For Social Business, Remember the 90-9-1 Rule

May 22, 2012

Back in the mid-1990s, the corporation I worked for hired one of those management-fad-of-the-month consultants to come inspire us to greater heights of success, who did his best motivational-speaker riff on the theme: “Sales is everyone’s job!” This was hogwash of course. Sales is Sales’ job. It’s also a big part of Marketing’s job, and occasionally part of the job of HR, various executives, and product technical experts.

But sales is not the job of Francis in Accounting, Pat in Engineering or Chris in Purchasing. These folks have neither the aptitude nor the desire to have “sales” or anything like it be part of their job description. In fact, each person was hired specifically for their level of knowledge and skill in a particular, non-sales function.

Not every employee wants to or can be a social media superstarThere is a risk of the same fallacy today, with the mantra updated to “social media is everyone’s job!”—if the concept of social business is misunderstood or improperly applied. In their new book Social Business By Design: Transformative Social Media Strategies for the Connected Company, authors Peter Kim and Dion Hinchcliffe examine real-world success stories of social networking use across organizations, from internal collaboration using tools like Jive or Yammer to HR recruitment to investor relations to customer-facing applications in product design, customer service, marketing, sales and PR.

Kim and Hinchcliffe provide an excellent survey of the current state of social business, and the concept of social business is spot-on. According to recent research from McKinsey, “companies that adopt social technologies can see a 50% increase in customer satisfaction, 48% increase in business leads, and 24% increase in revenue. ”

The danger is that some executives may confuse social media use across the enterprise (a good idea) with the embrace of social media by everyone within the enterprise (not so good). Just as Francis in Accounting, Pat in Engineering or Chris in Purchasing had no interest or aptitude for sales in the 1990s, they may very well have the same attitude toward social networking today.

To make social business work, corporate leaders need to understand the 90-9-1 rule in social networks: in any online social networking situation, 1% of participants will generate most of the content; 9% will actively share and occasionally add content of their own; and the remaining 90% will primarily be content consumers, only rarely contributing or commenting.

Understanding that dynamic, organizations should develop a social media policy and provide a rudimentary level of social media training to all employees (the tools available, their basic use, and essential do’s and don’ts). Offer more advanced training to the 10% who will account for the vast majority of content development and engagement activity. And identify and nurture the 1% who will really make the social business concept work, those who will work to build their own personal employee brand–and enhance your corporate brand in the process.

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3 Responses

  1. I knew one new thing today about social business.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. this is excellent- what’s the author’s name?


  3. Tom 

    Do you mean the author of the original 90-10-1 rule? I believe it started with Jakob Nielsen, as this is the oldest reference I can find to it: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html

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