90-9-1 Participation and Enterprise Social Software Adoption

In 2006, Jakob Nielsen postulated that participation in online communities followed these characteristics:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.

This was groundbreaking research, and it is a terrific framework for thinking about communities. Its lessons can help sites design better interactions.

The 90-9-1 is useful for thinking about employee participation as well. The more people who participate, the more Enterprise 2.0 advances companies’ fortunes.

But in really thinking about communities, it occurred to me that 90-9-1 is an incomplete basis for considering participation inside the enterprise. In reality out on the web, participation levels for a typical site are more aptly described by the pyramid below:


Of course, this is a fairly useless graphic for the consumer Web. Obviously, the vast majority of users don’t visit any single site. Tell me something I don’t know.

Inside a company, this graphic becomes critical. Consumers can live with splintered participation on various websites, be they Web 2.0 or Web 1.0. But this approach is terrible inside companies.

For instance, assume there’s a major initiative underway inside a company. Some employees are using the company wiki, but others never visit the wiki. They use email and PowerPoint decks to trade information and ideas. As things progress, some employees think to check the wiki for new items. Others never check the wiki, and exclusively head out to Google to find information, even if the same or better information has already been added by colleagues to the wiki.

Splintered participation. Out on the consumer web, it’s a personal choice. Inside companies, it’s inefficiency.

For companies to get full benefit from the social productivity tools deployed to employees, participation has got to look better than 99-0.90-0.09-0.01.

Improve Tools Visibility

A recent blog post by Oliver Marks on ZDNet examined integration of Enterprise 2.0 inside companies. This quote hypothesized a cause for low adoption of wikis and blogs in some organizations:

This is why there are so many sparsely populated wikis and blogs slowly twisting in the wind in the corporate world – because they were set up as tentative trial balloons with no clear utility or guidelines for expected use.

The gist of his point is that before you let these apps in your door, know why you want to use them. That’s solid advice, and should be clearer for projects from the start.

I’d like to suggest another way to influence participation inside companies. Wait…let me quote Dinesh Tantri’s idea for increasing participation:

We would need some means of allowing users to carry these services in a virtual backpack. This backpack should be available at all points where users interact with information systems. (Desktop, Intranet, Extranet and probably enterprise apps ). Browser and desktop extensions are one easy way of doing this. Perhaps smarter ways of doing this in a browser/platform agnostic way will emerge. The point is, usability and the interaction design of Enterprise 2.0 deployments has to be high on the agenda of enterprises trying to leverage them.

The idea is embedding social software into the regular tools and activities that employees already use. Dennis Howlett advocates this with the ESME microblogging project with which he works. It’s an idea I like a lot.

If you think about how things work out on the web, awareness grows for tools like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, FriendFeed, etc. as people find about them naturally. There’s no policy prescription for using these apps. They come into view in the course of one’s dealing on the web.

What I like about Dinesh’s idea is that it lets the “99%” crowd, those who never visit a particular site, discover content, conversations and people that are relevant to their day-to-day jobs. This raises their awareness. When you run a search and find out that something relevant to you is already on someone’s blog, or the wiki or microshared, you suddenly have more interest in that tool. That awareness is important for any tool, even more so when its use is not mandated by senior management.

Raising awareness of social software tools, content and users. A critical component of a successful rollout of Enterprise 2.0.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

10 Responses to 90-9-1 Participation and Enterprise Social Software Adoption

  1. Scott Frey says:

    Nice post. I have been seeing something similar occurring in my father’s business as we transition to more paperless tools. As a solution, I am working on creating and measuring an employee engagement index, which will affect hourly wages to some extent (which I have not determined yet).

  2. luis benitez says:

    Oh yeah.. I’m a HUGE proponent of INTEGRATION… most of my customers’ success stories come from the ones that ensured that the social computing tools where embedded into existing processes, applications, and tools used on a day-to-day basis by their employees.

    In fact, here’s one story of one such customer: http://www.lbenitez.com/2008/11/learning-experiences-successful-social.html

  3. Hi Scott – thanks for your note. What an interesting approach you’re taking to your father’s business. Measuring employee engagement is something Harvard professor Andrew McAfee has started pushing (http://bit.ly/yhTv). I’m interested in hearing how this works out for you. Great blog you have, I’m now a subscriber.

  4. Luis – great to hear from you here. I like the case study in your link. Looks like you, your IBM colleagues and the client took the bull by the horns and made a great kickoff event. Also, this process of integrating social software into other established processes and apps is an incredibly valuable way to derive maximum value from these tools.

  5. Jarin Schmidt says:

    Have you come spent anytime looking at the “Technographics” report from Forrester… It takes the Nielson example to the next level. What is more important when it comes to adoption, usability or awareness?

  6. Hi Jarin – I have seen the Forrester Technographics report. It’s a smart breakdown of user participation in communities. As for which is more important in spurring adoption, usability or awareness? I’m going to say awareness (while not in any way saying usability isn’t important!). Dead simple tools are no good if people don’t include them in their daily flow.

  7. John Tropea says:

    Hey Hutch,

    Totally agree that in your team, you will be more influenced by your co-workers to use the blog, forum or wiki.

    One of our ideas forums is doing really well, there is no way someone would send an idea to the email distn list anymore. And if they did, people will say, hey man, we use the forum now.

    So I’m more with S Mader that this participation model changes dramatically.


    We need more posts like yours to really make this known. I’m getting tired of the 90-9-1, as the context of an enterprise is a little different, as their is more influence and facilitation to do the right thing

  8. Pingback: CBS Bibliotek Blog - Innovation & Ny Viden » Blog Archive » 99-0.90-0.09-0.01

  9. pankajunk says:

    In addition to concentrating on software capabilities, some behavioral strategies need to be implemented as well to get over people’s natural resistance to change. You can find some tips in my article – http://www.hyperoffice.com/blog/2010/11/04/6-ways-to-increase-collaboration-software-adoption/

  10. Pingback: Are we more likely to produce more creative work in the era of Web 2.0 enabled participatory culture? | Christy, Jian + Gazal

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