The 20-to-1 Rule

Sometimes when I speak with marketing executives about social media, they seem to get it. But they don’t. Not really. They falsely believe that Twitter and Facebook are like every other broadcast channel. They see it as an opportunity to blast their message out to thousands of followers—for free!—and sell them stuff.

A Woman Offering a Gift Box - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #7114478

Photo courtesy of ©

My response? No. No. NO! A thousand times, no! Twitter is not a broadcast medium.

Twitter and Facebook are relational tools not transactional tools. Contrary to what many think, social media rewards:

  1. Generosity;
  2. Other-centeredness; and
  3. Helpfulness

It is a vehicle that appeals to people’s deep, God-given desire to connect. It works when there is trust. When it becomes just another form of spam (violating people’s trust), it fails to be effective.

For example, on Sunday morning, Chris Brogan posted a video review of his new Eagle Creek Tarmac 22 carry-on bag. I happened to be in the market for some new carry-on luggage, and Chris is someone whose opinion I respect—especially since I know he is such a road warrior. I immediately went onto the Eagle Creek Web site, found a local retailer, and bought one that afternoon. (I love it, by the way!)

Chris wasn’t trying to sell me. He wasn’t engaged in marketing—at least, not in a traditional sense. He was simply being helpful by sharing something that he believed was valuable. And, because I trust Chris’ opinion, I took his advice and bought the luggage he recommended. This is how social media marketing works. You have to jettison the old interruption-based, traditional marketing model. It just doesn’t work any more.

But Chris wasn’t asking me for anything. In fact, he rarely asks for a commitment from his followers or blog readers. Instead, he faithfully gives to his audience, day after day. He practices digital generosity. As a result, when he does ask for something, his followers and fans respond.

This phenomenon is what I have come to call the 20-to-1 rule. It represents a ratio. It means that you have to make 20 relational deposits for every marketing withdrawal. This isn’t science. I don’t have any hard, empirical evidence to prove it.

But I have observed that if you just keep asking people to do something—buy your book, come to our conference, sign up for our cause—without making adequate deposits, they will begin ignoring you. Eventually, they will unfollow you and disconnect from your updates.

No one wants to be spammed. Not today. There are too many alternative sources of content. If you want to build a social media platform, one where people listen to you, then you have to be a giver not a taker. I think 20-to-1 is about right.

Questions: What do you think? Do you think this ratio is about right? How have you observed it in your online interactions with people?
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  • @jalc6927

    Good Morning Mike, When I first dove into the world of social media, the intent was not to sell anything. My goal is to provide leadership help to who ever wants it. With that in mind your philosophy is dead on. As for the ratio, it looks like an ideal proportion. Thanks
    My recent post Finding the JOY in Servant Leadership

  • Juan

    WOW! Mike – Here again you are giving us a great post, I am relatively new to social media, by I am embracing it with passion, it started with Twitter, I connected with such a wonderfull people like you that otherwise I would have never met (online). I was also a winner of one of the books you give-away – Crush it! by Gary Vaynerchuk, that was an eye opening about creating a Brand Name.
    Social media is about bringing value to others, by giving your wisdom, ideas, opinions, knowledge, about becoming a role-model others want to follow thru the internet. More or less goes like this saying – when you give to others what they want , you will get what you want.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is why I am surprised that Christians—especially!—don’t embrace social media more. I think it really affirms and even rewards so many of the values we hold dear.

  • Jeff Cagwin

    agreed. well said!

  • Scott Couchenour

    Mike I think you’re right on. It’s tempting to go 20 to 1 the opposite direction. But there’s a much richer experience in the giving. Thanks for the insight.

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  • anna roudenbush

    I have to agree with you. As an aspiring author, I use it to connect with other authors and to get to know a few agents and their views on the buisness, I also follow a few celeb's because what are the chances of ever having a conversation with these people. It can be informative and fun.
    Have a great day.

  • Jim Martin

    This is very good! I suspect your ratio is correct.

    The longer I use Twitter/Facebook, etc. the more apparent it is when people are primarily using social media to push or promote something. It just feels different than those who tweet regularly and constantly offer tips, good links, etc.

    I once had a conversation with a minister regarding a series of messages that he had presented. I sensed that he had a primary source or at least a primary inspiration of some kind. He said, "You know, I can't reveal my sources." In contrast to this attitude are the persons who share their links, resources, ideas, experiments, etc. through social networking. There is nothing to feel threatened about — if we are thinking in terms of relationship building.
    My recent post Am I With Anyone?

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is so true. Tim Sanders has a wonderful book entitled, Love Is the Killer App. It it, he argues that exhibiting love in the marketplace and freely sharing our contacts and resources with others will only result in our own success. It’s a very compelling book.

      Thanks for your comments.

      • Jim Martin

        Thank for this book suggestion Michael. I will follow up on this.
        My recent post Am I With Anyone?

  • @Lameei

    I'm totally agree with you "You have to jettison the old interruption-based, traditional marketing model. It just doesn’t work any more." spam is not the solution any more. You have to be helpful for others and then they will trust you and follow you.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I used to love watching the Today show, when I get up in the morning. However, I have almost completely quit. The national commercials aren’t so bad, but the local ones drive me crazy. My local affiliate always seems to turn the volume up on those. He has some guy screaming at me, trying to sell me a car. It is the ultimate in interruption-based marketing. As a result, I ALWAYS either mute the commercial or turn of the TV altogether. I also subliminally vow that I will never buy a car from THAT company!

      Interruption-based marketing is negative branding in action.

      • Brad Farris

        I've been thinking more and more about this with regards to email. I'm starting to feel like email is becoming an interruption like the phone, a remarkable amount of it isn't quite spam, but I didn't really ask for it either. Even email newsletters are getting so numerous that it's hard to cut through the noise.

        It makes me think that authenticity and transparency are the only real strategy and either like what they see or they don't and we need to be comfortable with that.
        My recent post What’s in a Name?

      • Ash

        I couldn’t agree more with your comment about making a subliminal vow never to buy from that company. I do the same!

  • Rachel Wojnarowski

    As a piano teacher, I often use the stat of professionals that “It takes 21 repetitions to reach the first level of mastering a piece.” This stat factors that the piece is level- appropriate for the student. Considering this application that I have experienced to be accurate, it seems your 20 to 1 ratio is right on. Thanks for you insight!!

  • Andy Depuy

    Great post Mike.

  • Duke Dillard

    I agree with you, but it is also important to note that Chris gave an affiliate link for the bag. As I understand it, that means if you bought the bag from his link, he made money. It sounds like you bought it from a local retailer so he did not make any money on your purchase. I'm new to all of this and not sure if I understand it correctly.
    I'm not putting a value on it. I think it is legit, although it seems to be misused at times. My point is just that it was not totally selfless generosity. He did not have to give the affiliate link. And yet the affiliate system is smart marketing. I think mentioning the issue would add to your post, but it probably would have made it too long; maybe a topic for another post (maybe you have mentioned it before?)? I would enjoy seeing a post and discussion on the topic of affiliate links and how they are good and bad depending on their use.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don't mind affiliate links. I have one in my post. As long as I trust the poster and he is disclosing his affiliation (which Chris almost always does), I want to buy from the affiliate link. The only reason I bought one locally, is because I was headed out on a road trip the next day and wanted the new suitcase. Plus I got it through REI and got a 20%, members-only, discount!

  • Christianne

    I loved the digital generosity phrase you coined. Very cool way to think about it.

    The 20-to-1 ratio sounds about right. On Twitter and blogging, I most enjoy the relational updates from those I follow. I like getting to know them and hearing their perspective on different things. It helps me know their hearts. Then, when they do decide to promote something, I know it is coming from a place of integrity and I can trust the suggestions they make.

    I've followed people on Twitter before who only advertised their book, blog, or product … you're right … I did end up unfollowing them because I found myself wanting a connection with the person behind the product. Instead, I just kept feeling sold to.
    My recent post Whistleblowers for Peace, Unite!

  • April Karli

    Thanks for articulating that so well. I'm definitely turned off by people who obviously use FB and Twitter to promote themselves and/or their products.
    My recent post The Ancients & Jesus: Week 1

    • Michael Hyatt

      Me, too. I really do eventually unfollow them. HootSuite also makes it easy to report those who really abuse this by DMing you.

  • Paul Fowler

    Once again you have reminded me of the effectiveness of relationship! Whether you realize it or not you are practicing what you preach – generosity, other-centeredness, and helpfulness! Thanks Michael!
    My recent post Deluge – Unshakable | Integrity Music E-Card

  • Don Hughes

    It would seem that despite protestations, Twitter is a broadcast medium. Someone with 78,000 followers, for example, cannot expect to have a relationship with so many people. A relationship implies interaction, and the greater the number of followers the less likely that meaningful relational communication can take place. If there is little or no relational interaction (the message only goes in one direction), then it is a broadcast. Messages have higher perceived value when they are other-centered, as you say, but that does not change their essential nature.

    There are two things that make Twitter broadcasts unique. First, people opt-in, but they do it on basis of the personality or position of the broadcasting individual rather than message content. In traditional opt-in mailing lists people are seeking information so content is king. With Twitter, subscribers are seeking an interpersonal connection (though that connection is idealized, not substantive) and are willing to receive diverse content from the person. That works in favor of the broadcaster who has a wide product or service line or access to affiliate programs or other income generating resources. Tweets appear to be less of a marketing effort because of the diversity of the products or services being offered, but they are marketing messages nevertheless.

    That brings us to my second point of Twitter uniqueness, and that is the nature of broadcast messages. They have all the advantages of word of mouth advertising when done properly, and that includes being other-centered. They appear to be helpful recommendations rather than blatant ads, and the effectiveness of such messages is enhanced by the intermittent nature of tweets; the advertising element can be easily cloaked when they are mixed with tweets that focus on the personal activities of the broadcaster. Twitter offers relational marketing at its best.

    Tweeting can be an important method of selling products and services, but the real value of tweeting is probably in the establishment and development of a personal brand. A personal brand broadens an individuals network and enhances the credibility of the broadcaster. A person with a large Twitter following is perceived as a person of power. Twitter offers portability so that the tweeter has a following regardless of current employment.
    My recent post 8 Writing Tips from C.S. Lewis

    • Michael Hyatt

      You make some important points. Thanks.

      The difference from a traditional broadcast medium, like for example TV or print, is that even with 78,000 followers, I can respond to people who DM or mention me (which I do). I can engage. Not with everyone, to be sure, but with a meaningful number.

  • Ary

    And you are one great giver Michael Hyatt. I have learnt so much from your blog. I thank you!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Ary. You are kind!

  • Sarah

    Thank you…very helpful. Our church is just getting into social media and we welcome any great advice.

  • Colleen Coble

    I SO agree! That's what I love about Twitter and Facebook. I'm very relationship oriented. Sitting in the recliner writing all day can get lonely. I feel so much more connected to my readers and the world in general since Twitter and Facebook came along.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I love that, too, Colleen. I love the near instant feedback and the encouragement. It all helps me defeat The Resistance of my own brain and keep writing!

  • patriciazell

    I enjoy social media immensely. I love connecting with many different people and sharing in how God is blessing them. I don't mind the withdrawals as long as I have the option to say no.

    In some ways, I'm walking a tightrope as far as my input into social media goes. As a public school teacher, I have been warned to be careful in becoming involved with social media. Yet, as writer, I need to be out where people are. So, I've decided to focus on my message as I interact via social media because it's much more important than me. I do include a link to my blog in most of my interactions, but my purpose is to encourage our connection to God through His absolute love. I'm hoping that I'm making deposits rather than withdrawals.
    My recent post #39 THE DOING OF LOVING: FREEDOM

    • Michael Hyatt

      You are doing a great job, Patricia!

  • Ron Lane

    I totally agree with you about the relational nature of Twitter over the marketing aspect. I also agree with the 20:1 ratio that you suggest.

    I find myself checking a number of people's tweets before I follow them to see how much they market of advertise product.

    I wished more got it.

    My recent post Living Simply And Generously

  • Ron Lane

    I totally agree with you about the relational nature of Twitter over the marketing aspect. I also agree with the 20:1 ratio that you suggest.

    I find myself checking a number of people's tweets before I follow them to see how much they market of advertise product.

    I wished more got it.

    My recent post Living Simply And Generously

  • John Richardson

    Great post, Mike. As a blogger for over 5 years, I can attest that there needs to be a lot of give and just a little take to make things work. I've always believed in an 80/20 ratio but for social media it may be lower than that. In my case, I offer free downloads of personal productivity items. I have a daily planning worksheet, a diet planner, and even a garage sale kit that you can download from my blog and print out on your own printer. In return, I have had Google ads on my site that people can click on that usually relate to the post. I have had thousands of people download the templates and many people leave helpful comments.

    Now that Twitter is here, I'll post a helpful link to these posts about one in five tweets and I also have links on Facebook and LinkedIn. The secret to blogging is to look at your site through the eyes of your readers and ask the question… are you offering something of value?

    Certainly the ad model and affiliate links are a proven method to provide income, but it's the genuine conversation that makes it work. This is one area that I have learned a lot from your posts about social media and your Twitter stream of daily updates. It's the ongoing conversation that really matters. Hopefully the Twitter and Facebook interfaces will evolve to make the actual conversation easier to follow. For now, Hootsuite and other social media tools are the best way to see the complete interchange of ideas.
    My recent post What Makes A Great Facebook Fan Page?

  • David


  • Tyrone

    Thanks for the reminder that "It is more blessed to give than to receive".
    Thanks for being so generous.

  • Kristie Jackson

    Although I Twitter and love it for many reasons, the self-promotion and scratch each-other's-backness of social media is something I struggle with. Surely there is a balance and it is heavily weighted on the giveaway side as you suggest, but I still find the underlying belief unattractive — that, in sum, it will pay off. I think I'm just an idealist, hoping for purity of heart that is simply impossible this side of heaven. For one thing, I know the dark corners of my own heart, corners that love and feed on attention and self-glory, and this despite a true and deep love for my Savior.
    My recent post Hebrews 10: Spur

  • Amy Sorrells

    This is so right-on. I have a dear friend who wonders why she has trouble building blog readership. She tweets. She blogs. She facebooks. But she rarely–if ever–follows anyone back on twitter. I have yet to see her comment on anyone else's blogs. Maybe she's shy. Maybe she's private. But there are ways to create boundaries and private sites for that. If you have a message you want to spread, these days, you have to be a friend, first. When applied to social media, it seems like a rather novel idea at first. However, I have an old church camp phrase running through my mind: "Make-a-friend-BE-a-friend-BRING-a-friend-to-Christ." I'm a person who's about as scared of people as they come, and sometimes it is difficult–emotionally and time-wise, too–to follow the 20/1 rule. But it's true. Thanks for this post, Mr. Hyatt!
    My recent post Join me?

  • Rachel Hauck

    I agree with everything in this post, Mike. I never friend FB or Twitter request where the focus is "internet marketing" or "how to get rich" or if the page is nothing but links. That just doesn't appeal to me. I'll friend if I see the person is also tweeting about their life, retweeting or commenting on other friends posts.

    I want to talk about who am in whole: writer, friend, wife, Jesus follower, part-time political junky, and I want to engage with others who do the same.

    I also DO NOT follow celebs who have a gazillion followers but they are only following like 50 or 100. What's that about? I know then they are not really wanting to engage in the social media exchange. They want to be there to broadcast their product or celebrity.

    I don't mind however, when I see a celebrity post where it's says: from so-n-so's team. Maybe it's because I only follow celebs I really like. ;)

    Social media is changing how we communicate.

    But can I add this? Please, if you are on social media, and consider yourself pithy or witty, don't assume you are. Just because you can't see the person on the other side, and they can't hear you, doesn't mean your words don't hurt or sting. Doesn't mean you meaning or implication is understood.

    More than ever we must head James 3 and guard our words!


    • Amy Sorrells

      Rachel–thanks for the reminder to read James and guard our words. James is always a great and humbling read. Think I'll go check it out now!
      My recent post Join me?

  • JamesBrett

    “It is a vehicle that appeals to people’s deep, God-given desire to connect.”

    while this may be true for some, i have to question it as a blanket statement. i would argue that, for just as many, twitter and facebook appeal to the individual’s constant need for approval and desire to have contact with anyone, rather than to be alone. i’d suggest we often take our God-given desire (to connect) to a distorted and unhealthy end, in which egos are stroked, privacy is nonexistent, and quiet time is relegated to sleep.

    social media may serve a useful function in the lives of some, but i’m afraid its abuses outweigh its advantages for the bulk of our society.

    • Michael Hyatt

      We could probably argue back and forth about this all day, but the real question is how are YOU using it? How am I using it? At worst, it's a neutral tool—like the printing press, that can be used to print the Bible or porn. I just don't see the massive abuses. Some, of course. That's the whole premise of my post.

      Thanks for your input.

      • JamesBrett

        i think you’re right, mr. hyatt. i can only control how i use social media (and to some extent those close to me). i personally do not use facebook or twitter — because i am one of those that let it consume me, and i began to find satisfaction in having lots of friends and being popular, rather than trusting God to give me my worth. the God-given desire to be social began to overwhelm me and take the place of relationship with him.

        so it may be true that i’m just placing my struggles onto others — and i’ll admit that is a definite possibility. but i think if more of us were honest with why we do the things we do, how much time and money we spend on social media and technology, and what we gain from them, we’d find there are a whole lot of people like me.

        but i respect you, and others like you, a great deal — those who are able to use twitter responsibly and facebook for good purposes, not becoming obsessed with the social media itself, or with seeking approval from others rather than God. may He continue to bless you in all you do.

  • Lynn Squire

    My friend, our youth pastor's wife, and I discussed this last Christmas, how Facebook provides a unique ministry opportunity. Yet another way to connect with people, learn about their day to day so that you can more effectively pray and minister to their needs.

    I confess I don't find the same with Twitter. I do find that Twitter acts more like a ticker stream at the bottom of news broadcast on TV. After attempting to Twitter for awhile and feeling like it was being used that way, I chose not to use Twitter as my main way to contact others.

    I have the privilege of being involved in a church plant. Facebook and Twitter have entered the discussion on ways to connect with the people. Who would have thought that would have been the case even five years ago? But it seems that many pastors do use Twitter as ways of getting information or announcements out to their people.

    I think your ratio maybe right, perhaps even more like 30 to 1. But I think as you learn to love the people you connect with you'll be less interested in marketing to them and more interested in meeting their needs, and that's when you'll be blessed beyond what you might sell.
    My recent post Discovering My Likability

  • Lincoln Parks

    The 20-to-1-rule is awesome Mike and I've been using it without even knowing that I was doing it. You just coined the new phrase. I am going to go out and forward your message to everyone that I know. Friends, Family and business partners. I too see so much SPAM on twitter that its ridiculous and I definitely believe in providing value. I just needed to know a good ratio and you have put that into perspective for me. I honestly didn't feel good asking people to come to my speaking engagements but I knew I needed to if I wanted to fill the seats. However, value is what's most important here and you hit the nail on the head with it. Thank you so much for your continued guidance and mentorship.

  • Rick Yuzzi

    That's probably about right. It depends on how much someone tweets or posts. Some tweet so often, even if they're not promoting their product or service every other tweet, it can seem like you're getting spammed. If you tweet 8 to 10 times a day, then a 20:1 would mean a promotional message every two to three days. That's not a bad ratio.
    My recent post God’s Sovereignty and Free Will – Part 2

  • Cassandra Frear

    I've been saying for months that it's all about the conversation we are having. If we're not having a conversation, it's not sustainable.

    This is a really good post. I have retweeted it with enthusiasm.

    Know what? I think social media can teach me a lot as a Christian. It can push me to be careful that I am loving my neighbor as myself and honoring others before myself. The lessons are good for me.
    My recent post Hard Times

    • Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree.

  • @ThatGuyKC

    Michael – thank you for sharing this. I've been intrigued by use of Twitter/Facebook as relational tools (they are my primary communication connections to friends and family) and I find it very off-putting when companies, authors or celebrities peddle their wares through spamming.

    I only just discovered your blog in March and have become a faithful reader and fan!
    Thank you!
    My recent post Faith is a Mystery

  • Heidi

    New to Twitter, I have discovered that all kinds of folks want to "Follow" me. Most of them are not interested in relationship, certainly. They see me merely as a potential client–potential $$ in their pockets. Just today, I wondered about re-evaluating my presence on Twitter. You have given me some thoughts to consider in evaluating this. Thank you.
    My recent post Apprehended…

  • Mary DeMuth

    Would you consider giving a link to your blog post as a deposit or a withdrawal? I want to practice digital generosity, definitely.
    My recent post The Mark Part Two: 10 Ways Sexual Abuse has Shaped Me.

  • Peter Eleazar

    Michael, I actually blogged on relationships this morning and did my thesis on the subject (collaboration). It reflects the heart of God possibly more than anything else. The streets are gold because the "stuff" we hold dear here is walked on up there, but the stuff we neglect here is the gold of heaven. I am not sure of 20:1 either, but the principle is right – we must sow into other lives to reap any benefit – that is divine economy. I am, however, personally challenged by how these principles relate to broadcasting. I have not actively pursued Twitter because it looked so much like scattershot, but maybe you will yet persuade me that there is gold in them thar hills. Thanks, I really enjoyed this blog and take it from whence it comes – your experience and standing gives credence to a very timely message.

  • Karyn Brownlee

    Super post! What a great focus for prayer as we engage in online socializing each day – to be full of "digital generosity". Thanks, as always, for your inspiration.
    My recent post Russian Boy Returned to Sender

  • Becky Weiand

    I think the formula is perfect! The Social Media sites are just a way for users to capture information and get feedback, not to be sold.

  • Mitch Ebie

    Good Article. I would say that it will eventually get to 20-to-1….that is an optimistic goal. I have nearly 11,000 followers on twitter, most that don't really know me, and I have nearly 1,100 Facebook friends, and most of them do know me. Whenever I ask a question or make a comment on twitter I get about 3 responses at most, keep in mind that I have never tried to sell anything or promote myself, though eventually I will mention my articles when they are posted :) When I ask a question or make a comment on Facebook I get about 5 responses at most. The latter usually depends on how funny the question or comment is. If I could get 5 percent (20-to-1) of my friends/followers to interact with me, I would be ecstatic and I would consider myself a success :) Perhaps what this means is that I am not making enough deposits….maybe I will shoot for 40-to-1

  • Mohamed Shedou

    I hope this will spread to all businesses, this is how it should be. In our modern world, marketing came to a point where it is actually about deceiving people into buying stuff. It's a type of manipulation for the purpose of pure profit. What we're seeing today with the digital world is a shift toward how things should really be. We want to make money, every business does. But it shouldnt mean that we should be happy making money selling stuff to people that they don't really need, playing on their impulses. Focus should be on providing value then getting profit from happy buyers. The most evil examples of profit that I can think of are fast food products full of chemicals and enhancers that are actually harmful. Countries that sell weapons (sadly the US is one of them) to other people to kill. Cigarette companies, etc. I personally wouldn't accept to work and make money from a cigarette company for example, or anything that I believe is harmful. We all need to encourage this new type of doing business.
    My recent post Why we should thank the bus!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Amen. Business should be about meeting people's needs. If you take care of them, they will take care of you.

  • Curtis Fletcher

    Had to have a bit of a chuckle when I read this this morning…while wearing one of the two pairs of Vibram Five Fingers I now own…which I first read about in your blog.
    I think what confounds many marketing execs, a category I amongst which I am counted…though not the confounded variety, is not so much whether the 20-1 ratio works but the seeming lack of control over what the purveyor of information will say.
    In the above example there was, at some point, a "marketing deposit" made by Eagle Creek that was accepted by Chris. They then "lost control" over what Chris would say but it was Chris's comment that lead to YOUR buying decision.
    You trusted Chris' opinion on the bag much as I trusted your opinion on the shoes.
    But the ultimate "winners" were Eagle Creek and Vibram….each of whom is trying to figure out a social media strategy that will result in the right people saying the right thing to the right audience at the right time. Or at the very least saying enough of the right things enough of the time that the information gets noticed.
    Thus do they try to figure out who the right Chris' and Michaels are out there? Or do they rather embrace the fact that customer service and quality of product have taken over even more of what used to be marketing's territory and that word of mouth now trumps a super bowl commercial?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I personally think that the whole thing starts with companies making remarkable products. Like David Ogilvy said 30 year ago, "Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster!”

      • Curtis Fletcher

        COMPLETELY agree!

  • chris vonada

    absolutely, you're right on with this one!! btw, hope all goes well with the race Saturday too.
    My recent post A Favorite Time of Day

  • Mason Stanley

    Online social media is still young, and no marketer has a clear, "sure fire way," to successfully market to consumers, no matter how great their sales pitch is. I agree completely with your 20 to 1 rule. My generation knows when we are being marketed to. We no longer want to see your product next to some "cool" flashy picture. Sure it grabs our attention, but we see it for what it is. We want a company to invest in us and show us how thier product will help us do what we do better. A great example of this is your post yesterday. Regardless if we purchase Joel's book or not there has been investment from your part. Because of that, if his book meets a need or desire we have, we will not only purchase the book but become walking evangelist for it. That is the power and the potential of succesful social media marketing.

  • Amy

    I'm not sure if the ratio is correct, but the concept is 100% on the spot! If all you are doing in our virtual "relationship" is trying to sell me something, I quickly lose interest. It is like any relationship – you must give more than you expect to receive!

    • Michael Hyatt

      That's kind of what I thought. I don't know what the exact ratio is, but it is illustrative of the principle.

  • Colleen Wainwright

    I hew to the 95/5 rule, which I first heard about via Dan McCall, one of the co-founders of Biznik, where it is the governing rule for any interaction related to the community: 95% useful (which I define as informative, supportive or entertaining, preferably some combo, hopefully all three); 5% shameless self-promotion.

    I'm not especially good at math, but I think that means ever-so-slightly less self-promo/fewer "asks" to giving. Which works for me, b/c I'm extraordinarily uncomfortable with the asking part. (Which, to be clear, I recognize is its own kind of problem.)
    My recent post No more!

    • Colleen Wainwright

      Okay—I just whipped out a calculator and actually did the math. Virtually identical. Did I mention I'm not so good with the math? Sigh…
      My recent post No more!

      • Michael Hyatt

        Ha. I feel your pain. The important thing is not the exact math, but the concept. I think you have that nailed.

  • Henrik Jernevad

    Thank’s for a nice post. It made me think of how many bloggers that become popular behave. At first, they write good high-quality material, the kind of material that people want to read, and they get a lot of subscribers. As they become famous, they start doing talking engagements, they write books, they quit their jobs and starts making a livings as bloggers. And before you know it, most of what they post are “spam” such as info about their upcoming talk, book or business deal. And the posts which made me interested in the first place become rarer. Now, that is only logical. They wrote about the subject in the first place because they were interested. When their life situation changes, and they become pro-bloggers, naturally their interests change as well (to some degree, at least).

    Someone above mentioned that he only followed people with a moderate amount of followers, and not the ones with millions. Maybe that’s an expression of the same thing?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Wow. That a blog post in itself—and a great warning to all us who are tempted to “go pro.”

      • Henrik Jernevad

        Thanks! Personal responses to individual comments is definitely a good sign though, so you’re safe so far it seems. ;-)

  • @BarbaraDemarest

    Another great post. I'm debating in my own mind how we are using the term "relationship" within this context. I definitely think the ratio you suggest is right and I think there is a building of trust that happens over time when someone continually provides content, but I am not quite ready to define what's going on as a relationship — maybe it's the old fashioned girl in me. For me social media is more like publishing as opposed to marketing. Good social media is relevant content. Relevant content comes from getting to know your followers and having them get to know your content and your perspectives. Traditionally, good publishers had good editors who knew what readers were interested in and helped authors provide it. Now, in social media, you need to be the author and the editor. And in my opinion those who edit are the ones I value. In the Chris Brogan example, my guess is that he knows his followers like to hear about his travel and there are a group of us who really think about how we pack — so Chris created a little piece of relevant content for us – and he had the editorial judgment to provide just the right touch. So for me, good social media is good content, edited and made relevant. And while I appreciate that, I'm not sure I'm ready to call it a relationship.

  • Vicki Small

    Hmm…you've given me something to think about. Thanks!
    My recent post Spiritual warfare played out in the streets

  • Lauren

    So true. I belong to a very active reader's forum and about twice a week some new writer pops up, without bothering to introduce themselves or join the conversation, to announce/praise their own book. It feels like a stranger barging into a conversation to sell snake oil. Some of these interrupters appear to think that everyone on the forum will be thrilled to hear from a 'real, live author'. If they had been around or even read a few of the posts, they would realize that behind the forum's screen names are quite a few very well-known authors, but they participate as READERS, and to get feedback, not because they want to puff their own work.
    And yes, after a period of exchange and giving on both sides, I am far more likely to buy the books of active forum members. As for the interrupters–even if their work is great, I'll never know. Their rudeness means that I will probably not buy this book or any future books they may write. And given from the resounding lack of response from other members, mine is a typical reaction.
    Spammer beware.

    • Michelle

      loving this post!
      Best Regards,

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think that;s how most people respond. So we don't these people get it? There obviously smart people. Sad.

  • Jeff

    I have almost turned Tweeter off and use Facebook sparingly because the people I was following sent so many posts that I couldn't determine what applied to me and what didn't. My last effort before abandoning Tweeter is to reduce the people I'm following to a list of about 20 and before adding anyone else, will drop the least beneficial of the 20.

    I appreciate your posts and the majority of your content and, I know you will be so happy, you will remain one of my top 6.
    My recent post Pursuit

    • Michael Hyatt

      Whew! Thanks.

  • Wendy Delfosse

    I definitely agree! It's too easy to forget that even good causes begin to look like spam when a person isn't interested in seeing them as often as one posts them. I don't think telethon and pledge drives suddenly become more appealing because they can be delivered by text. I think people look for their social media outlets to be helpful, sure, but mostly to be social.

  • Melody DuBois

    For some reason, I have trouble getting my comments to register on your site… but I'll try again.

    Another good post! And an intriguing one for me, as I work with missionaries in communication. As communication styles and venues change, many missionaries are wondering how those can be appropriately used in communicating with partners and potential partners… Do you post your latest newsletter on Facebook? Do you Twitter your need for prayer and financial partners? What place does social media have in a missionary's partnership development role? Still getting my head around this… what do you think?

  • soulsupply

    Surely this is simply a reflection upon the nature of all relationship, albeit immediately in a Twitter context.

    Relationships however/wherever conducted are simply a balance sheet or ledger. Deposits/credits must exceed withdrawals/debits or relational bankruptcy will flow.

    The 20/1 surmise I think is helpful – previously I had thought it a 10/1 relationship but I suspect you are correct Michael considering the increased spamming and the native dis-trust that it multiplies.

    This is helpful digest of social-media to an 'infant on the block.'


    • Michael Hyatt

      It might be worth occasionally going back and actually reviewing your Twitter stream to see what the ratio is. Then asking, is this the right ration for me? In fact, I'm thinking about doing that myself!

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  • terripatrick

    20:1 is a good ratio.
    The 20 is sharing, giving. The 1 is the delightful surprise.

  • Peter G

    Some authors, in order to sell their books on Facebook, actually give them away for free. In fact, I recently received a free book (published by Thomas Nelson, incidentally). So are you saying these authors must give away 20 free books in order to sell one?

    My recent post The Second Wiehl

    • Michael Hyatt

      No, I am saying they must tweet 20 things that are positive, giving, or entertaining, before they can post a tweet that asks people to buy their book. Even then, I would share something helpful from the book and provide a "buy" link.

      • Peter G

        OK. I like the definition of tweet as a "relational deposit." I wonder if it'll make it into the next edition of Webster's.
        My recent post The Second Wiehl

  • Jamie Thomas

    Hello Mike! This is a great blog post and I've passed it round to friends and collegaues. I work in the not for profit sector in the UK and in many cases adopters of social media do get it – after all the key principles you highlight such as helpfulness underpins what many of us do. But there are still some charities that don't get it yet and they tend to be big nationals who employ marketing and fundraising teams that seem to see social media as just another marketing tool But they are changing and it's the small community groups that are leading the way here by showing just how effective social media can be to get people to support a cause. We recently launched a social network for volunteers, built on these principles, growing it organically and ensuring that it's led by the community. It's early days but so far we've attracted almost a 1,000 members since we lauched in December and your post has reminded me that we're on the right track, so thank you for that :o)

    • Michael Hyatt

      That's great. I would also say that 1,000 of the right people can be very powerful. Good work!

  • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    You make an important distinction, Michael. I am new in the twitter world and in finding my way I can see the difference between relational tool and transactional tool. I am not out to have the most followers or follow anyone who does not give me a sense of the personal (I follow you BTW).
    My recent post With Misgivings

  • tracey solomon

    absolutely agree. The first people I ignore are those who flip that ratio. Authors, marketers doesn't matter- Even if I like their product or opinion, if they leave the "social" part out of the equation- I ignore or unfollow.

    Classic marketing is an impersonal machine. Social network- marketing is the John Henry (Steel driving man vs machine) of marketing. It wins- through being human. If you try to turn social networking into a machine.. it's a train wreck.

    My recent post The 78th Mile

  • Lynn Rush

    I think you're spot on! I can't STAND when every other post is, "Come buy my book," or "Come lose 20 pounds with…." Drives me bonkers.

    BUT, if it's more seldom, like your ratio…it's way better. I'm more open to seeing it and possibly clicking a link (I've done it before) to investigate.

    Thanks for the post!

  • @StephenCombs

    Mike, I've yet to see you step up to the plate and strike out. (Not that I want you to!) You always deliver a homerun. Any team would benefit from having you on its line up. I've penciled you into my #4 spot because I know you won't leave the runners stranded on base. I so appreciate that you deliver such quality content! Keep up the GREAT work!
    My recent post Making an Impact With Your Trade Show Marketing

  • Zach Terry

    I have got to admit that I’m an easy sell for the guys who have invested in me. I remember once a guy I respected referred to a specific kind of moleskin and since that day I go nowhere without one. It seems to me the ratio would be a bit lower, perhaps 10-1, but to be safe I hope people go with your numbers.

  • Laura_Droege

    Thanks, Mike. I made the mistake you described (in paragraph 1) when I first started on Facebook. Made a hundred friends, but only wrote stuff about my writing and blog posts. I was trying to protect my privacy (by not sharing about my children, personal details, etc.)

    Big mistake. I'm certain there are "friends" of mine who have blocked me from their newsfeeds because all I did was babble about my work.

    Now I try to make a conscious effort to comment on others' status updates (briefly and brilliantly, of course!) and do some "fun" status update types of things (funny videos, etc.)

    Thanks for the reminder of the 20-to-1 ratio.
    My recent post The monster that sends time into warp speed

  • Leadership Training

    Hi Mike, thanks for this post, I think its about time that someone addressed all those who are defacing the true values of social sites such as twitter. People that dont give value certainly dont deserve to be taking it!

  • Jeremy McMinn

    What a brilliant post. I am at the moment compiling a manifesto for my employers about moving into scoail media marketing and blogging from this perspective, as at current, it is all about making as much noise as possible, and interrupting non targeted prospects. I will be utilising some of the aspects of this post in that manifesto, so thankyou and you just acquired a new subscriber.
    My recent post Food Quality On Primal & Paleo

  • Matt Edmundson

    Interestingly – in the book "Inbound Marketing", they come up with a similar statistic for your business blog – ie. most of your posts should be adding value and not you trying to sell your latest stuff…so I would agree with that type of ratio across all social media platforms: twitter, facebook and your blog.

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  • KristineMac

    I do actually think this ratio is right and it could even be more. Certainly Facebook and Twitter can be useful for promoting things but it's even more important for connecting with people and sharing something meaningful with them.
    My recent post What If…

  • johngallagher33

    No matter what ratio is 'correct', it is clear that the value in social media is in adding value to others.

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  • limewire

    lol nice stuff man.

  • Wes

    I buy stuff all the time that my blogger and facebook friends talk about. Except for a few musical selections, I have been very pleased with their tastes and how it related to mine.

  • Bob Hamp

    Michael, this is a FANTASTIC post! You explain what I and all of us intuitively know or at least experience…the term SOCIAL in social media means that this fomr of communication is about relation. You are the first person I have heard language this. Imagine that…a form of media that rewards other-centeredness!

  • Greg Felty

    Good post. I agree. I see too many people constantly promoting something to buy. It should be about providing information of value to your followers.

  • Steve Sanders

    Interesting. I just unsubscribed to about 5 exercise/diet mailing lists because all they do is try to sell something. The content they started with is now full of adds.

  • elephanthunters

    Do you think tweeting out a 'non-commercial', personal blog post falls under the '20' or the '1'?

    I certainly agree with the line of thinking, but I wonder if you could clarify the difference between a self promoting relational deposit, and self promoting marketing withdraw.

    In other words, can you get away with tweeting more 'personal brand' promoting updates, as long as they aren't transactional in nature? I think you can. I'd love to hear your thoughts…

    • Michael Hyatt

      No, I don't think it does, if your blog post is intended to be helpful, as opposed to selling something.

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  • dmbaldwin

    I've been reading Joel Comm's book, "Twitter Power 2.0: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time ". And that sounds like the equation he would use. He also has some fascinating ways to track how much attention a twitter message attracts and when and how to twitter.
    It's a great book.
    Thank you for the post, Mike!

  • byronu

    There's a great site that I show real estate agents who are planning to use social sites to market. The builder of the site is a real estate agent named Brian Worrell. He fits all three characteristics you listed. You may want to check it out just for fun.

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  • Christopher Scott

    I believe your ratio is right, Michael.

    If someone (like you) adds value to me with 20 blogs posts and/or tweets, that one request you make to me almost causes me to feel obligated to do what you ask. You just added value to me twenty times, now it’s my turn to add value to you.

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  • MiMi Hegge

    Thank you.  I very much appreciate your commentary and the perspective it is based on.  I am new to the online marketing and social media scape and I intuitively recognize what you advise as true for most people.  It is important that this common sense information be shared as we create the dynamics of what meaningful on-line and virtual relationships will look like.  I am immediately suspcious and also concerned about what relationships based on commodification will mean for our real social intereactions. I am a trained bodyworker and not much taken with cyborg culture but I do love the possibilities for creativity and something totally different to emerge.  
    Melanie MiMi Hegge
    Music Word Media Group

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  • J. Bruce Daley

    There is a collary to this rule is that you may lose followers if you never ask them to respond to any of your content. Human nature being what it is we devalue anything that comes to us too easily or for free. See my post on Daley’s Comment

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  • Liza

    20 to 1 is definitely MUCH better than people only signing on to post ads. Seriously. You have to connect; that’s what Twitter is about to me.

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  • Overworked Bee

    Thank you thank you. I am very new to Twitter and I’m glad I saw this post before I do any damage!

  • Tk Rodgers

    Just what I needed to hear :) Thanks Mike!

  • Jesse Parent

    Not a bad idea – I think in the long run fostering community and supporting each other is more important anyway.

  • Rachel Dressler

    I absolutely AGREE!! I can’t wait to ask for sonething cause I have been a Great Giver for so long!!! Lol!
    You see. I was going through a really rough time in my life. So I developed, what I think might be one ofcthe more positive walls you might see!!!
    EVERYTHING in my life was ugly enough I just Ignored and plugged in ALL of the most positive people I could find with Random Acts of Kindness with a Pay It Forward ATtiTUDE! And really “created” a HAPPY place to go to. I also created a virtual store…. in a sense… Health Food Store Gardner on YouTube (by Dorian Jones).
    Facebook has shut me down (put me in the corner 4 times now). For friending too many people that are Like Minded. I thought this was Social Media…. lol! And now they put limits on how social we can be??? Really???
    I have now coined myself a “Cereal O’Friender”. (They Truly have a running clock of how many days, hours and minutes Until I can send another Friend Request out again.
    I truly believe that FB sees that when Positive Forces Join-the Power is LIMITLESS!!!

  • Pete Buckley

    Couldn’t agree more – am pretty new to social media but have always switched off at spam/hard sell tactics. Found this on Twitter too so it must work!