As netizens, we value activity, sharing and self-expression. Thus, we often look at engagement metrics to evaluate the health of a community. We’ve heard the statistic before: 90% lurk, 9% edit or curate and 1% create. That’s right: whether you publish a blog or tweet, only abut 10% somehow interact with it, and the same goes for your online networks, such as Yammer. What about the other 90%? Just because someone doesn’t outwardly signal that they are engaged, doesn’t mean that they are deriving no value from being there. But do they also provide value back to the community? Determined to get these questions answered, I went looking for research on this topic.
In my search, I stumbled upon a really interesting MIT Sloane study, which examined the behaviors of “lurkers” in a major corporation’s network. The study dealt with a large subset of lurkers, called “active lurkers“. The paper defines active lurkers as those who ”use and propagate information gained in outside environments” and may have a strong and wide influence outside of the online community. Active lurkers are classified in 3 buckets: active lurking for practical use, active lurking for propagation and active lurking for personal contact. The authors estimate that over 50% of all lurkers are active. This is great news. If 50% of the 90% of your community are active lurkers, then around 55% of your community is either engaged or at least listening and resharing. Fifty-five % is much higher than we are accustomed to thinking, as we tend to focus on outward expressions of engagement.
Kudos to Heather Strout for writing this post and speaking about lurkers at SXSW earlier this year. Here’s my take on some potential mutual benefits to both: lurkers and communities:
- Resharing and championship: Because active lurkers share what they learned externally, they are positioned to be your advocates. Whether they are advocating your community’s content or your product, they are probably sharing and influencing. This behavior happens in internal and external networks. In internal networks, a lurker may reshare with another part of the organization or external stakeholders (for example, an interesting article shared by an account manager with his client). In external networks that involve multiple companies (like our own customer community YCN), members may reshare with their own colleagues. In B2C communities, users may share with family and friends. The only tricky part is that they won’t give you open feedback, so you won’t know how they really feel about interactions they are having in the community — until you read it on Twitter, of course.
- Influence in offline channels: Not all lurkers will reshare digitally – some will opt for the “offline” conversations. Someone could be completely silent in digital channels and very vocal and influential in face-to-face circumstances. These are potential champions too. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming low influence for someone who doesn’t participate and doesn’t have an extensive online profile — they could be extremely influential in more traditional channels.
- Keeping a hand on the pulse: We oftentimes hear stories of senior managers and executive leaders who consume Yammer digests highlighting most relevant content from their networks. This is especially true when traveling — on the road, people are too busy to keep up with multi-channel communications and need one “anchor”. In that case, Yammer provides a nice recap and allows to seamlessly keep a finger on the pulse of the organization without having to get explicit status updates. Over 60% of all Yammer users subscribe to some kind of activity digest.
- Ambient awareness: The use case of keeping a finger on the pulse is, of course, not limited to executives and managers. By seeing and learning content shared in the online network, all employees can have access to critical information that can help them save time and make better decisions. The traditional training approach of rotational programs has a lot of truth to it — you can be a better decision-maker if you know more about what others are doing outside of your immediate group. I think online social, collaboration and knowledge management networks can provide a similar type of awareness on a daily basis. The beauty is that each person can choose how deeply he or she wants to go.
- Putting best practices into practice: Regardless of resharing behaviors, all lurkers learn something by lurking. They could be learning and waiting until they can use the information in their job or personal life. If they never share, but simply apply the community’s insights to how they do things, doesn’t that mean that your community is reaching its goal of helping people?
- Today’s lurker is tomorrow’s poster: Don’t forget that people have temperaments and personalities that can run the gamut between oversharers and silent types. Some just don’t want to speak up, for reasons of culture, personality, time constraints, and everything in between. As they get acclimated to the community’s culture, are encouraged to share, and as they mature their ideas, they may get more comfortable to post. Sometimes, it also goes the other way. There are a few online spaces where I participated when I had more time, but now I just lurk because I don’t have time or mental capacity to say something brilliant.
Lurkers rule! What are your experiences with lurkers? Do you lurk? How do decide where you want to lurk and where you want to contribute openly?
Photo source: The Djudju Beast