Monthly Archives: September 2013

Meant to be Broken: How Tried-and-True “Rules” Hold Us Back


HansKristian, Flickr

The State of Community Management 2013 (I’ll call SOCM2013) briefly touches on the 90-9-1 Rule, which states that, within the population of an online community:

  • 90% lurk
  • 9% contribute and/or comment
  • 1% create content

This rule was considered the norm for online communities back in 2006. But it’s 9 years later, and they checked to see if these figures still hold true.

The SOCM2013 states that new research determined that the top engaged communities reported very different numbers, with the majority of the population being contributors. The numbers:

  • 17% lurkers
  • 57% contributors
  • 26% create content

Remember, these numbers are the average for highly engaged communities. So does this mean that, in order to be a successful community, you have to reach these numbers?

I believe the correct answer is maybe. But also, maybe not.

Competing With Yourself

The main problem I have with rules like the 90-9-1, or the 17-57-26, or whatever kind of numbers you want to throw together, is that these “rules” don’t take into account your target community.

I’ve encountered a lot of articles that will claim they know best way to engage, the best times to engage, or the numbers you should be hitting. More often than not, however, what they won’t tell us is how to monitor our own community to figure out what’s best for your community. It’s a bit like the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him how to fish.

Quality and Quantity

Instead of reaching for an arbitrary number, CMs should instead work to challenge themselves on a daily basis to improve their community.

Most importantly, not only should a CM look at the number of lurkers, contributors, and content creators, but they should critique the quality of the content that is delivered. Ask questions like:

  • Are you getting more engagement this day/week/month than last?
  • Are there more content creators – and is that content better?
  • Are commenters starting meaningful discussions that better your community?

Another drawback to having a goal number is deciding your next move once you’ve reached your “goal.” Do you set a new number to reach? What if your community is already highly engaged – can you sit back and relax because you’ve found what works? What if the optimal ratio for your community is different than your goal?

The goal as a CM should be to optimize the community. It seems more effective to try out different strategies and see what’s an optimal engagement ratio rather than chase a magic number someone outside of your community has set.

What do you think about rules like the 90-9-1 rule? Should they be used to set goals for community manager – or should CMs focus on their own metrics?

Developing a Community Strategy is Easy as 1,2,3…4,5?

The first thing that caught my eye when reading the first chapter in “Buzzing Communities” by Richard Millington was, “Wow, only 5 steps to create a community strategy?” Much to my surprise was the depth that each of these steps involved. Alas, I read on and developed a better understanding.  However, once I was ready to come up with a strategy of the year, I read on to figure out that it is easy to make up a strategy that sounds perfect, but there are problems such as the strategy being either “unrealistic, not supported by data or theory, or difficult to execute.” So, I found myself back to square one and my hopes of developing a great strategy right away were put on hold.

The Steps that Matter

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Flikr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Flikr Creative Commons

A strategy is comprised of five steps:

  • Data collection
  • Analyzing data
  • Establishing goals
  • Creating an action plan
  • Tracking progress and ensuring accountability

Collecting data has to be done first and foremost. The particular data that needs to be collected is regarding the audience, and the current progress and health of the community. While collecting data definitely takes time, it is something that has to be done. If you do not have data to support your strategy, then it’s practically a guessing game.

Next, analyzing data is crucial because you need to make use of the data you’ve collected. By analyzing the data you’ve collected, you can make use of it while analyzing how the community progresses in terms of growth, activity, and sense of community.

Analyzing data leads right into establishing goals. After figuring out the current state of the community, we can use theory to figure out the community’s next steps. Setting goals and targets that can be measured is an important step in developing a community strategy.

Once goals are set, it is required to figure out how you are going to meet those goals by establishing a plan of action. Daily, week by week, or even monthly plans can set you on track to complete your goals in a specific amount of time. We cannot just expect our goals to be met if we do not figure out a plan to meet them.

Finally, we cannot create an action plan without tracking progress along the way. We need to make sure that progress is being made toward our set goals and we aren’t missing any goals. We need to identify if there are any factors getting in the way, and if there are, we need to be able to make alternative arrangements to still be able to meet the goals. Tracking progress is the only way we will be able to tell if we are moving in the right direction.

Easy, Right?

We might all take a step back and say, “So, what’s the big deal?” Little do we know there are a lot more factors involved in developing this kind of strategy. Like previously stated above, we might think that by following these steps, we can create a pretty great strategy. However, there are two key elements that most strategies lack, which are data and theory. So, until we go behind the scenes of the theories of how communities develop as well as being able to effectively support a strategy with data, these 5 steps are not the golden ticket.

Overall, I think it’s important to remember that while these are the five steps that community managers need to take in order to develop a good community strategy, there has to be an understanding of data and theory in order to apply these steps.