Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Inexplicable Like: is there a minimum population for an online community?

Around 2003-2004 (i.e. a few years before social media took off), I helped start and run a forum for hobbies and entertainment in Singapore – Katoots. By 2007, it reached 5000 registered members and was one of the largest and most active of its kind in Singapore. It is now defunct, but the experience taught me quite a few things. One of the observations I made was that it takes about 20 active users for an online community to truly come and feel alive. Regardless of the number of registered members you have in your online community, the important number is this active user number.

If I recall correctly, we had something like 200 registered members, of which the key, or core, 20 active users are part of. This means that 10% of the membership was active. Interestingly, this conforms to the rather old 1:9:90 rule – that is, 10% of the total community are the ones that actively create and contribute. More recently, there are also observations that the post-2010 ratio should be 10:20:70 now that people are generally more active online.

Diagram from “Is the 90-9-1 Rule for Online Community Engagement Dead?”
Posted by Paul Schneider (click image for link to his article).

It could be said that in the end, it’s still the 10% that matters, in either case.

Below 20 active users, your site may not display enough activity to pique the interest of new visitors, i.e. potential new members. It will probably display  No Reply Syndrome.  Below 20 active users, the site may not feel alive, and in this way does not encourage revisits.

You will notice that based on the old 1:9:90 rule, you should theoretically need 100 registered members to get your 1st active creator user. Let me tell you that that’s not really enough. You see, that active creator user is likely to be none other than you. :)

Working backwards, to achieve 20 active users, you would need to get at least 200 registered members. At least. Your mileage will vary according to the nature of your community, especially its topic and focus.

The Active Threshold
Anyway, in the above example, the 200 figure is what I call Active Threshold. It is the minimum number of registered (in whatever form) members needed for the community to come alive. Once you achieve this number, you have to observe if your Active User Group has manifested, i.e. 20 active users. If it doesn’t seem like it has appeared, your Active Threshold may be bigger.

In modern, i.e Facebook, times, I have learned, consulted about, and observed the Active Threshold for Facebook Pages on a handful of occasions. PR/Marketing agency Conversion Hub once observed to me that the figure to aim for is 10,000 fans.

This sounds like it should not just generate 20 active users, but 1000 (10%). But you know of course that Facebook pages don’t work that way. There are theories and reports that Facebook’s Edgerank “hides” fanpage posts from the majority of your fans, either in the name of filtering newsfeeds for relevance….. or because they want brands to pay for eyeballs. There are also more considered suggestions that despite the lower quantitative reach, the qualitative reach (or real engagement) is preserved or higher.

That aside, the point is that Facebook Pages have their own form of Active Threshold, a much higher number than forums. In a recent conversation I had with Damien Cummings, Regional Marketing Director, Digital & Social Media at Samsung Asia – he cited a range of 5000 to 10,000 fans as the active threshold. It’s a range that I nodded in agreement with.

But it still depends on the nature of your community’s topic or interest. For example, a page that I worked with which had no product, but sold an ideology, did not come alive at 10,000 fans. I observed that its active threshold was closer to 16,000. The less apparent your product offering or value to the fan, the more fans you need to gain traction.

The Inexplicable Like
What was it that I observed actually? I mean, how do you determine when you’ve reached the active threshold? My answer would be: when everything that you post on the page gets a response without prompting. Sometimes within minutes. Say, when posting even a somewhat bland status post on the page, on a lazy Monday afternoon, gets an inexplicable like (yes the sort that makes you wonder why a fan liked the post, even though you’re grateful for it).

skittles camel post
The ultimate in Inexplicable Likes. Don’t try this at hom… I mean, unless you have the clout of the Skittles Facebook Page.

This means you have a target
What all this means is that you now have a target, if you’re still in the journey of building an online community. You have a target to tell/show/commit/over-promise (haha) to your management, which is really a good thing. You shouldn’t be growing a community without a target, even a quantitative one like this is helpful as a reference milestone.

Would anyone like to share what your active threshold experiences are/were?

Social Media Kungfu – the sophistication of measurement


Yes, yes, I know. Now, it’s clear that measurement is always good, if you can manage it (irony intended). I don’t deny that. And increasingly, the measurement of social media and online engagement is becoming more and more sophisticated. About 3 weeks ago I attended a social media for businesses conference and one of the talks was about social media measurement. I confess openly that I don’t remember much of it. It was so sophisticated, that within 15 minutes I was utterly lost in technobabble. Admittedly, the speaker was in quite a challenging position himself, having the task of explaining his entire life’s work in one hour.

Social media measurement (SMM) is a descendant of the web metrics of the 1990s/2000s. Its grandparents are pageviews and unique visitors. In the early days of SMM, say around 2010, this particular area seemed more like a poorly equipped wannabe trying to borrow some tools and tactics from its much older web metrics 師父 (shifu, or master). SSM was the proverbial poor boy servant who hid behind the walls secretly watching the kungfu students training with their master in the training yard, and tried to practise on his own in his little shed at night. Eventually, he would become very skilled, and even discover his own techniques.

That seems to be the story of SMM in very recent times. Empowered by ever-improving technology, the onward advance of sentiment analysis, no matter how far from 100% accuracy; with the constant tweaking of Facebook insights as a sign they aren’t satisfied yet, SMM is without doubt, growing and evolving, become more and more clever.

I suspect one day it will even defeat its former master.

I wrote recently about measuring community in non-technical ways. When I read exhortations like the one at the start of this post, I can’t help but feel a bit apologetic. The thing about technical, scientific, data-driven and data-producing measurements is that it always looks more accurate and defined than non-technical, anecdotal, subjective, emotive measurements. But of course, that’s the point. That’s why they were invented. Even if sometimes they give false impressions, they strike at the truth in terms we can measure and define.

I have no doubt that scientific SMM is important. If you can’t measure it, true, you probably can’t manage it. But what if you can’t even manage SMM? Or in some cases, social media itself? I’m afraid there is one other issue about SMM in Singapore – it’s being spoken in front of people who haven’t quite figured out social media itself. Many of us at the conference were confused. And I’m generally considered ahead of most. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I want to learn.

But in the meantime, businesses still have to survive. They have goals to meet. There is no point trying to tell businesses to adopt sophisticated SMM when they are still new at social media. It could – and probably more often than I care to admit – simply be a case of having management that doesn’t understand. Management that’s still bo(b)sessed with Big (Almost) Meaningless Numbers. Sorry, they exist, they really do.

Singapore is hardly at the forefront of social media. More and more people I meet have awakened to the reality that we are some 3-odd years behind the US. Everything from harnessing geolocation for business to mobile payments to webpage design, we are behind. Point: there may not be much point in measuring unsophisticated technology with sophisticated measures. Unless your management is ready and demands it.

I’m not trying to make Singapore social media sound bad. I’m just trying to figure out how best to help businesses and organizations move along. If you confuse your boss when you’re reporting your social media performance using sophistication, you’re playing with fire – a confused boss is often a frustrated boss. A frustrated boss will constantly ask you to justify and re-justify your social media plans and budget. Sound familiar yet? It’s my own personal experience. That’s why you must do your best to put your reporting in terms your boss understands.

Just as I said in that previous post, by all means learn about all these powerful SMM techniques, but don’t forget the language of the bosses: English.