The 1-9-90 rule: Segmenting your social media audience
On social media, 90% stay silent, consuming what the 1% and its 9% following churns out
It is the mouthy middle “advocates” who will give someone who wants domination over social media the most bang for the buck.
While following Facebook’s woes last week, I tarried long enough online to come across a short piece written on LinkedIn, a social networking site. The piece was written by Jacqueline Kaiulani Moore, when still a “millennial” college student. She has since graduated and gone to work for a public relations firm.
Most millennials, my children included, grew up with the internet all around them. Millennials have a powerful understanding of how social media works. My speculation is that it is the millennials’ mode of thinking and segmenting people on social media that was used by Cambridge Analytica when that firm sought to use Facebook data to influence various plebiscites.
Moore’s piece allowed me to better understand how millennials view social media and are able to neatly compartmentalize its various constituents. Moore defines a rule for how social media works called the “1-9-90” rule. According to her, only 1% of those on social media are “influencers” who actively create content. She then proceeds to question who the rest of the users on social media are and how they behave when online. She says 9% are “advocates”—that is the ones who comment and add their own perspective to the content put out by the 1%. In some sense, I am being an advocate now for Moore. The rest—that is, the 90%—stay silent, simply consuming what the 1% and its 9% following churns out. These “enthusiasts” constitute 90% of those on social media. Most fall into this category because the beauty of social media is to discover what’s out there, not necessarily campaign for it like advocates do.
She goes on to explain why it is important to understand the market within these three segments. Grabbing the attention of the 1% is key, but since many of these posters are celebrities, this is unlikely to happen without significant expense. If that’s the case, what is the alternative? Moore says it is the “advocates”, or the 9%. So, it is the mouthy middle “advocates” who will give someone who wants domination over social media the most bang for the buck.
This is a critical insight.
Getting an influencer to plug your brand, while ideal, is likely difficult. That is not to say that one shies away from this community, just that one recognizes that the cost/value tradeoff may not be as attractive as targeting the advocates. The key lies in creating a conversation to engage these advocates to get their attention. If your brand or message is top of mind for the advocates, your message can be effectively sent across to the enthusiasts—or the 90%. So, one should selectively use tactics to stoke this “mouthy middle” to react. In politics, for example, this might mean circulating incendiary content that makes this advocate class react.
Moore says that review websites like Glassdoor, Yelp, or even Amazon’s reviews pages are prime examples of influencers, advocates and enthusiasts and each of us falls into one of these three segments at one point or another. An influencer creates the store, the product, or restaurant. An advocate would have purchased the product, eaten at the restaurant or bought some type of clothing at the store. Whether they enjoyed the product or not is beside the point, but it is the fact that advocates will comment on or review those products that makes them interesting.
Keeping the enthusiasts (or the 90%) engaged is a more basic proposition. Keeping them interested in what your brand has to say with creative posts and graphics creates a cohesive social media feed and encourages enthusiasts to lurk around for a longer period of time. I found this model extremely helpful to better understand the market of social media. Without understanding this model, one might waste time, money, and energy. Imagine trying to understand the minds of all the enthusiasts out there who are just not interested in sharing your story—or ignoring someone who might have a huge, but not necessarily visible following that can make your brand more successful.
If you need to conquer social media, the 1-9-90 model and its focus on the “advocates” is the way to go!
Siddharth Pai has led over $20 billion in technology outsourcing transactions. He is now founder of Siana Capital, a venture fund management company focused on deep science and tech in India.