The Engagement Pyramid

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

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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 this work?

Here we go:

The Engagement Pyramid (1−9−90)

The Engagement Pyramid

The 1% rule of online engage­ment was mainly an urb­an legend on the inter­net. Still, a peer-reviewed paper from 2014 entitled The 1% Rule in Four Digital Health Social Networks: An Observational Study con­firmed the 1% rule of thumb.

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 1−9−90 rule.

Read also: The Engagement Pyramid

Levels of Engagement: 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. 1Leon 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

Examples of Potential 1−9−90 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, con­trib­ut­ors, and lurk­ers 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.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

1 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.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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