How Can I Push You From Lurker To Participant?

February 25, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

I left my first comment on Chris Brogan’s blog a few weeks ago. And if you want to know a secret, I was scared. Speaking up for the first time on a new community is often pretty intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been reading Chris’ blog for years, lots of us have. However, I had never left a comment until the day he asked me to. Actually, he didn’t really ask. He more dared me. He dared all his lurkers.

One of the first posts I ever read by Jakob Nielson was his theory on community participation. He called it the 90-9-1 rule and, if you’re not familiar with it,  states the following:

  1. 90 percent of users are lurkers who never contribute
  2. 9 percent of users contribute a little
  3. 1 percent of users account for almost all the action

And according to Jakob, there’s no real way to change that. There will always be a disproportionate number of people participating vs lurking.  The best you can do is to hope to increase your numbers to something along the lines of 80-16-4. At least then, four percent of your audience would be heavy contributors instead of just one percent. Which, I guess, is better than nothing.

As the idea of online communities become more important, it feels like we’re all in a constant battle to up that last number. That last number is important. It represents your brand evangelists, the people who want to be actively engaged, the ones who want to know what you stand for, the customers most likely to be life-long, and the ones most vocal when you ask for feedback. The higher that last number, the easier it is to stay in tune with your real community.  Is there any way to push over any of that 90 percent?

Why Do People Lurk?

Last month WikWikit wrote a really informative post about lurkers that looks at why people lurk and how to make your audience more likely to participate in the conversation. I stumbled across that post and quickly started thinking about my own Web behavior. Why do I choose to lurk instead of joining in?

Here’s a short list of what I came up with.

  • I don’t feel ‘smart enough’ to contribute.
  • I don’t trust that the community wants to hear my opinion.
  • I’m scared of the vibe that exists in the community. It’s too aggressive, too elitist, too cliquey, too something.
  • I’m busy. I have time to read, but not always to comment.
  • I’m still learning about whatever it is you’re talking about.
  • I’m intimidated by the blogger. How could I ever contribute to a conversation going on at Brian, Amber, Lee, or Aaron’s house?

In WikWikit’s post they talk about some ways to convert lurkers to participators and mention all the standards: Make it easy to contribute, reward participants, promote contributors, etc. And while these things are all important and may help, it has to be more than that. At Ari Herzog’s blog he mentions a WordPress plugin he uses to send emails to folks who haven’t commented on his blog in six months as a way to bring lurkers back into the fold. It’s a worthwhile approach, though I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to send or receive such an email. Actually, receiving one of those emails would probably make me hide harder, not less.

So I guess I’m asking you. What inspires you to go from lurker to active participant? Is it the content, the community, your relationship with the blogger? Do you have to be hit over the head with an emotion to say something?

More specifically, is there a way or something that I could change to make you lurk less and participate more at Outspoken? I happen to think we have a great community of vocal and respectful folks, is there a way to add on to that? I’d love to hear it, especially if you’ve never commented before. Tell me what’s always stopped you. Or tell me about you. I’m just listening today.


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