging. Festinger’s the­ory on cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance and social … Continue read­ing

Typical 90−9−1 Online Distributions

Where might you find the dis­tri­bu­tion of the engage­ment pyr­am­id? Here are a few examples:

  • Blogging plat­forms. In blog com­munit­ies, 1% of users might cre­ate blog posts, 9% com­ment and engage, and 90% solely con­sume con­tent without interaction.
  • Online reviews. On review sites, 1% of users might write reviews, 9% occa­sion­ally con­trib­ute, and 90% read reviews without post­ing feed­back.
  • Social media plat­forms. On social media net­works, 1% of users might cre­ate ori­gin­al con­tent, 9% share, like, or com­ment, and 90% pass­ively observe without engagement.
  • Online dis­cus­sion for­ums. In for­ums, 1% of users might ini­ti­ate new top­ics, 9% respond to exist­ing threads, and 90% read dis­cus­sions without participating.
  • Video shar­ing plat­forms: On plat­forms like YouTube, 1% of users might pro­duce and upload videos, 9% com­ment or engage, and 90% watch con­tent without interaction.
  • Online gam­ing com­munit­ies. In gam­ing com­munit­ies, 1% of play­ers might cre­ate cus­tom con­tent or mods, 9% par­ti­cip­ate in for­ums or dis­cus­sions, and 90% play without engaging.
  • E‑learning plat­forms: In online learn­ing envir­on­ments, 1% of users might cre­ate courses, 9% act­ively par­ti­cip­ate in dis­cus­sions or provide feed­back, and 90% con­sume con­tent without dir­ect involvement.
  • Community-driv­en web­sites. On sites like Reddit, 1% of users might sub­mit new con­tent, 9% com­ment or vote, and 90% browse without any vis­ible interaction.
  • Art and pho­to­graphy web­sites. In these com­munit­ies, 1% of users might upload ori­gin­al art­work or pho­to­graphs, 9% engage through com­ments or cri­tiques, and 90% view without dir­ect input.
  • Product devel­op­ment plat­forms. On crowd­sourcing plat­forms, 1% of users might sub­mit new ideas or pro­jects, 9% con­trib­ute feed­back or fin­an­cially sup­port pro­jects, and 90% browse without act­ive participation.

How To Increase Social Engagement

Organizations aim­ing for suc­cess­ful digit­al PR cam­paigns must stra­tegic­ally address the diverse needs of cre­at­ors (1%), con­trib­ut­ors (9%), and lurk­ers (90%) with­in their tar­get audi­ences.

  • When plan­ning PR activ­it­ies, cater to cre­at­ors (1%), con­trib­ut­ors (9%), and lurk­ers (90%) alike.

By cul­tiv­at­ing an inclus­ive envir­on­ment that nur­tures the tal­ents and interests of all seg­ments, organ­iz­a­tions can max­im­ize the impact of their digit­al PR efforts. Failure to engage any of these groups can sig­ni­fic­antly under­mine the cam­paign’s efficacy. 

Organizations should thought­fully tail­or their digit­al PR strategies to cater to the unique pref­er­ences and beha­viours of cre­at­ors, con­trib­ut­ors, and lurk­ers alike, fos­ter­ing a com­pre­hens­ive approach that bol­sters their com­mu­nic­a­tions’ over­all success.

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: More Psychology

PR Resource: Five Types of Publics

Five Types of Publics - Kirk Hallahan - Doctor Spin
Five types of publics.
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Kirk Hallahan’s Five Types of Publics

There are plenty of inact­ive pub­lics around us in soci­ety, just “wait­ing” for extern­al situ­ations to activ­ate them, bring­ing them togeth­er in coöper­at­ive, com­mu­nic­at­ive behaviours.

However, PR tends to focus on the already activ­ated publics:

By focus­ing on act­iv­ism and its con­sequences, recent pub­lic rela­tions the­ory has largely ignored inact­ive pub­lics, that is, stake­hold­er groups that demon­strate low levels of know­ledge and involve­ment in the organ­isa­tion or its products, ser­vices, can­did­ates, or causes, but are import­ant to an organ­isa­tion.”
Source: Public Relations Review 4Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive pub­lics: The for­got­ten pub­lics in pub­lic rela­tions. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499 – 515. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​0​0​)​0​0​061 – 8

Kirk Hallahan, Professor Emeritus, Journalism and Media Communication, Colorado State University, pro­poses five types of pub­lics based on their know­ledge and involve­ment: 5Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive pub­lics: The for­got­ten pub­lics in pub­lic rela­tions. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499 – 515. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​0​0​)​0​0​061 – 8

  • Aware Publics
  • Active Publics
  • Inactive Publics
  • Aroused Publics
  • Non-Publics

Hallahan sug­gests a mod­el based on know­ledge and involvement:

As an organ­isa­tion tar­geted by act­iv­ists, what would be the best issue response? Hallahan pro­poses four prin­cip­al response strategies: 6Hallahan, K. (2009, November 19). The Dynamics of Issues Activation and Response: An Issues Processes Model. Journal of Public Relations Research. … Continue read­ing

  • Active pub­lics: Negotiation.
  • Aroused pub­lics: Intervention.
  • Aware pub­lics: Education.
  • Inactive pub­lics: Prevention.

Learn more: Kirk Hallahan’s Five Types of Publics

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Trevor van Mierlo. (2014). The 1% Rule in Four Digital Health Social Networks: An Observational Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(2), e33 – e33. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​2​1​9​6​/​j​m​i​r​.​2​966
2 Carron-Arthur, B., Cunningham, J., & Griffiths, K. (2014). Describing the dis­tri­bu­tion of engage­ment in an Internet sup­port group by post fre­quency: A com­par­is­on of the 90−9−1 Principle and Zipf’s Law. Internet Interventions, 1, 165 – 168. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​I​N​V​E​N​T​.​2​0​1​4​.​0​9​.​003
3 Leon Festinger’s the­ory of cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance from 1957 explains why hand­ling con­tra­dict­ory inform­a­tion is psy­cho­lo­gic­ally chal­len­ging. Festinger’s the­ory on cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance and social com­par­is­on are two of the most influ­en­tial the­or­ies in the his­tory of social psychology.
4, 5 Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive pub­lics: The for­got­ten pub­lics in pub­lic rela­tions. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499 – 515. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​0​0​)​0​0​061 – 8
6 Hallahan, K. (2009, November 19). The Dynamics of Issues Activation and Response: An Issues Processes Model. Journal of Public Relations Research. https://​www​.tand​fon​line​.com/​d​o​i​/​a​b​s​/​1​0​.​1​2​0​7​/​S​1​5​3​2​7​5​4​X​J​P​R​R​1​3​0​1_3
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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