Lurkers – The underrated participants in social networks

Why are people not commenting on my article or replying to my comments or posting content to this community? Why only the same group of people repeatedly post content on this social platform? If these questions have crossed your mind, well, you are not alone. These are the very questions every community owner or a social network designer faces from the management.

Here are are some facts that a community owner or a community architect should know. Research says that on most of the online communities only 9% of users contribute a little and 1% of users account for all the action in a community. Others simply lurk. This phenomenon is called Participation Inequality

Therefore, user participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).

  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.

  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.

So, why do users lurk?

Lurking is defined as ‘prolonged periods of receiving communications without posting. For many people this may mean never posting in some communities’.

You will be surprised to know that “  lurking is a systematic and idiosyncratic process, with well-developed rationales and strategies”

Do lurkers regularly read messages? Why don’t they post, and what are the benefits of participating without posting? Are they a homogeneous group, i.e., do they use

the same strategies and techniques, or is there a range of lurking activities and rationales? How do they view themselves: as lurkers in the evil sense, as members of a community, or somewhere in between?

So, what are some reasons for lurkers not posting content?

understanding the community (e.g., audience unknown, comfort level, topic area, individuals)

• personal factors (e.g., culture of origin, motivation, time)

• no personal or practical need (e.g., able to gather information without posting, just reading, no reason to

respond)

• no community requirement (e.g., no expectation or requirement by community)

• structure of community (e.g., posting not possible, part of community is non-posting: FAQ, moderation)

• information seeking (e.g., more interested in information than interaction, reading with a specific goal in

mind)

• privacy (e.g., sensitivity of employer, fear of archiving, fear of spamming, i.e., junk mail)

• safety (e.g., can’t offend if don’t post, curiosity without exposure)

• involvement (e.g., maintain emotional detachment, makes leaving easier, shy)

• community responsiveness (e.g., delay between posting and response, non-response to posts)

• value of posting (e.g., no response required, nothing to offer, unable to add value)

• interaction mechanisms (e.g., volume of posting, user interface, anonymity)

• efficiency (e.g., not posting takes less time, others will respond, value received without cost of posting)

Should you be concerned about lurkers and this participation inequality?

For community managers and architects, understanding why lurkers are lurking is critical to making an enterprise social network thrive. Before worrying that a network isn’t going to succeed because of skewed participation roles, it’s important to understand that lurking meets many valuable employee needs and is indeed a form of participation in its own right. It is a form of “cognitive apprenticeship” and a successful method of learning, not a behavior displayed only due to fear, ignorance, or not caring. This makes the community designer’s role that much more important, knowing that they have the opportunity to set employees up for meaningful lurking experiences and coach sponsors and managers that reading and consuming without contributing is a behavior shaped by a complex set of actions, rationales and contexts.

However, it doesn’t mean that as community owners we shouldn’t care about lurking. There is no doubt more user participation brings out better discussion and outcomes. So, we should look out ways to address lurking and convert lurkers to active participants.

In the next blogpost, we will look at ways to address lurking and convert them to active participants.

1. Shedding Light on Lurkers in Online Communities – http://bit.ly/10jq8bI

2 . Community Design: Why are employees lurking in my enterprise social network? It’s complex! – http://bit.ly/10jqxuG

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