Blog PostsMedia ScienceCommunication TheoriesThe engagement pyramid, the 1/9/90 rule, and the interest group model

The engagement pyramid, the 1/9/90 rule, and the interest group model

We all care, but only so much.

If you can get 1% to to offer up their engagement as creators, you should be happy. 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 1/9/90 rule

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 to be true well before the advent of the internet and social media and supporting observations have been made by sociologists for centuries1.

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 (big ask).

Example: If creators ar asked 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 simply 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

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 personal engagement in each varies.

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

Such micro systems of engagement rely heavily on defined special interests around which likeminded people can gather. Bringing likeminded people together is, coincidentally, something the internet has proven to do 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 so important to attract clearly defined special interest groups2.

How to game your 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 and maintain special interest groups by connecting social graphs around social objects.
  • Social networks typically allows creators (1%) to publish, contributors (9%) to comment, share, and like, while lurkers (90%) can absorb3 information of interest.

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).
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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer aka Doctor Spin is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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