The Engagement Pyramid

How the 1% feeds off the attention of the rest.

The engagement pyramid is a powerful PR model.

We all care about other people … to a degree.

You should be happy if you can get 1% to offer up their engagement as creators. However, to launch a successful social media campaign, you must also attract contributors and lurkers — even if you can’t expect them to invest as much engagement as your top creators.

How do you raise the engagement bar for your campaign?

The Engagement Pyramid

The Engagement Pyramid divides publics into three distinct groups; creators, contributors, and lurkers. Engaged publics typically distribute themselves according to a distribution that has been scientifically proven well before the advent of the internet and social media, and supporting sociologists have made observations for centuries.1

The Engagement Pyramid
I’ve used the Engagement Pyramid many times to explain online engagement.

What you ask of your contributors must be considerably smaller (small ask) than what you ask of the creators (a big ask).

Example: If we ask creators to upload their best summer pictures for a social media campaign, maybe contributors can suggest creative captions for their favourite pictures? Now, if both creators and contributors are having their fair share of fun, why not invite lurkers to cast their votes on their favourite photos and captions?

When studying internet forums specifically, it’s not uncommon to find that 90% of users have never posted, 9% are adding to comments, but only to existing topics and threads (contributors), and 1% are actively starting new topics and threads.

The Interest Group Model (and Why There Are Many Engagement Pyramids)

The 1% rule (or the 1/9/90 rule) is a rule of thumb and shouldn’t be applied bluntly to broad demographic populations but rather to publics, i.e. situational interest groups. We all belong to various interest groups — and our engagement in each varies.

engagement pyramid | Communication Theories | Doctor Spin
See How to Scale Social Media Marketing for more on the Interest Group Model.

Online engagement relies on the dynamics of special interests groups of like-minded people. Coincidentally, bringing such like-minded people together is something that the internet does very efficiently.

For instance:

I’ve used the Engagement Pyramid Model and the Interest Group Model many times to explain how to harness maximum online engagement and why it’s crucial to attract clearly defined special interest groups.2

How To Increase Social Engagement

The Engagement Pyramid, in combination with the Interest Group Model, hints as to why social sites like Facebook are powerful agents of social engagement:

  • Social network algorithms typically develop special interest groups by connecting social graphs around social objects.
  • Social networks typically allow creators (1%) to publish, contributors (9%) to comment, share, and like, while lurkers (90%) can absorb3 information of interest.

So, how can your brand increase online engagement? Make sure that your campaigns cater to creators, contributors, and lurkers alike. If you fail to activate even one of these, your whole campaign could bust.

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash.


  1. See the 1% rule (Wikipedia).
  2. See also Inbound Marketing is a New Paradigm.
  3. See Leon Festinger’s 1957 theory of cognitive dissonance (Wikipedia).


Avatar of Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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Social objects matter in PR — getting people to talk with each other about strategically chosen topics is a cornerstone in modern PR.
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