Perks of Being a Wallflower; Why Users Lurk

“Cuz’ the Lurkers gonna lurk, lurk, lurk, lurk, lurk…”

…Maybe I would write the rest of this T Swift parody song if I wasn’t so busy finding ways to engage the lurkers in my community (and if there were more words that rhymed with “lurkers”).

But why do Lurkers lurk, and what can you do about it as a community manager? Hint: writing a cover song won’t help. Here are my top five observations and work-arounds for Lurking behavior.

1. Newbies Brand new community members tend to lurk quietly while they learn the cultural codes of the community. They will often lag in participation until they have gathered a base of social capital.

  • What to do about it: Don’t stress to much about it. 2 to 4 weeks of this behavior is perfectly acceptable. To support newbie lurkers, be sure that you have community champions who regularly model ideal participation behavior. Also be sure to make your Community Guidelines easily available – these “rules of the road” are an easy way for lurkers to understand cultural codes.

2. Lack of Support If members continue lurking a month or more into membership, it can be a sign that they have not been supported in their community socialization. Sometimes they feel lost, left behind or ‘locked out’ of a clique.

  • What to do about it: Everyone wants to sit at the cool kids table – offer them a spot. If you have the bandwidth, make at least two touch points with lurkers in the first month and personally invite them to join events or discussions. Alternatively, mention them directly in discussions – Ex: “Thanks for asking this question, I bet (insert Lurker name here) would know the answer”. If bandwidth is an issue, consider an automation tool that serves a similar role.

3. Stage Fright Folks will tell you "there are no stupid questions" but let’s be honest – There are topics that make us feel insecure in our knowledge and no one wants to expose them in front of a community crowd. A high percent of Lurkers report feeling as if they are not smart enough to add value to discussions along with anxiety of being judged for their contributions.

  • What to do about it: Create low pressure spaces for lurkers to join in. For example, create an off-topic discussion on a Friday asking what members are doing over the weekend. No one is unqualified to discuss their own plans. This tactic allows members to practice posting in a low impact context. Research has shown that coaxing a member to de-lurk even once, increases their likelihood of future participation by 38%.

4. Lack of Investment Just like in geographical communities, folks join in due to a feeling of duty and connection to other members. However if members do not feel these bonds or dependencies, they are much more likely to lurk.

  • What to do about it: Pair Lurkers with a specific question that suits their experience. Ex: “Jane Smith asked a question that I think you are uniquely suited to answer, can you take a look?" Human psychology lends a helping hand with this approach - as feeling valued and helpful is a high personal motivator for action.

5. Fear of Rejection …or worse, being ignored entirely. In our digital age, failing to receive comments or likes on a post is a palpable form of social rejection. If a lurker takes the plunge and posts a discussion or comment, which then goes unacknowledged, chances are they won’t take the risk again.

  • What to do about it: Acknowledge the contribution wherever possible. Ideally, backchannel with other members to find a relevant responder (see example in section 4). At a minimum, respond to the post as an administrator thanking the Lurker for their contribution.