The 1-9-90 rule won’t work for Internal Collaboration

Ok, so you decide to implement an internal microblogging platform like Yammer or Socialcast, or even an internal Wiki platform like SocialText or Confluence.

You go crazy making your business case based on the idea that people will be so much more productive. You sweat the long nights and the hard work that it takes to get your new platform stood up within your organization so that everyone can begin to collaborate. Productivity gains are now at everyone’s fingertips …

So you begin recruiting your internal employees, getting them to join, asking them to get others to join, and placing reminders to join in the company newsletter – you whole organization is a buzz with the news. You are a hero.

But where is the productivity?

Jacob Nielsen coined a theory called the 1-9-90 theory that says out of every hundred people who join a community or network – 1% actively contribute – 9% contribute from time to time – and 90% are lurkers.

It’s almost like answering 1 out of every 100 emails!

The cycle of this theory has to be broken when it comes to internal collaboration sites. You can’t put out a request for help from an internal team and everyone misses the tweet or posting.

I think as Social Media marketers we have to get better at training. And setting the expectation that if you join you are expected to contribute. Maybe even go so far as making it a requirement in your yearly performance review. Not just a ‘check the box’ type of – did you contribute back to the community – but if you didn’t contribute tangibly back to the community – it may impact your bonus potential!

This is the type of approach it will take to really flip that theory on its head.

21 comments to The 1-9-90 rule won’t work for Internal Collaboration

  • Alan

    "making it a requirement in your yearly performance review."… man what a buzz kill.

  • Tony Karrer

    Paul – my take is a bit different. Only 1% will actively contribute. 9% will lurk. 90% will ignore. What that means is that you need a large enough group to form a critical mass. However, thinking of it as missing the 90% is not quite it. People will eventually adopt if it's useful. We just need to make sure it's useful even at 10%.

  • Nate Nash

    Paul – I think the "proper" split is different for different technologies. 1-9-90 might be ok for an internal wiki. I would say it is the lowest level of "ok", but as the collaborative exchanges are different, the split is as well. Agreed though that for the microblogging crowd 1-9-90 is not ideal.

  • Paul Dunay

    @ Alan – sorry but you know .. you get what you measure

  • Paul Dunay

    @ Tony – great point and that the 10% needs to be sizable enough to make it active and engaging!

  • Paul Dunay

    @ Nate – agreed different tech have different rates of adoption and (what I am hearing) is that the expectation of a "collaboration" site is different than that of say a "microblogging" site

  • Paul Dunay

    @ Nate – hope you are doing well …

  • SeoNext

    I think what you have said is very much right.I am totally agree with Nate that 1-9-90 might be ok for an internal wiki.

  • CoCreatr

    Productivity of internal (and external collaboration) is in the people, their connections and what they do with it. Wiki. other technologies and percentage of contribution are interesting parts, yet secondary.

    More on why a wiki will not make your business collaborative, and why Sharepoint is not social (connect people, not documents).

    Click my screen name for the link.

  • Jim Keenan

    Paul, I think you have a good point. However, social media does follow the cool kids table at lunch phenomenon. If the cool kids get on, others will follow. In corporate America the cool kids are the executives. Get an organizations executive team using it to: Give kudos, ask for input, respond to someone else's request for input, share corporate news, etc. and the minions will follow.

    If you can get the execs to use it AND engage, you will see adoption go through the roof. Everyone wants to sit at the cool kids table.

  • Paul Dunay

    @Seonext – thanks for commenting

  • Paul Dunay

    @CoCreatr – its a good point – just because you have a wiki doesnt mean you are collaborating!

  • Paul Dunay

    @Jim – really great point Jim and a great way to fight that 1-9-90 dynamic within a company – evidenced by a firm like Zappos – now if we could only get the CEO to start adopting these kinds of technologies we would be all set 😉

  • Sean

    Hi Paul, from my experience in implementing wikis specifically (can't say the same for Yammer), as long as the organisation and the managers provide a reason for employees to contribute, its more like 90% will use it and 9% will ignore.

    For example, if deliverables are required to be collaborated, discussed and submitted online via the wiki, then employees will have to use it. Some might argue that's not very web 2.0 which I do agree but isn't web 2.0 something that users have to experience before they really understand how to use it?

    The success of a web 2.0 platform (internal or external) is about scaling and the more users, the merrier.

  • Paul Dunay

    @ Sean – I agree the success of a wiki is in the "network" the more the better and I like your idea about creating collaboration moments by posting items to the wiki

    thanks for commenting

  • David Smith

    Though your rule might be correct in certain instances, I've seen where context is key towards adoption and participation. I've implemented a microblogging tool for a large healthcare provider, and by placing it on the main page of the corporate Intranet site, it guaranteed all users would view the content, and increased participation dramatically. Its like taking out a full page ad on the front page of a newspaper…you're guaranteeing a reaction. Check out an independent case study performed on this topic:

  • Paul Dunay


    Thanks for commenting! – will check out the case study


  • Sherrick

    Paul – I question the "mandatory" approach. I would rather see the ease-of-use and compelling value drive the adoption. Just like developing good online service, internal collaboration implementations need to see what works and continue to improve. Yes measure, but measure the adoption, the usefulness and figure out where to improve the usage or the process – engage your internal audience on how to make it better. don't we ask companies to engage their external audience? Measuring use in the review process is a heavy stick that will drive resentment, not real improvement and adoption.

  • Paul Dunay

    @Sherrick – I had a great conversation with Eugene Lee the CEO of SocialText yesterday about the same concept of mandatory vs value based adoption in the enterprise.

    He was very persuasive on the point of adoption being voluntary in order for it to have true staying power in the enterprise. He mentioned a forth coming white paper on the topic you should check out

    Hope all is well with you and thanks for your insightful comment!

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