It happens to the very best of us: your brand grows a substantial following, with new users joining your tribe in hordes, and yet…
...only a small portion of your followers engage with your content. The rest? Crickets.
If you’re freaking out about the low level of engagement your content gets on social media, your private groups, or a chat that you host, don’t worry.
While there are ways in which you can increase engagement on your content, there is also an inevitable—and large—chunk of your community that is made up of lurkers.
And while lurkers, by nature, are not bad people or ignore your content on purpose (in fact, they may silently be some of your brand’s biggest fans), it can be frustrating to deal with such an underwhelming response to your brand’s carefully crafted content strategy.
What is a lurker?
The mainstream definition: a member of an online community who does not participate and “lurks” or observes instead.
My marketing definition: a person who follows your brand’s profiles and content but kills your content’s engagement and potential organic reach by never taking an action*—like, comment, share, or other.
*Technically, clicking on a link does not fall under the “action” list in this case as it’s not visible by other non-admin community members.
Typically, lurkers are found in online communities, like chat rooms, forums, blogs, discussion boards, and closed groups, but the concept is applicable to social media as a community, too.
Anywhere that you can virtually “hang out” with groups of people and try to get to know one another, lurkers can be found.
The ratio of engaged community members to lurkers varies, but as a general rule, it’s safe to assume that 80-99% of a community consists of lurkers, about 9% contributes with base-level engagement, and a teeny 1% is made up of creators—the people who post frequently and are prominent members in a community because of it.
Why do people lurk?
There are so many reasons that people lurk that it would be impossible to list out every individual instance; however, there are common patterns across communities that discourage participation from the “silent majority:”
The user doesn’t know what action she is supposed to perform from the content.
If you fail to include a clear and compelling call-to-action, many users will do nothing.
On the flipside, instructing the community to “comment your experience” or “share with someone who would value this tip” will give users clear direction of what you want them to do.
The user doesn’t have a need to contribute.
Sometimes, communities will dive down a rabbit hole of niche topics or interests and cause other members to tune out.
Brands’ profiles can be guilty of this, too—when sharing content, stay true to your strategy, the type of value you provide, and the subjects that you promise to educate your followers on in the space.
If your followers find the content irrelevant or far from their area of expertise, they’ll likely lurk on specific posts if not more of your content.
The user is stopped by social fear.
It happens—when a community is highly active and has a lot of experts chiming in on topics, a newbie can easily be intimidated and fear that her contributions are too dumb to share.
Some people also may fear being the odd one out of the group if the community—especially in the case of small, private groups or forums—is already very tightly-knit, or may simply be too shy to jump in.
The user is new and getting accustomed to the community’s culture first.
Not everyone is comfortable walking into a group of new people and announcing themselves right away—in fact, those kinds of people are quite rare at parties and online communities alike.
Instead, many users will lurk initially to get comfortable, feel out the “room,” and learn the community’s rules, culture, topics, and more to warm up to jumping into the conversation.
You may ask, but what about the people who don’t participate after that initial period? Some people are naturally more shy or prefer to listen and observe from the sidelines instead, and that’s okay too—I’ll explain why a little later.
The user doesn’t have time to participate but still wants to get the information provided.
It’s totally normal to join a community in order to learn from the pros, even if your normal life is a constant blur.
Some lurkers may check out the content in a community or on your brand’s page to collect reading and learning material for later when they can finally take a moment to themselves to take it all in.
The user engages in different behavior patterns depending on the community.
Some people prefer to share, comment, like, or chat on some social networks, others may only perform actions on some sites and stay quiet on others, and others yet full-on lurk on most communities by choice.
Everyone is different, and everyone has preferred channels for communication. As a marketer, it’s your job to find out where your tribe hangs out and provide value to fit their needs.
The best way to increase engagement on content when you’re a part of different communities is to share that content across multiple platforms to reach the most of your audience.
As a marketer, it’s your job to find out where your tribe hangs out and provide value to fit their needs.
What can you do about lurkers?
Fortunately, you don’t have to take all the reasons above and just accept that your quality, valuable content will yield low engagement no matter what.
There are plenty of methods you can employ to bring more people to the table—or bring more tables to those people—and build stronger relationships within your online communities.
Here are our top 9:
1. Check the “finer” analytics to see the underlying engagement that lurkers bring.
You can use analytics tools like Google Analytics, Buffer, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to see how many times your content gets clicks—while they don’t spark conversation and further spread your content, lurkers who click through are still engaging on a base level and are valuable.
For instance, our Google+ page rarely gets a +1 on a post, but every single link we share on there gets clicks through to our site.
Dig deeper and look at the user behavior flow from social to your content to get a clearer picture of who is consuming your content and from where.
Though it feels wrong to do so, if lurkers are actually engaging through “silent” methods, let them be—they still appreciate your content, even if they never voice it.
2. Create smaller “spaces” for shy people to share and engage.
Posting an opinion or thought in public may seem daunting to some, so providing a niche group or encouraging lurkers to direct message you instead may be the difference between zero engagement and valuable discussion.
In fact, I received an email (rather than a blog comment) from someone who read my Zillow’s Zestimate: An Important Lesson in Transparency blog article, and we’ve been emailing back and forth for months ever since with new articles, experiences, and fascinating insight on the whole story as it unravels.
3. Pose easy-to-answer questions to your communities to spark discussion.
While it’ll be easy for the hyper-engaged followers to answer, it gives an easy way into the conversation for lurkers who have held back due to fear of not knowing what to say.
This is especially effective when you ask users to share anecdotes or opinions—everyone has them, and if they feel that the space is safe enough to share theirs, they will be more inclined to do so.
Another trick is to create polls, adding a layer of anonymity for those lurkers who wish to remain unnamed in the discussion.
4. Start conversations based on evaluations from your follower’s interests.
Evaluate all of your content to make sure it resonates with your audience rather than just vaguely interest them—after all, people need to have something valuable to entice them to participate in the first place.
You can personally reach out and ask community members and your followers for feedback on your content strategy, discussion topics, and more, including what they’d like to see more of and what they’d change.
To more quickly collect such insights, conduct a formal survey with your followers.
5. Be aware of—and on top of—your response time to people’s posts or comments.
If someone puts herself out there and doesn’t receive a response from your brand, she may feel ignored and not welcome.
If a follower or community member is new, try to welcome her or engage with her within 5 hours of her joining your tribe—here, a little goes a long way.
6. Focus your efforts on new followers.
Combat the shyness by reaching out first, and if someone has been quiet on your network for a while, let them be to attend to the most recent members instead—remember, some people prefer to stay on the sidelines.
For those newbies, call them out on bringing value to the table so they feel important and properly welcomed. Just giving shoutouts to the mega-engaged members, though it’s a nice gesture, will discourage the “underdogs” from stepping up to the conversation.
7. Incentivize engagement through rewards.
You can create contests or do raffles with your followers to get more people to engage—I mean, who doesn’t love free stuff?
It can be a simple giveaway, too, by encouraging users to include a certain hashtag or to perform a specific action to add their entry to the drawing.
The prize doesn’t matter, either, as it’s more about the gratification of speaking up and being valued than the free shirt one gets from joining in.
8. Encourage other prominent community members or brand advocates to take the lead on fueling participation.
It doesn’t all have to be on you; in fact, some lurkers may get a vibe of pushiness from your brand if you’re the one constantly pressing them to engage.
If your brand has advocates you can call on to fuel conversation and bring a new angle of engagement to your community, take the opportunity to change up who the encouragement is coming from.
9. Host live videos or events to get more face-to-face contact with your followers and give people a different means of engaging.
Maybe some people worry about the way their message may be misconstrued over social media and tend to stay out of the conversation for that sole reason, and maybe others need to feed off the energy of a room to gather the courage to chime in.
Give your followers a chance to engage in real life—arguably creating a more valuable connection that you can online—to turn from lurker to friend.
The Bottom Line
You can’t change everyone, but you sure can try to get more people engaged on your social networks and smaller communities, so hopefully these tips help fuel ideas for how to do so with your brand.
Lurkers are inevitable, however, so make sure you focus on delivering a valuable and exciting experience to your followers rather than concentrating all of your efforts on getting the quieter folks to speak up.
Has your brand found ways to boost engagement with lurkers online? Share your experiences below!