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Do's and Don'ts for Engaging Lurkers in Community

Written by Molly Talbert | on May 24, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Dos and don'ts for lurkers in your online community

Every community has them -- those people who watch from the sidelines but never participate. Lovingly called “lurkers,” people often wonder: do they add value? And how can I nudge them towards becoming a regular poster?
These are great questions to ask, since the majority of your community probably consists of lurkers. According to the 1% rule of internet culture, only 1% of an online community consists of active participants -- the other 99% are a combination of occasional posters and lurkers. The numbers aren’t consistent across the board -- the exact numbers are different for everyone. New research done by The Community Roundtable shows the numbers can be very different -- they think it’s more like 55% of members are highly engaged. But the general principle holds true -- many of your members fall into the lurker category.

So what do you do with this information? It’s hard to know what your tactics should be and if a large number of lurkers are bad for your community. Should you let them stay lurkers? Or do they detract from your community?

We have a list of some basic do’s and don’ts to help you decide what your tactics should be:

Do’s

Keep these tips in mind for how to engage and interact with your lurkers:

1. What calls to action can you give them?

Sometimes members don’t participate simply because they don’t know how or what to do. And once a member finally posts for the first time, the chances of them posting again are much higher. Give members really simple, easy calls to action -- automation rules are a great way of targeting specific lurkers.

What do these calls to action look like? Create an automation rule that asks members who haven’t uploaded a profile picture yet to do so. Or create another one that reaches out to new members, directing them to an “Introduce Yourself” thread. Simple, little actions teach reluctant members how to engage and that it’s really not scary at all.

2. Watch their habits

Just because lurkers aren’t posting or participating in the community doesn’t mean they aren’t taking action. Use whatever tools work with your community (like Google Analytics) to track exactly what members are doing -- you may be surprised by the results. A lurker, who you usually think of as inactive, may, in fact, be visiting many pages, spending time reading discussions and regularly downloading new materials. They just aren’t posting. Do they seem inactive anymore? They’re engaging on their own terms, which looks different than an “active” participant -- but the lurker is clearly receiving tremendous value from the community.

Once you know what makes lurkers tick and what’s important to them, you can start creating more content you know they’ll appreciate. And you also know that your efforts aren’t in vain -- even if it doesn’t look like people are active, they are.

3. Create smaller communities or discussions

Posting in an enormous community -- especially when you’re not used to it -- can be intimidating. Thousands of eyes are looking right at you! There’s an easy fix for this: within the main community, create smaller discussions or groups. Lurkers -- or any other members who are hesitant to post in front of community “strangers” -- won’t be as intimidated to participate in those groups.

4. Auto-subscribe members to the daily digest

Instead of waiting for members to sign up for your daily or weekly digest, automatically enroll all new members. Sure, it will annoy a few people -- but they can opt-out or change their settings. Most people won’t care or will enjoy receiving a regular community update.

There are two advantages for you when people receive a regular digest. First, you have more data -- you can track the open rate, click through rate and reply-to-thread rate. Second, you never know when a lurker will see a place for them to contribute. Maybe they haven’t seen a discussion involving their area of expertise yet. But it might pop up in their daily digest one day, and they’ll be able to easily reply and make the transition from lurker to poster.

5. Create seed questions anyone can answer

Sometimes the discussions or questions posed to the community can look daunting -- they’re very specific or technical, making it hard for the general majority to add their two cents. Those discussions are important for the community, but limit the number of people who want to participate. To broaden your engagement, keep a cache of easy to answer seed questions. You don’t need to post them all -- ask active community members or your MVPs to post when things slow down. These can even be off topic -- make them fun! As much as we talk about ROI, value and networking, community is really about human connection. The deeper and more authentic those human connections are, the more members will come back -- which leads to increased ROI, high value and strong networks.

Don’ts

Lurkers are often misunderstood. Here are some debunked myths to remember:

1. Assume lurkers aren't receiving value

Just because someone isn’t posting and making their presence known, doesn’t mean they aren’t receiving any value from the community. As long as they log in occasionally (or regularly) they probably see some sort of value -- otherwise, why would they come back? As long as they’re not detracting from the community -- which they’re not, since lurkers rarely post or upload inflammatory content -- then there’s no reason to assume they’re a negative for your community.

2. Leave lurkers out of feedback discussions

It can be tempting to glance over lurkers when you’re seeking feedback on the community -- and your community MVPs usually have a wealth of constructive information to give. Don’t underestimate the lurkers -- they’ve been sitting on the sidelines, watching the community. They definitely have insights and ideas you should listen to. And who knows? If you listen to them, maybe you’ll learn what holds them back, what value they do receive (or don’t receive) and how to engagement them in meaningful ways -- and hopefully turn them into posters.

In order to get feedback from your quieter community members, send out surveys or reach out to individuals. Since lurkers aren’t used to posting their opinion in front of many strangers, you probably won’t learn anything from them through discussions. Find other methods of gaining their insight, ones that are more private or one-on-one than a large discussion.

3. Spend too much time trying to get lurkers to engage

Many community managers focus on turning lurkers into posters. And that can suck up a lot of time. Is it worth it?

Some people think that it is worth the time and energy -- once a member posts, their chances of posting again increase significantly.

But this blog post makes a good case for not sinking too much time into converting lurkers into posters. Instead of focusing on individual lurkers and neglecting the community as a whole, work on decreasing your response times to questions and ensuring active members receive the help they need. A quick response time is especially important for a first time poster -- if they receive a response, they’re more likely to post again. This doesn’t mean you have to respond within minutes of a new member’s post, but if it’s left untouched by fellow members for more than 24 hours, then you should step up.

The best part of this strategy is that everyone benefits -- lurkers and posters alike. The more curated the content and the more active the community, the more members are sharing knowledge and creating value.

Helping members engage

For members to truly receive value from community, they need to be able to engage on their own terms, in ways they enjoy. Just as some people are extroverted and are energized by other people, some of your members will be very engaged and excited to connect with people online. And, just as some people are introverted and recharge by themselves, other people on the community prefer to watch what’s going on before ever posting.

What are your tactics for engaging lurkers?


 

Topics: Community Management

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