How the 90-9-1 rule applies to community tactics–like welcome campaigns

You’ve heard of the 90-9-1 rule, or the 1 percent rule of online community participation. It’s the general principal that around 90 percent of your audience will lurk in your community, not producing any content, only consuming it. Meanwhile, approximately nine percent of your community members will share intermittently, and the last one percent will be heavy contributors.

In addition to giving you a broad idea of how many of your members you can expect to participate in your community–and to what extent–there may also be evidence to show that you can also apply this rule to your in-the-weeds tactical projects as well. Today we’ll take a look at examples of member on boarding and how the 90-9-1 rule might apply to something like your welcome message. Then, we’ll see if you agree whether or not this rule can be applied to a tactical metric like the rate of conversion from viewer to active participant as well as larger strategic metrics like overall engagement. In case you want a primer, here’s an article that explains the difference between tactical and strategic metrics.


On to some fancy math. To start, think about your member journey through your online community and how it begins. In most cases, it probably starts with a welcome email when the member joins your community. To make the numbers easy, let’s say today your community will welcome 100 members today. How many of them can you expect engage with the message, and how many can you expect to follow-through on your call to action?

Well, if you look at some of the best email click-thru rates in the industry, you see that around 39.2 percent of email recipients will click on an email’s call to action if it comes from a non-profit charity or association. Keep in mind that these are email results for the top quartile of non-profits and associations, so these are cream-of-the-crop engagement rates. To keep it simple, we’ll assume that you get a 40 percent click-through rate, so 40 of the 100 members who received your email will visit your site and choose to engage with your call to action.


Of these 40 members, how many will be compelled by your call to action to actually participate in your community? Well, if we look at some of the best member donation conversion rates for charities, we see that around 23 percent of members will choose to donate when asked. Again, these are best-of-the-best engagement rates, and they are specific to health-related non-profits. So you will likely see less conversion than this, but we’re going to remain optimistic.

To stay consistent with our rounding scheme, we’ll make it a nice even 25 percent conversion rate. for these health-related non-profits with stellar calls to action. So of the original 100 members who received your welcome email, 40 clicked, and you now have approximately 10 members who have followed through on your call to action. Naturally, this leaves 90 of your members who have chosen only to read your call to action–if they even did that.


Now we can continue this line of reasoning and extend it to the 10 moderately-engaged members to assess how many of these folks will become super-engaged members. Assuming that you rinse, lather, repeat and email these 10 members to take the next step in your engagement plan–and assuming your rates again track with the super star examples above–you’ll end up with 1 seriously engaged member out of the 100 you started with. So, of the 100 original welcome email recipients, 90 gave no response, 10 gave some response, and 1 of those 10 went above-and-beyond to completely follow through: 90-9-1.

So what do you think? Is this a compelling argument? Do you think this extension of the 90-9-1 rule makes sense, or have I just found interesting data points to support my assumptions? With your new members, do you see more or less engagement than the 90-9-1 rule would indicate? How else do you think the 90-9-1 rule might apply to your online community and social media engagement tactics?


For some great tips on how to create effective marketing and PR campaigns for your community so you can get those cream-of-the-crop conversion rates, check out these resources from other community management experts. Have links to other great resources? Share them in the comments!

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  1. Pingback: Community manager toolkit: Scale your community with volunteers – Skariphos

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