I often cite Jakob Nielsen's opinions on website usability and his recent piece clearly has many implications for marketers. He suggests that user participation more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:
90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don't contribute).
9% of users contribute from time to time.
1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions.
The obvious and crucial question is whether these rates are replicated in other markets and populations? But, in any case, I'm not sure I agree with his implicit assertion that the resultant unrepresentative sample of opinion is a bad thing.
As I've written before, I'm far from convinced that representative samples always yield great results. In doing so, I cited another of Nielsen's findings, by which he has shown that a tiny sample of people can identify 80% of the usability shortcomings on a website.
Is it, therefore, not credible to argue that an unrepresentative sample can nevertheless produce useful results? Could it be that passionate opinions are the most relevant? Might the masses' silence indicate that their concerns are either minimal or have already found expression?
The key requirement of marketers is to facilitate a users' conversation. However, I'm not sure we should beat ourselves up when we realise that in the majority of cases, you can lead a user to conversation but you can't make them speak.