January 12, 2023


Social Media 80/20 Rule: Why It’s Relevant and Where It Falls Short

To a marketer, the greatest promise of social media lies in its ability to build relationships and do it at a scale and pace that wasn’t conceivable prior to the digital age. Still, the time-tested principles for creating and deepening relationships offline apply equally online. A relationship is a relationship.

Digital marketing expert Gary Vavnerchuk confirms this, when he says that “developing relationships through social media requires the same key components that you would want in any good relationship – trust, respect and connection.”

At its core, this is what social media’s 80/20 rule is all about.

Let’s look at two different ways the 80/20 rule has been defined and examine the Glue rule that may supersede them both.

1. The 80/20 rule of content

This long-standing guidance advocates that, for a marketer, at least 80% of your posts should educate or entertain, while no more than 20% should promote you or your business.

There’s a strong rationale for this. Think about the people you gravitate toward-the ones who freely give of themselves and their expertise without thinking about what they are going to get in return. Contrast them with people who are shameless seIf-promoters; those who are first and foremost looking to close a deal. Whom are you more likely to want to spend your time with, and when it comes to meeting your business needs, whom are you more likely to engage?

The answer for most of us, of course, is the giver. This offline example illustrates why the 80/20 rule works online. It fosters engagement, trust, and loyalty, which are all key to relationship-building.

2. The 80/20 rule of origination

This guidance recognizes that original content can set you apart as a thought leader and key influencer, but only if it reaches a sizable audience.

The second definition of the 80/20 rule is more about the how than the what. It begins with the premise that you, the blogger, the poster, the expert, are a limited resource and therefore need to divide your time appropriately, devoting the majority of it to cultivating followers (80%), while leaving the rest for generating original content (20%).

In this case, the mandate is to concentrate on mobilizing your offline contacts and converting them into online followers as quickly possible. And while you are doing that, selectively sharing existing, high-value curated content, to garner trust and respect by association and entice those who are active online to join your social media conversation.

3. Overriding or at the very least complementing both is the Glue rule—be interesting and interested

The 80/20 rules on content and origination are useful rules of thumb. They likely prevent those who adhere to them from making rookie mistakes in their use of social media. However, what they fail to address head-on is that posts—regardless of whether they are entertaining, educational, promotional, shared, or original—have to be something your intended target wants to read about.

And the way to know that is to pay attention to target-audience attitudes and behaviors, just as you would when mounting any other type of campaign. The starting point here, as with other marketing outreach, is insight generation. From the Glue point of view, insights don’t just inform branding and advertising, they drive content strategy too.

So be interested in the unmet needs, beliefs, and aspirations, of your target audience. Take note of gaps in how your competitors are—or are not—addressing them. Some market research will likely be necessary to learn what you need to know.

Once you have that information in hand, build a social-media calendar that is populated with interesting, provocative content that addresses the insights you have gleaned.

Finally, make leveraging insights in your social media postings (so that you are both interesting and interested) a rule that you stick to—100% of the time.