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Understanding the 1% Rule: Motivations

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Understanding the 1% Rule: Motivations

1percenterpatch_2What motivates the people who make up the content contributors found in "The 1% Rule?" Perhaps the following story offers some clues. (This is an excerpt from our forthcoming book "Citizen Marketers.")
As a patch, it’s pretty simple: A diamond shape surrounded by a blue border, with "1%" embroidered in the middle. It's worn over the heart by members of motorcycle clubs that celebrate their outlaw status from mainstream motorcycle society. They call themselves the "One Percenters."
The inspiration for the patch and its meaning can be traced to 1947, when members of the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington motorcycle club and the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, showed up in Hollister, California, for that town's annual motorcycle race. As parties involving beer in summer heat sometimes do, things got out of hand.
A photographer for Life magazine happened to be attending the race and snapped a picture of a drunken biker perched atop a Harley Davidson, surrounded by broken beer bottles. The photo was published in Life with a caption that read, "Cyclist's Holiday: He and Friends Terrorize Town." A brief story accompanying the photo said 4,000 members of a motorcycle club were responsible for destructive mayhem. The photo and story provoked the American Motorcyclists Association to denounce the boozed-up bikers. It assured worried citizens that 99 percent of its members were law-abiding citizens, thereby marginalizing the remaining "1 percent" as outlaws.
The story has been the inspiration and founding principle for outlaw motorcycle clubs around the world. One Percenters organize and wear their patches as the proverbial finger raised toward society’s expectations of them. For decades, the story of what happened in Hollister has been repeated by numerous writers in magazines and newspapers, codifying its legend.
William L. Dulaney, a visiting professor at Western Carolina University spent months researching the history of the One Percenters for the academic periodical, "The International Journal of Motorcycle Studies." From months spent conducting field research around the United States, and having spent years as a member of an outlaw motorcycle club himself, he argues that contemporary One Percenters in "outlaw" motorcycle gangs are not necessarily pro-criminal, they are anti-bureaucracy. They rebel against the commonality of mainstream expectations.
Furthermore, the One Percenter clubs are organized around the idea of a community, and their unconventional lives and motorcycle lifestyles are reinforced by the strong-as-steel bonds with other members. They revel, sometimes raucously in beer-soaked pandemonium, in a culture that conventional society frowns on. Forget seeking the approval of conventional governing bodies; the One Percenters revel in their minority status.
They are outlaws of culture.
Dulaney surprises us, though, by debunking parts of the Hollister legend. The photo of the drunken biker? The Life photographer staged it. There was rowdiness in Hollister on that fateful weekend, but police made only one arrest. And there’s no evidence the American Motorcyclists Association denounced the bikers, one percent or otherwise. The source of "1%" was likely due a letter to the editor that Life ran in a subsequent edition, taking the magazine to task for its coverage of Hollister. The letter writer wrote, "We regretfully acknowledge there was disorder in Hollister – not the acts of 4,000 motorcyclists, but rather of a small percentage of that number." Someone, somewhere, interpreted that to mean one percent and it stuck.
Even if the facts about Hollister were off, its premise still resonated with a slice of American culture. Today, earning a One Percenter patch is a badge of social status that continues on in a tiny number of American motorcyclist communities.
That's why their story seems to be an apt analogy to describe a good deal of citizen marketers and their motivations, like someone who spends years blogging about Netflix, or campaigns to bring back a discontinued soda, or takes over the marketing for an upcoming movie, or volunteers to secret shop their favorite fast food chain, or anyone who contributes time and attention to a commercial cause. They, too, are outlaws of culture.
What they do is beyond the norm. Sometimes there is little recognition, but they are dedicated to and protective of their work and the community they're involved in. They excel on the edges of culture even if their percentage as content creators is little more than a rounding error to some companies. Numbers-wise, they are not huge, but the impact of their work can be.
(In a follow-up post, we'll look at the One Percenters and Netscape's desire to hire them.)
Update: This post showed up on the front page of Digg yesterday (thanks Bloodjunkie), and it sparked a -- let's say interesting -- round of 100+ comments within the Digg community. Ian Delaney sorts through some of them.
Update 2: A big hat tip to Colin McKay for the pointer to a story about the One Percenters who are going through a transition in Kansas City. It was his pointer that led us down the path toward this post. I'm a dope for not including a hat tip to him when this was first published.

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