You shouldn’t judge your community by the number of members it has – one of the reasons why is because typically, only a fraction of those members will actually be active contributors. Getting more lurkers active can be one of the most frustrating and challenging aspects of online community building.
What is a lurker?
My definition of a lurker is pretty simple – someone who has registered as a member but hasn’t contributed to the community. Having said that, make sure you give new members time to settle in – they don’t become a lurker just because they haven’t posted an hour after joining.
Lurkers still have value
Don’t fall into the mindset that lurkers are bad. They are interested in your community (they wouldn’t have registered otherwise), and they are still engaging with the community if they login and read existing discussions.
I have seen members join an online community and not make their first contribution for months. I have seen members join and login almost every day but not contribute at all. These members still have value, but it’s less visible.
An online community won’t be very successful if your members don’t contribute, though. Therefore, you should make it a priority to maximise the number of contributing members. First, you need to figure out why lurkers aren’t contributing. Here are some possible reasons:
They don’t know where to start
Your community may have too many features or communication channels. Your community may be so busy, new members don’t know where they should be posting. New members need guidance – are you offering it to them?
Make sure all new members are prompted to take action. When you welcome new members, ask them to introduce themselves (you do have an introductions forum, right?). Invite them to fill out their profile. Suggest topics that may interest them based on their profile or what you have learnt about them. Get your existing members to contact new members and introduce themselves. It’s all about breaking the ice at this stage.
Don’t put the onus on the new member to figure things out and get involved. The onus needs to be on you and your existing members to encourage that member to get involved.
They feel intimidated/shy/vulnerable
Strong communities can be intimidating to newcomers. New members may lack the confidence to dive in and get involved when existing members clearly know one another and are sharing private jokes. It’s like walking into a room of people who are already friends – you want to chat with people but you feel like an intruder.
Break down this barrier by having a section of your community dedicated to newcomers. I remember AOL used to have dedicated chat rooms that were accessible only to new customers. These chat rooms also had more staff covering them so new members could ask for help and easily seek guidance.
Having a separate area for new members is a great way of easing people into your community. They can help each other out and relationship building is much easier; after all, they already have something in common – they are all new members.
They haven’t found anything of interest
Some online communities are just boring. Someone might join because they see the potential in your community, but then get bored when nothing of interest grabs their attention. Not all members want to reply to every message; some only like to get involved in discussions on specific topics they feel passionate about.
Every member is different – some will love getting involved in discussions that run over a number of pages whilst others will be looking for a quick, short, informal chat. If you are finding a lot of members aren’t getting involved, try contacting them to see if you can help. Ask them what kind of topics interest them. Learn more about what they are looking for so you can cater to their needs.
At the very least, when members fill out their profile ask them two important questions.
They see a negative precedent
When members contribute to your community, they are putting themselves on the line. If they get no response, it can be devastating. Imagine a stand-up comedian delivering a line only to be met with silence or the occasional cough – they won’t feel too good, and their confidence could well be shot to pieces just from that one experience.
Make sure that your community doesn’t contain failed threads. If new members see that all (or at least the vast majority of) new discussion topics receive replies, they will be more comfortable taking the plunge themselves.
Life gets in the way. People are busy. They get distracted. Don’t get upset with people because they have forgotten about your community – just reach out.
If you have their permission, sending members community newsletters can be a great way of ensuring members don’t forget about your online community. Additionally, they are a great opportunity for you to showcase your community’s best content, put members in the spotlight and encourage them to get involved.
Why aren’t lurkers getting involved in your community and what are you doing to encourage member participation?