Farland Group Logo

Why Lurkers Are Valuable To Your Online Community

Posted On: March 6th, 2011 by Heather Strout

I have had the opportunity to do a lot of thinking about the breakdown of community members lately  as I prepare for my panel, Lurkers: Your Most Important Community Members,  at SXSWi in about a week.

Lurkers are those members who log in to your community, read blogs and discussions, and don’t contribute to discussions.  These community members are often dismissed as not valuable or at least significantly less valuable than your contributing community members.  I think part of the reason that’s the case is because it is much easier to determine the value that your active contributors are providing to your community and your business.  What is often more difficult is determining what value your lurkers have on your community.

Who are your lurkers?
Before you start determining any type of value your community is deriving from lurkers, you must create the parameters you will use to analyze lurkers, as well as your contributors and evangelists.  This includes things like the timeframe by which you measure activity such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually.  The measurement timeframe you use should be based on that community’s expected activity rate.

Why lurkers are valuable community members?
In most communities, lurkers make up the bulk of the community membership.  They come to the community to read, learn, and digest the information contributors and community managers provide.  Additionally, those who are lurkers are learning from the contributors.  If the lurkers weren’t deriving value from the community, they would not login and peruse content.

From my experience, lurkers experience significant value from the community.

  • They can often be very loyal brand advocates who communicate the brand value to their networks.
  • And, while contributing participants are critical to a community, many of them don’t start as contributors but lurk for months, or even years before they start contributing.
  • While there’s not arguing that contributors need attention, you are remiss if you ignore lurkers and their value as members.

Converting lurkers to contributors
The best way to convert lurkers into contributors is to reach out to them.  Call or email those who are high-level lurkers.  A great way to start getting them to engage is to invite your most active lurkers and occasional contributors to join a member steering committee focused on getting them to feel comfortable to participate and lead others to do the same.

Overall, there are some general principles to follow so that both your contributors and your lurkers will find value from your community: good content, a variety of content types, email reminders such as newsletters and member outreach calls.  Content can include videos, white papers (both short and long white papers), blogs, discussions, in-person events, roundtable events, etc.  This variety allows your members to determine what channel works for them.  Once your community has been live for a period of time, analyze which content items and channels are most valuable to your members, based on quantitative and qualitative feedback and focus more of your energies on those that are more interesting to your members.  Then, constantly evolve your offerings based on what your members have indicated they want from their membership.

You may also be interested to get a different perspective on the value of lurkers from the blog post Mark Wallace wrote about Social Media Lurkers.  Mark, along with Jim Storer and Mike Pascucci will join me on the panel.  If you’re going to SXSW, you can learn more about lurkers by joining us.  If you do, please say hi.

Update 3/8/11: Read Mike Pascucci’s blog post for a bit more about what we’ll cover in the SXSW panel and why you should attend.