Participation on Online Communities : can we beat the “natural law” ?

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It seems that question of participation rate on online communities is coming back as a major issue. I’d rather say that people are wondering if the rate we notice on the web are still relevant within the enterprise, that’s to say if in an organization where people are supposed to be involved and use the tools they’re provided with to do their job, the 1-9-10 rule is a relevant metric.

This makes us ask different questions

1°) What would be an ideal rate ?

100% of course ! It would mean that any project that won’t reach 100% participation would be a failure. Stop being dishonest ! Let’s look at how people participate, for example, in a meeting, in a project team ? Do they all actually participate ? Of course not. I’m more likely to think that social media platforms within the enteprise only formalize reality. What they show are more HR and management issues than anything that has to do with the concerned tools.

2°) Can we beat the 1-9-90 law ?

Sure ! But with reasonable proportions. I remember of a manager who one told me that if it’s good to have very involved and concerned people, having too many locomotives may be a problem if you don’t have enough rails to make them run. It means that if the organization have to use the informal social activity for business purposes, if there’s too many ideas, initiatives, propositions, it may be hard for the organization to take everything into account. Too many locomotives on a few railways cause trafic jams and those who will be bored of being stuck will leave the community.

Perharps it’s a rich’s problem. But it’s a real issue

3°) Can we do better ?

Of course and I already saw it’s possible. We can slightly improve the 1% (but without doing too much, for the reasons explained above), widely the 9%, and easily the 90%

What are the 90 % on the web. Those who came, eventually registered, but more in order to see, to rest, than in order to participate. In brief, they didn’t have a real and identified purpose. In an enterprise, it’s the same thing.

If we register everybody we will get our 1-9-10. In the other hand, if the start with a kernel of highly concerned people (share vision and interests) and make it grow step by step, using virality, and taking into account the “he’s intested in” factor instead of the “we’d like him to be interested”, the 90% decreases to 50%, even less. Lack of participation isn’t caused by tools but by a lack of alignment between the enterprise’s goals and individuals benefits and interest. Back on purely human issues. It’s not about tool’s efficiency, they just point thing out. They are a thermometer, not the cause of the fever.

Does thos 90% really matter ? If the population is well identified and if 90% don’t participate, it proves a real non-alignment. Si it’s an opened community, if people were registered without ensuring they shared the need, the vision, they were concerned, this number has absolutely no value. In this case let’s focus on the 1 and 9%

In a corporate use, if this rates are used in order to measure and pilot the project, it’s essential to understant how the comunity was built before trying to analyze the numbers. And if the numbers still don’t satisfy us, it has, most of time, nothing to do with the used technology but with alignment.

Who said enterprise 2.0 has more to do with people (ie management, hr, even strategy) than with technology