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Successful online activation campaigns must isolate and engage. The Engagement Pyramid explains how and why.

by Jerry “Doctor Spin” Silver // Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
Senior Digital Strategist // Spin Factory

We all care, but only so much.

If you’re looking to boost crowd behaviors, you must cater to various levels of engagement.

If you can get 1% to enter as creators, you should be happy. But, to be successful, you should also attract contributors — even if you can’t expect them to invest as much engagement as your creators.

Your “ask” of your contributors must be considerably smaller than that of the creators; if creators upload their best summer pictures, maybe contributors can suggest creative captions for their favorite entries? Now, if both creators and contributors are having fun, why not invite lurkers to simply cast their votes with only the click of a button?

This is an example of why the Engagement Pyramid matters.

The 1% Rule and Special Interest Groups

The Engagement Pyramid

The idea that interest groups typically displays three distinct levels of engagement levels is not new1. Similar observations have been made by sociologists for centuries. When studying a specific internet forum, it’s not uncommon to see that 90% have never posted (lurkers), 9% are adding to comments to existing topics and threads (contributors), and 1% are actively starting new topics and threads.

The 1% rule (or the 1-9-90 rule) is a rule of thumb and shouldn’t be applied to heterogeneous populations, but rather to special interest groups:

Personally, I’m 1% creator when it comes to digital public relations (special interest);
I’m a 9% contributor when it comes to survivalism and prepping (special interest);
I’m a 90% lurker when it comes to biohacking and transhumanism (special interest).

Such “microsystems of engagement” rely heavily on clearly defined special interest groups that can somehow be isolated and brought together. Which, coincidentally, is something the internet has proven to do very efficiently:

The Engagement Pyramid hints as to why social sites like Facebook are powerful agents of social connectivity:

Key 1: The social network’s algorithms create filter bubbles to sustain special interest groups.

Key 2: The social network allows creators (1%) to publish, contributors (9%) to comment, share, and like, while lurkers (90%) can absorb2 the information.

I’ve used the powerful Engagement Pyramid slide many times to explain how to harness maximum online engagement and why it’s so important to attract clearly defined special interest groups3. The slide has also been useful to illustrate why some online activation campaigns fail.


  1. See the 1% rule (Wikipedia).
  2. See Leon Festinger’s 1957 theory of cognitive dissonance (Wikipedia).
  3. See also Inbound Marketing is a New Paradigm.

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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.

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