2. Champions, active users and trolls


Image by alistair_35 via Flickr

As an online community manager, you will have a ‘gut’ understanding of who makes up your community. Their rough interests, probably the gender split and a fairly good grasp of age. But this will largely be based on who is posting, what they’re posting and how often. The real shape of the community will be far more nuanced.

The 90-9-1 rule

The 90-9-1 rule, or 90-9-1 principle, is a really handy way of remembering who does what on your community.

It’s also a helpful way of gauging how traffic visiting your site will translate to people posting on your site and engaging with the community.

In brief:

  • 90% of community users are passive members. They ‘lurk’ and read, without contributing.
  • 9% of community users are ‘editors’ that will modify content or add to an existing thread (by posting a comment or replying) but rarely create any content from scratch.
  • 1% of users are ‘creators’ that will participate a lot, including adding photos, starting new discussions and taking part in activity across the community.

With more low-effort forms of activity becoming commonplace, such as clicking to rate a piece of content, the ratio of editors to lurkers is likely to rise. However, the likelihood is the number of creators adding lots of fresh stuff to your community will always be a tiny percentage.

Community champions

As your online community grows, you will see a handful of members that not only create a lot of the content, they also seem to take a real pride in the community and take extra tasks upon themselves.

They are likely to:

  • Welcome new members, replying to introductory posts and helping to signpost useful content to them
  • Report any activity that breaks the rules or disrupts the community
  • Try and calm down disputes and appear to have the community’s interests at heart
  • Be very active in creating new content
  • Have ideas on the future of the community and promote the community externally
  • Encourage ‘good behaviour’ and show others how to behave through their own actions

These are your community champions. They will save you a lot of groundwork and help you to keep the community growing and safe.

Nurture them and appreciate them, but make sure you keep clear the boundaries between you and them. You don’t want them to get too big for their boots and become problems, splitting the community into them and us, nor do you want to feel beholden to them and uncomfortable making decisions that will affect them - such as removing iffy content they have posted.

The methods by which you reward and involve them is largely dependant on your specific needs, resources and the limits and possibilities of your community platform. But whether it’s a fruit basket or a cheerful personalised email every once in a while, you must show you appreciate them.

Active users

There will always be a large number of lurkers. Even if yours is a closed, private community where everybody knows everybody in real life, there will still be some who choose to eyeball without ever tapping the keys.

Everybody in between lurker and champion is an active user, in other words, users that do something on a fairly regular basis are active.

A good community manager will strive to entice lurkers out of their passivity - perhaps through polls and minimum effort functions - and convert active users into champions. What is vital to the health of the community, however, is keeping active users active, and keeping their activity levels high.

The Toxic Team

You will, of course, find that there is a small core of moaners and gripers. They’re not trolls or troublemakers for the sake of it, but they’re sceptical, easily affronted and standoffish. They’re also your best friend.

While it may not seem like it, and sometimes you’ll wish you could just ban them and be done with it, the members that are moaning but keep coming back time and again can help make a community.

Think about it:

  • they keep coming back so they feel that they are stakeholders
  • they care about the community and the experience
  • they want to engage
  • they’re telling you what is wrong and what can be improved
  • they’re probably saying what politer and more forgiving members are thinking
  • if you can turn them around and prove you respect them, all that sounding off will now be in your favour - they will be community champions.

Take them seriously. Don’t indulge their ideas if they’re ridiculous, but consider why they are saying what they are saying - do they have a point? Is there mileage in trying something new? Have you done something you should apologise for or explain? Perhaps they have misunderstood your actions, and if they have, then others will have to. Be transparent, honest.

Your toxic team will force you to be a better community manager, and the whole community will benefit. They also show you just how involved you need to be, because they will keep you on your toes!

Trolls and troublemakers

And then there are those that really are trolls and troublemakers.

PC Mag‘s encyclopaedia has a good definition of trolling:

  1. Surfing, or browsing, the Web.
  2. Posting derogatory messages about sensitive subjects on newsgroups and chat rooms to bait users into responding.
  3. Hanging around in a chat room without saying anything, like a “peeping tom.”

Trolls are pains, plain and simple. They try and wind up other members, create negative, dramatic situations and are deliberately provocative. They will do their level best to crank your tail too, but obviously you’ll never show them they’ve hit a nerve!

There are several possible types of troll (it may be a cry for help, they may be being picked on in their own lives, they may be desperately lonely), and while the effects are still the same and there are no excuses for rule-breaking, understanding the motivations can help you deal with them. But do not underestimate their determination, or potential power, just ask The Scotsman.

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  1. Twitted by mattrhodes:

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  2. Tom:

    Good overview. I’d add a couple of points tho:

    - the 90-9-1 rule is good as a description of the shape of a community but it’s important to remember that it’s not a segmentation, in that people shift between the sections a lot. I can think of several communities where I’ve moved from the 90 to the 1 and several where I’ve moved back again.

    - an even greater menace than trolls in my experience are bores. They’re less offensive but a hell of a lot harder to shift. You can throw someone out of a party for being a dick, but you can’t throw someone out just because they’re droning on at you, you just have to move away from them. But online that’s a lot harder, and bores can really clog a community up and act as a barrier to sparky newcomers.

  3. Angela Connor:

    I LOVE the phrase, “The Toxic Team.” That is the best way to describe this group. As a community manager I know them well and I am quite familiar with their tactices. I’ve referred to them as trolls but that isn’t it at all. They are simply toxic to the community. I have cracked down on this bunch a great deal and even posted a blog about it encouraging them to take their behavior elsewhere. Not every member is a good member and we shouldn’t want everyone for the sake of numbers. Nice post.

    Angela Connor | @communitygirl
    Online Community Strategist

  4. Chris Bailey:

    Holly, great post…and really helpful additions from Tom and Angela. I’m currently reading a research article that verifies your 90/9/1 rule in the space of a community of practice. Rather than “lurkers” the 90% are called “peripheral participants.” I have to admit that latter term has a bit less negative baggage attached to it. The fact is that these peripheral participants are a vital portion of any community.


  5. Holly Seddon:

    Hi Tom, thanks for your reply, I agree about the fluidity of the 90-9-1 groupings… in fact, I’ve been fiddling around with a draft blog post provisionally called ‘Does 90-9-1 still add up?’ and this is a point I’d like to add in there. When I finally finish it!

    Ditto, Chris (and thanks for your lovely RT on Twitter) this is a really nice way of phrasing it, the 90% is definitely a hugely important group, 90% of people in the throes of mass contribution would make for a very noisy community…

    Angela, thank you :) I totally agree that keeping up numbers despite repeated toxic behaviour is totally counterproductive. I have never known toxic behaviour quite like that on a women’s community I used to work for - they certainly kept me on my toes!


  6. Andrew Davis:

    Great post. I used to manage a community of 50k + and i think the 90-9-1 rule is spot on.

  7. Holly Seddon:

    Hi Andrew,

    That’s really interesting, I think more and more 90-9-1 is going to be diminished as people slide more effortlessly into the middle section (‘editor’) through things like ratings and comments that reactive to what the smaller, most active group are posting…


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