Organisations often fret about how many “lurkers” reside in their online community. This means people who are signed up but do not appear to be active. But, having made efforts to estimate the proportion, most businesses then dismiss their lurkers from consideration, taking the view that since they haven’t “engaged”, they’re of no value or interest and are irrelevant for their wider community.
Before you jump to a similar conclusion about your own lurkers, however, take a moment to remember that your community is made up of living, breathing people, not just stats. We all know that in any real life gathering, some people are naturally more vocal than others - maybe because they’re confident or expert in the subject, because they tend to hold strong opinions, or simply because they like the sound of their own voices. Well, exactly the same applies in any digital community: the introverted, unconfident, less opinionated or less expert may not comment as much as certain others. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not paying close attention or are any less committed to the community than more active contributors.
Sure, it’s more difficult for you to track this, but if you do find yourself with a substantial body of non-contributors, consider looking at these lurkers’ overall activity with your brand, including log-in rates, open rates, dwell time, purchase history. If you’re a charity, look at an individual’s fundraising or giving activity and offers to volunteer. It may be that some of your lurkers are important and are contributing, just under your radar. Also, be patient. I’ve worked with communities where it has taken years for members to get comfortable enough to post or interact publicly. They had just as much ownership and commitment as others, they just took their time. Also, people’s needs, desires and aspirations are dynamic - and the relevance of your offering to any given individual, and therefore their propensity to comment, may grow (or dwindle) as time goes by.
It’s vital, of course, that you regularly review the experiences and platforms you are offering to ensure they are as effective and inclusive as possible. Test, learn, iterate, repeat. There’s always room for improvement, but don’t expect to find a silver bullet that brings near-universal overt engagement.
Instead of thinking of your lurkers as slightly shady characters sitting on the fringes of your group, start to see - and refer to - them as listeners or learners. And don’t forget that for many members value from a community can be derived just as much from receiving content as from co-creating it.
Whatever you do, appreciate and welcome them, and never leap to the dangerous conclusion that the silent ones are less important than your louder members.