Engagement is a big word these days -- we want everyone in our community to be “engaged.”. We want them to engage with each other, and engage with our organizations. The more engagement, the merrier everyone will be.
This is where so many community builders measure value and a return on investment -- if people are logging into the community, talking to each other, creating content and contributing, that’s a sign they’re satisfied with their membership and see community as an important asset.
But does engagement necessarily equate satisfaction, and shouldyou aim to highly engage everyone?
First, let’s examine exactly what engagement is -- interactions and measurable activity.
What does that look like in your community?
Often, we say a member is engaged when they have a complete profile, regularly log into the community, and interact by posting in discussions, uploading materials, writing blog posts and any other activities you want them to do. Engagement often correlates with satisfaction, and those engaged members are seen as happier and more likely to recommend the community to peers -- which helps it grow organically.
Engagement and enthusiasm extends offline, as well. That’s why connecting members with ambassador or volunteer programs that take place beyond the confines of the cloud can be powerful retention and recruitment tools. Not only do programs like this deepen current community members’ involvement in the organization, but it helps them bring new people into the fray who might not have known about the community or were on the fence about joining.
The idea that engagement equals satisfaction is a big reason we often talk about creating frictionless engagement. The easier it is for members to engage -- through email, mobile apps and intuitive user experience -- the happier they’ll be. Why participate in community if it’s complicated to log in or figure out how to post to a discussion?
Yes, often the more engaged the member is, the more they value the community and the more satisfied they are with their membership.
So, what about all those members who aren’t engaged? Are they unhappy or detract from the community?
In almost every community, very few people are actually highly engaged members. Have you ever heard of the 1% rule of internet culture? It’s the idea that only 1% of a community’s members are active contributors. It breaks down community member engagement this way: 1% are creators, 9% are occasional contributors and 90% are lurkers. In other words, 99% of your members are benchwarmers and not highly active contributors.
Your community might not break down exactly this way, but the general principle still holds true -- the vast majority of your community’s members are or will be lurkers. These are the people who sit on the side and don’t contribute content to the community. They may or may not receive daily digests, some log in regularly while others probably forgot their passwords. There isn’t one profile that fits all lurkers, which makes them hard to measure.
Are all these lurkers bad?
A Different Kind of Engagement
No, lurkers are not bad at all. And they do receive -- and give to the community. I believe lurkers offer tremendous value for a community and should not be overlooked or forgotten.
Just because they don’t contribute to the community’s content doesn’t mean they don’t benefit, don’t feel engaged or don’t offer the community any value. Rather than viewing lurkers as disengaged, look at their activity as a different type of engagement.
As much as frictionless engagement is about making it easy for members to post and contribute, it’s also about allowing members to engage in whatever way is best for them. For some people, this means becoming an MVP and even taking over some aspects of the community, like welcoming new members or moderating certain discussions. For other members, it’s never or rarely logging in, but reading and responding through the daily digest that comes to their email every day.
If a member engages in a way that resonates for them, they’ll be satisfied with the community. In other words, a lurker may find just as much value in community as an MVP -- they just have different needs.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2014 has been updated for accuracy, relevance and freshness.