Become the 1% of content creatorsHow does a company move from becoming a promoter of their stuff to a provider of business insights? How do brands become publishers without hiring entire newsrooms full of journalists?

Turns out, the answer is simple: take the knowledge, the expertise and the passion of your employees and focus that on answering your potential customers’ key questions.

As Marcus  Sheridan (aka @TheSalesLion) suggests: “They ask. You answer!” This means your company is no longer in the business of just making and selling products. Your company needs to become a supplier of education and insights to your industry!

The Content Challenge in B2B

Content and “becoming a publisher” is a huge challenge for businesses today. Especially in B2B, where many of our employees are stuck on the notion that our products are so complex and our sales cycles are so long that we have to spend a majority of our time and resources explaining why we are better. Most B2B Marketing folks continue to spend their time and money defining all the details of our solutions and imploring our prospects to chose us.

But today, we know that our buyers are educating themselves. They turn to the internet and their social networks to find answers to the questions they have and to find solutions to their biggest problems.

The 1% Rule of Participation Inequality

The first mention I could find of the “1% rule” comes from Bradley Horowitz who concluded while working at Yahoo that within Yahoo groups there were “creators, synthesizers and consumers.”

And he predicted that across the board in any large internet community, there would be a a similar mathematical content “distribution inequality” along the same segments:

  • 1% create all the content
  • 9% synthesize or share the content
  • 90% simply consumer the content
Wikipedia defines this as the 1% rule of internet culture or the 1-9-90 principle.
SEO expert Jakob Nielsen modified this concept a bit when he defined the same numbers but classified the 1% as “heavy contributors,” the 9% as “intermittent contributors” and the 90% as “lurkers.”
Many people have risen up to attack this principle based on the feeling that with micro-blogging and status updates on Facebook or Twitter, the barrier to content production is so low that the number would skew higher. But I couldn’t find a single study to refute this concept.
The conventional wisdom is now that the numbers probably line up to the Pareto Principle, more commonly know as the 80-20 rule where 80% of the content in any social network is created by only 20% of the users.

Check here for a great discussion on the 1-9-90- principle on Quora where my new friend Sam Decker (@SamDecker) ranks as the top answer on whether these stats are a myth. Sam states:

It’s an over-generalization, but the message it conveys is accurate. The minority will contribute, more will share, and majority will read. . . you should build strategies to bring those numbers up, and create participation where the content created is valuable to the 90% of readers.

The Message For B2B Marketers

Whatever the percentage is, you cannot be just a content consumer.  You cannot be a “lurker” in your industry. You must either become a content creator, or at least participate as a content curator and distributor.

Not only is this true for B2B Marketers, I believe it is the mission of every business to grow the number of employee ambassadors. I actually believe every employee should be part of the 1% or the 9%. Help to tell engaging stories. Or help to share them.  And then encourage your customers to join in.

I think the new role of the B2B Marketer is part content marketing, part brand ambassador and part personal branding evangelist. We need to tell our colleagues that now is the time to build their personal brands. Now is the time to grow your social connections, to learn how to tell stories. And when you do, you can grow as a person while helping your company to grow as well.

Now some people think I’m crazy for suggesting this? What do you think?

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

20 Comments

  1. Elaine Joli said…

    Hi Michael,
    I am particularly intrigued with the first idea in your post – how does a company move from being a promoter of their stuff to to a provider of business insights? I have to share an (outstanding) example of this idea.
    On July 20, Kyle Wiens, who is the CEO of iFixit, the largest online repair community, wrote a blog post in the Harvard Business Review about how he will not hire anyone, regardless of the position, who cares not a whit about grammar. He says, “The person who has decided not to care about grammar is not the kind of person I want to work with.” His blog got an amazing 3180 comments – and still counting.
    Yesterday, in the Huffington Post, Jeneau Chun, a HuffPost blogger picks up the story, adds to it – remember, Mr. Wiens is not talking about his business directly, he is contributing a business experience as content – and THIS article gets 2793 comments and still counting!
    Astounding to me. The comments were a little pithier on the HBR – “This from someone who doesn’t have any idea at all how to use a preposition properly – “That’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.” “It’s “with which I am comfortable” or “that comforts me” or “that I accept” vs. the Huff Post crowd – “A preposition,” said a college professor to his class, “is a bad word to end a sentence with.”
    But the point is, when you can engage… let me add that up, 5973 readers for one idea that is not pushing a product. But I’ll bet a lot of those people now know what iFixit.com is – (am I dangling my participle?)
    blog.hrh.org/cs/2012/07/i_wont_hire_people_who_use_poo.html
    BTW – a bit of an unfortunate URL

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Elaine, this is one of the greatest comments I have ever received. Thank you for adding this story to the conversation. It is truly a great example of the power of content marketing, personal brand evangelism and thought leadership.

      Except for that url, which is also true! Thanks again!

  2. Nick Stamoulis said…

    This is absolutely true. If you aren’t creating thought provoking, original content than you won’t capture the attention of your target audience. Original is the key phrase here. There are many businesses that just share what others are saying, but then you won’t be seen as a thought leader.

  3. Elaine Joli said…

    Hey Michael – Thanks for your kind words:) Have a great weekend.

  4. Lucy Likesalot said…

    Based on this wikipedia article and the contents of your article, would you consider your own company part of the 9% or part of the 1%?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%25_rule_%28Internet_culture%29

  5. Lina Arseneault said…

    I love the lead off to this blog post – it says it all!

    Last week I was at a networking event hosted by SAP at the Palo Alto campus. It was a fabulous event and I got to meet many executives. In conversation, I mentioned how I was a big fan of your blog and that it was one of the main reasons I accepted SAP’s networking invitation. I think you might just have a few more fans!

    Through B2B Marketing Insider and Business 2 Community you have more than lived up to the lead off sentence of your blog post. You’ve become a provider of business insights. You provide value, very refreshing. More marketers should take notice.
    @LinaArseneault

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Lina, Thank you so much! You seriously have just made my day. I wish I could have been there and will certainly take as many fans in the executive ranks as I can get. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you!

  6. Lina Arseneault said…

    You’re welcome, I’m glad I made your day! Gratitude is such a positive energy and I try to make it a point of expressing it on a daily basis.

    Something you’ll want to correct, nothing major but there are 2 “the” in your “About Michael Brenner” footer: “Michael Brenner is proud to be the the author of B2B Marketing Insider …”

    Have a great day. Lina

  7. Gail Gardner said…

    Michael, if you will turn on the threaded comments feature in WordPress we could reply directly to each other and it will be so much easier to follow discussions in the comments. Go to settings, discussions, and check Enable threaded (nested) comments. Most blogs choose 4 levels deep.

    Elaine’s examples would make a great topic for another post. It is best if your content is as grammatically correct as possible; however, there are many thought leaders who can not spell and do not know the difference between your and you’re or they’re, their and there.

    To refuse to read what they have to say is an elitist position that limits what you can learn. Often times the person in the trenches knows much more than those managing them – and neither worker nor manager may excel at writing.

    We only know the errors we can recognize – not the ones we aren’t aware of so as often happens, someone with greater knowledge of grammar comes along and points out that the “grammar nazi” isn’t perfect, either. Even grammar experts do not agree about some usages and get in heated discussion where one site is positive they are correct – and the other side just as positive. Does it really matter, especially if only grammar experts know the difference? Just fix the obvious issues and common mistakes and don’t sweat the small stuff.

    While your desire to get all employees into the top 10% is admirable, it is highly unlikely. There are many people whose greatest contributions will lie in other areas and while you might be able to force them to share, if they truly hate it they will not be very good at it.

    A better goal is to identify those who have something to say and enable them to join the 1% and provide training, tools and time to those who love sharing so that they can do it more effectively.

    The majority of the 1% are more researcher than thought leader. While they create content that brings together what thought leaders share, they are not thought leaders themselves.

    We have an educational system that tries very hard to get people to do what they are told, believe “the experts”, and not think. Those of
    us who rejected that conditioning are not all that common. If your company has a true leader who has original ideas or can explain complex topics but isn’t a writer, capture their thoughts on video or audio or in notes. You can always have a writer put them down in words.

    If your company does not have someone in house, the solution is to collaborate with a thought leader to produce content that will benefit you – either on your own blog or on sites like Business2Community or here.

    There are two kinds of content that will benefit any business:

    1) Content that clearly explains the benefits of what you do.
    2) Content published elsewhere that attracts potential customers back to you.

    The first is best produced by someone who thoroughly understands your products and services and edited by someone who writes well. The second is where a quality research writer – or even better, an industry thought leader – comes in.

    The best writers are finally starting to be recognized and what they are paid has increased from an average of $75-$150 per post to $300-$500 per post. I expect the best writers to be in high demand because there simply are not that many who write well and also have talents either as a researcher, from business experience, to teach clearly, or as a thought leader.

    They tend to know each other, so once you find one you can ask them who they recommend. There are people working right now on ways to identify the most influential, social media savvy writers. Expect to see solutions along those lines in 2013. But you don’t really need them – all you need is to find someone who already knows and can tell you who they are.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hi Gail, thank you so much for the tip on embedded comments. I turned that on and that should greatly enhance the experience for those commenting on my site. Comments like yours are true gold. I really wish I had a full-time editor to carefully review what I publish and write. But having friends to help me improve the site and catch my errors is a real blessing.

      As for my dream of having more of our employee colleagues join the 1%, I agree with you that it is unrealistic for everyone. However, I believe successful businesses will need to activate those with the desire and the knowledge and the skills to communicate in the future in order to be successful.

      Customers can now contact our employees already on Twitter and Facebook and through blogs. Smart companies will help their employees who are interested to get trained on how to communicate effectively. I agree that this isn’t for everyone and certainly cannot be forced, but it is going to happen with company support or not.

      I remember when I first joined the work force and computers and email were just starting to penetrate companies. I remember informally “training” many older workers who were not too happy that they had to respond to emails. Even just 10 years ago, I had a boss who still dictated his email responses to his assistant. Whether we like it or not, we are all communicators in business today. And my hope is simply that more employees who are interested and capable can join the 1% and share their knowledge externally.

      I am seeing those writer services and influence identification services becoming much more prominent. And while I think they have their place, effective content strategy seeks to first take advantage of the talent you already have. As Marcus Sheridan loves to say, “They ask. You answer.” Every employees plays a role in that.

      • Gail Gardner said…

        We are on the same page – that all employees who can should be enabled to interact. Even most of those who are hesitant will eventually come around because they are surrounded by others who use mobile devices to teach them.

        LOL about you needing an editor. Most writers would be thrilled to write as well as you do. There are some excellent resources on common grammar challenges, capitalization rules, and ways to check spelling. If we simply share those many will do just fine. If they just avoid the most common mistakes, few will know the difference.

        I was at IBM when Profs was introduced. Executives were already using it for internal email and to manage tasks and assumed the field employees did too when we had not even seen it yet. It had a feature I ran regularly to see what grade level what you wrote suited. I used to run it because I wanted to know what words it thought were “too big” for people who almost all had college degrees.

        That is when I realized that most managers with Masters degrees could not write or spell at even an eighth grade level. Before downsizing and email, that did not matter because they did not write anything themselves.

        Many top engineers, programmers, and the bloggers who actually make money aren’t very proficient, either. English is a language with far too many illogical exceptions and particularly challenging for non-native speakers. So if you want to know what they’re doing, you can’t be a “grammar nazi” or leave because they spelled a word wrong.

        What I recommend most small businesses do is find a social media savvy, influential writer they can work with consistently for three reasons:

        1) They can take what you know and make it understandable for your target audience who may not know your industry jargon.
        2) Their established relationships or ability to publish content that benefits you on other domains will raise your visibility.
        3) Social media savvy writers with existing audiences have more influence with their followers than you do and can teach your people many skills.

        Even if you only work together for a few posts you will get much more out of it than the content created: connections, skills, a person to go to for quick answers, and someone who then knows more about you and is likely to bring you opportunities and add you to new content they are not specifically writing for you.

        • Michael Brenner said…

          You are absolutely right Gail. And one of the most important aspects of great content is often missed by even the best writers: great headlines.

          On Business 2 Community, we see that every day. Some of the most popular articles aren’t those with the most knowledge or clever analogies but those with the best titles.

          Great titles come in 2 forms: they are either really suspenseful or they capitalize on trending keywords.

          I’m logging off for the holiday. thanks so much for your comments and have a great one!

  8. Jorge Araluce said…

    I fully agree the need for employee ambassadors , i believe that the fact is that we as users and customers have the ability to taylor our communication channel to receive only what matter to us . Only the content that is relevant AND received via trusted source will reach the target .
    In that context the role of marketing and sales start to blur ..in my opnnion marketing should act as a facilitator of great content and tools for the salesforce to share to their trusted networks . And sales should also source their own content and value add to foster their professional brand . Maybe we are not yet there for the average sales rep but the top ,entrepreneurs, owners ..I belive they are leading that way .
    ( By the way , regarding the proper spelling discussion , it also should consider some allowance when English is not your first leguaje..anyway i apologize for the mistakes here)

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Jorge I agree with you completely and your English is perfect. I think marketing and sales need to come together in the new buyer journey and partner to create content that attracts and then converts the right audience.

Leave a Comment