The 1% rule of online communities states that only 1% of website users actually generate content while the other 99% simply consume it. A variant of this is the 90-9-1 rule, which states that 90% of a community consists of passive observers, 9% actually engage with the content (i.e., through likes, shares, comments, etc.) and 1% generates it.
While the 1% rule has not been decisively proven to hold true across all communities, several peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated its consistency across multiple online groups, such as digital health social networks.
The 1% rule can also be understood as a form of participation inequality, a concept from the social sciences first attributed to online communities by Will Hill of AT&T Laboratories in 1992. The issue with participation inequality in this context, as described by Jakob Nielsen, is the negative correlation between a user’s posting frequency and the quality of their insights.
Hence, finding ways to mitigate participation inequality is a crucial task for community managers.