Social Media Lurkers—Who Are They and How Can You Engage Them?

Janna Crabb is CASE’s director of online communications.

Are you discouraged because you have tons of followers, friends and connections on your social media communities but conversations always involve the same people? Do you wonder why others don’t jump in? You are not alone. There’s a name for this phenomenon–-the 90-9-1 rule.

Studies show that, on average, 90 percent of social media community members do not participate in online conversations. These people, called lurkers, silently view content and observe conversations between your institution and other group members. Just 10 percent of group members are engaged in conversations – 9 percent occasionally and the other one percent actively. Sound familiar?

Why lurkers don’t participate

Because lurkers aren’t from just one mold, their reasons for not participating vary greatly. Some lurkers don’t want to engage on a public platform. Others might make posts through other social media sites but they just don’t participate in your communities. While we may never know all of the various reasons, research suggests lurkers often

  • Don’t think they know enough about the topic(s) under discussion and don’t want to look foolish.
  • Don’t have time to participate.
  • Aren’t inspired to take part in conversations because the content doesn’t speak to them.
  • Feel like outsiders, believing that other participants know each other well and are part of an inner circle.

How to engage lurkers online

  • Offer low-risk ways for users to engage so they don’t feel they need expertise to comment. For example, take polls, run contests and ask people to share their own experiences.
  • Track most frequently opened content to figure out what lurkers are interested in and what is of value to them. Try posting content using different styles and tones to find out what resonates with group members and inspires them to take part in conversations. Include video and photos to appeal to them visually.
  • Offer content that is easy to respond to – for example, quick polls or queries that require just one or two word answers.
  • Encourage new participants to introduce themselves and offer ways for them to meet other group members both online and offline.

Have you been successful in converting lurkers to active community participants? What has worked for your institution? Does the 90-9-1 rule align with your experience?

4 responses to “Social Media Lurkers—Who Are They and How Can You Engage Them?

  1. I believe those numbers also reflect what I see, in general, in the workplace and within other groups. I’m sure there are many reasons for those who are active, as well as the others. I encourage folks to engage, and believe it helps them grow, and unless they get flamed, helps build confidence.
    As a small group leader teaching an Advance NCO Course in the Army, I didn’t allow anyone to be a spectator, but that was live, and it did take time building trust within the group for everyone to be confident that they wouldn’t be ridiculed regardless of the accuracy of the response. A frequent end of course comment from the students was how being pushed to contribute and take a position on different topics without fear of being embarrassed, help build confidence.
    I’m not for kicking someone off the island for not participating, but this question has got me interested in how to encourage more participation. I agree with the strategies listed.

  2. Good points. I’d add another (minor) bullet point to your list of four reasons that people don’t participate. They want to preserve some shred of privacy and control in their online interactions, while benefiting from the group’s interaction.

  3. Groundswell calls this group Spectators (there’s something about that label Lurkers that bothers me), and I really like your suggestions for engagement. Another technique for moving them up the engagement ladder is email capture at every possible point. Once they give you permission to contact them, you can give them more precise and personal calls to action where their interactions are not available for public viewing. Just remember, also, that this group is extremely interested in being informed and entertained, so they soak up content.

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