Community Guide: Activating Lurkers

Lurkers. Lurkers never change

A common question we get asked is something like “how do I make more lurkers participate?”. This post aims to help you answer that question :slight_smile:

It’s meant to be a living document, so if you have any additions, please comment below!

Do you even have a lurker problem?

There are lurkers readers in every community, and that’s OK. We’ve always said that Reading is Fundamental and I’ll say it again: reading is fundamental to any community.

Even here on Discourse Meta, where the main target is community folks who are inclined to participate… More than half of all traffic is by not-logged in users. And only about one in seven members has even made a single post!

Does this mean that Meta has a problem? Not at all! The goal of meta isn’t “make everyone post”. It is instead : “Discussion about the next-generation open source Discourse forum software”. With some 1.2 Million posts in the past ten years, I’d say: goal reached.

We invest in Meta, to inform, learn and interact with our users and customers. And you don’t need to post to learn! There will be people who like to read along in the background without “contributing”.

So before you set out fixing your “lurker problem”, make sure it’s actually an issue worthy of your time. You might be better off cultivating a superuser program. Or improve your SEO game. Or revisit and clarify the top 100 most visited topics.

That doesn’t mean we ignore them, we can still guide readers to more active participation. But let’s do so gently. And please… always accept that some people simply prefer to read :blush:
With all this in mind… what can you do to turn some readers into contributors?

What’s in it for them?

The most fundamental community question: why would these users take part? Are they looking for validation or new friends? Are they interested in flaunting/marketing their expertise? Do they have a (product) question?

These answers should already be part of the bedrock of your community strategy. They will help you convert readers too. So keep them in mind when thinking of solutions.

Potential strategies

There are many options and I won’t be prescriptive in your approach. Consider this as a menu, where you can take elements and apply them to your community.

Lowering the barriers

Many readers are lurking because they feel that they have nothing to contribute. Some will have imposter syndrome. Others will be new to the profession and might be afraid to appear “dumb”.

So make sure it’s easy to overcome these barriers.

  • Make sure that your staff aren’t answering all the easy questions! Leave some for first-time contributors.
  • Write a contributor guide, so that it’s clear what the expectations are.
  • Make use of templates . Guiding users who are posting, so they know what the community expects of them.
  • Reach out to a long-time active reader or two and ask them what’s holding them back from contributing.
  • Consider tagging specific active readers (as well as newish contributors) if they can help with a question, or tagging them to ask what their opinion might be. It’s very flattering to be personally invited to contribute. Explicitly calling on their expertise helps alleviate imposter syndrome.
  • Writing a post that the WHOLE WORLD can see can be intimidating to some. To them, it feels very much like public speaking. Consider inviting active new users to a small, private category with a few kind, experienced mentors. This allows them to ask questions they might be too shy to ask publicly. They can participate in some of the icebreaker-type posts mentioned below. Make sure you encourage them when they do contribute. Let them graduate out of the newbie category (or become a mentor) once they have grown comfortable with contributing publicly.
  • Add chat to your community. A small reply, in an ephemeral form, is much more low-key than a full-fledged, to-be-indexed-by-google post.

Breaking the ice

Getting people to make their first contribution can help them make a second one. We know that icebreakers work, both online and in real life. It does take a lot of effort to make them work properly. And in certain settings they might not be appropriate.

  • Introduce-yourself posts can break the ice, especially when mentioned in the onboarding flows. Of course you need to make sure that the topic feels active and welcoming. Ask follow-up questions based on the introduction. Invite regular members to join in too. And make sure you are actively present in the topic (don’t just reply once a week to all new members in a single post!).
  • Back when CMX was on Facebook, David Spinks used to personally tag every new CMX member in a weekly welcome post. This takes some effort, but it was an instant engagement booster.
  • Other icebreakers could work too. Something with a very low bar to reply, such as.
  • Modify the Trust Level notification message to encourage participation. People do read these and they spark conversations. On my community, I usually had a few people respond every month.


People (in general) love being praised and complimented! What better moment to praise someone than when they’ve made their first contribution?

I don’t mean automated badges etc. If at all possible, put in the manual work and call people out. The personal touch will make it much more effective than gamification. Either send them a PM thanking them for their contribution, or even better: post a public thank you note once a week. Use the data explorer to get a list of new contributors.

If you post a regular community summary or newsletter. Make sure you include (the content of) some new participants.

Consider if Gamification could work for your community. A solid gamification strategy can be a boon in activating members. They do tend to take a lot of effort to set up initially. Thinking through all the scenarios and preventing abuse can be tough. But if you make it work… it can have a massive impact. Stack Overflow wouldn’t be the behemoth it is today without it’s extensive point system. Salesforce’s trailhead is 100% inspired by scout badges.


Always think about what your members want out of their community. They lead busy lives! Actively contributing, writing a good question or providing an answer, takes time and effort. So people reading instead of writing is inherent to any healthy community. We should acknowledge that reading itself is a form of participation.

In fact, you want a large number of people to be able to search and find answers to their questions without having to ask. That’s a good thing! It means your content is solid. That’s what allows communities to scale and be so immensely powerful and valuable.

Maybe those “problematic lurkers” are behaving in exactly the way we hope they will :slight_smile:

All that said, someone needs to write that content. So you should create a welcoming environment with plenty of opportunities for engagement. Consider lowering the barriers to posting, facilitating ice-breakers, and celebrating the contributions of your members. By implementing one or more of these approaches you may discover that passive participants become more active and engaged in the community.


Thanks for this great post!

Is there a Discourse native way to find these (emphasis mine)?


for the first one i think you can use the top nav-bar link and pick a date-range, then filter descending by views. like so:

of course that wouldn’t limit it to 100 (presuming one uses a time range that shows 100 or greater).

a data explorer query would be the way to go. there are a most active lurkers query and a most active 100 topics query included in the defaults.

this is a great topic by the way, thanks for posting @Bas :slight_smile:

i’ve always taken the approach that every active forum member starts out as a lurker. i know i usually do.


For the data explorer query believe you need a business tier account for that.


you are correct -Plugin directory | Discourse - Civilized Discussion, and it’s always good to point out when a hosted tier is required for a specific plugin. :+1:

since their forum has gamification plugin enabled, i have to assume they at least have a hosted business plan, or are self-hosting. i also know from past posts on here that @ganncamp knows how to use the data explorer so probably still has it enabled :slight_smile:

here is a simple data explorer query that returns top 100 viewed topics in whatever past interval you want to specify (to present)

SELECT AS topic_id,
    t.views AS view_count
FROM topics t
WHERE t.created_at >= NOW() - INTERVAL '1 year'

Super cool Bas thanks so much :smiley: I need to read more from you.


Hi @Bas
Great post great topic :slight_smile:

You express a number of similar sentiments to those I believe in. That doesn’t make either of us right :slight_smile: I also spot a number of what I think are presumptions in what you write leading to assumptions that I think can be valuable examined and that’s why I offer the text below

I wholeheartedly support the idea that lurkers are not a problem - indeed I’ll go further and say I think use of the term lurker is - to use @HAWK 's term / concept almost a form of “microaggression!” Readers is a more ‘civilised’ respectful term to use at all times. While you strike it through at the beginning you use it repeatedly thereafter - possibly thus a subliminal creator of tone or mindset (If not in you as writer possibly in others as readers :slight_smile: )

Some specifics:…

Recognise that when you decide to do something that pushes somebody who is quite content as a reader in the direction that you’ve decided is beneficial (Who too?) then you’re maybe increasing their discomfort which may cause their exit to somewhere less ‘expensive/painful’

Recognise that for some you may have just increased that discomfort a notch. The phrase “holding them back” suggests that they want a behaviour and struggle to achieve it but they may have exactly the behaviour they want and far from being held back they are now being pushed over a precipice. This would be particularly true for long-term readers who would seem to have found a stable cost to value ratio that is satisfying them

Of course there are those who suffer from all the challenges you itemize such as impostor syndrome and knowledge gap, the lack of helping hand so your suggestions maybe all good for that population. Perhaps therefore you’d be better off reaching out to new ish readers EG those on their way to trust level 2, those that have already gone from 0 to 1+?

Discourse is a rich UI platform. many unannounced mechanisms to enable different facilities and many paths, not all equivalent but often ending in similar or the same places. It’s very very easy to get lost unless one invests a great deal of time.
So you’re changing the value proposition for your readers who are asking the question “what is the cost of extracting value?” And you’ve just put the visible cost up but only the speculative value to them; so now you’ve introduced the psychology of uncertainty into the equation with all the economics of regret. Generally when the price goes up volume goes down (and the expectation of the customer rise and then the equation starts to give more emphasis to the quality aspect alongside the volume aspect)

I’m not sure that this observation is valid. Certainly (I posit) extroverts who are likely to be your writers love being praised. If there is a correlation between readers and introversion then being called out for public praise may well be a trigger for discomfort thus raises the price for consuming content / receiving value. It isn’t related to introversion then it might just be ‘laziness’ “I was getting this free of effort now I’ve got to put effort to get it I don’t want anymore at this price”

this is a suggestion that I suggest needs guidance on how to break it down. Perhaps it’s your most valuable observation but too massive and implacable as it stands?

Maybe it should be phrased as what is the value proposition by user type? Then there are challenges with what is the typography of users, what do they see the profit equation as? Profit equals value minus cost.

One last thought I haven’t seen any discussion of in this forum and topic is private user to user communications as a channel that may be offering value whose bedrock is the public posts that’s read in public. These readers maybe a conversationalist in private either on or off your platform


Thank you for your comments Simon!

In my draft I used it throughout, since the guide was started by many questions using that word. During feedback @JammyDodger was quite vocal about not using the term and I agreed with him.
You’ll note that after striking it through, I use the term only twice more, both times in “quotes” :slight_smile:

Yes, we should indeed be careful not to hard-push people. But a gentle nudge here and there can be beneficial. It’s fairly similar to real life, where the balance between disturbing, ignoring or engaging with a quiet person is quite hard.

Again, the balance is hard.

I like the idea of focussing on those moving towards level two (note that you cannot achieve TL2 without active participation).

With the rest of the comments too: I think you are making some very very valid points.
But we also shouldn’t be completely paralysed and afraid to reach out to other humans. Yes, you might cause a small bit of discomfort, but that’s life. If the intent is good, you provide a safe space to say no and you don’t keep pushing… I think it’s OK. If your personal style is different, than that is OK too.

Yeah, this might warrant another full post indeed. It’s pretty much the core of what community management is: balancing your user needs with the company/orgs needs :slight_smile:


I agree with this. I also may be partly responsible for the use of the term - it’s used in the title of the “Most Active Lurkers” pre-installed Data Explorer query. The query is useful for identifying a trend, but its title and description make an unnecessary value judgement.

There are cases where lurking (reading) may be considered the appropriate behavior. For example, many questions have been asked and answered multiple times. Because I enjoy the interaction, I tend to give these questions full answers, but another type of response is something like “Have you tried searching for that?” This could leave a person feeling that they should have remained a lurker. On Meta I do see the community being especially welcoming for posts with the “first time” and “returning user” welcome notices though.

Another case is creating posts that could be seen to add no value to the conversation. I’m risking creating one of those here :slight_smile:

When I was working for Discourse I loved the icebreaker topics on our internal forum. They gave me a chance to say “I am here!” at times when I didn’t have much to contribute to the more technical conversations. I wonder if more icebreaker types of topics could be created on Meta? If so, would having those topics in a category that excluded anonymous users (and indexing by search engines) lower the barrier to posting and increase the likelihood that readers of the forum would register accounts?


That’s a difficult one, also entirely subjective.


I think this one could be, to a certain extent, considered as one:

Lounge (which doesn’t exist anymore by default in new Discourse installation) was/is also a proper category for this, with more relaxed and casual conversations, but reserved to trust level 3.

There are few TL3 on meta if we remove the staff.

I think it was discussed at some point to decrease the TL3 thresholds on meta… :thinking:

Same here :person_raising_hand:
It’s also a good context to disagree more easily with people if we’re shy.
Like, saying, “I don’t like the TV show you recommended” instead of “I don’t like the design you created” :stuck_out_tongue:


I was tl2 on Meta up until earlier today. For most cases, that felt correct to me, but in terms of prompting users to create accounts and post on a Discourse site, I can see the value of having one or more categories that require >= tl0.


This is what I’ve tried to explore in posts that attempt to show behaviours are based on perception of acceptability and that in turn is generated by the choice of language Which in turn rest upon…

I posit as a description of behaviour "lurking” is acceptable while to label someone as a “lurker” undesirable

Would “you’ll find useful stuff if you use the :mag: above & search XYZ…” be a response without the negative?

I disagree (Or maybe I think the risk is the price of opportunity); breakthrough follows most often from the unforseen serendipity of emergence - that comes from diversity - so your creating the circumstances for a very high value contribution, but generally they have a low probability of occurrence because the high probability will have already been found easily!

I agree they’re important. On the community where I’m TL3 there are many threads entitled " forum games:…”. I have them all set to ignore because I don’t need them but I recognise that to form community requires people with diversity of personality, background, needs, etc. contribution to the community is richer for having a variety that comes from participation of people who have that need or just enjoy what for me is burning time without value. We are all different, and embracing difference gives us all more value - I think this spirit of community - does anybody else have an opinion?

I hold out no hope of acquiring TL3 here because there are so many people active in many topics & topics active so that the amount of time to meet the threshold criteria will decrease the value I get here to near zero. The criteria are valid for a small community not one with topics of little interest EG such as the software maintenance dis-interests of somebody (me) who has a largely sociological interest in digital community mores.


Well, I’m TL3 I reckon, and I’m not that active. Sure, I read a lot, but it is not so time demanding.

I don’t need or use tools of TL3. So for me trust levels are actually quite meaningless and as a system it is ”just” a gatekeeper or guard dog. And… most of people world wide think that way and that’s why TLs are a weak incentive. Sure, I can be wrong too. But I’m not :smirk:

But I am not a lurker. That is question of personality but matter of climate of forum too. Few toxic persons and I’m out really fast. For me this is just another part of my own time, and I’m too old to waste it.

But… now we are back to ice breakers and so on. I can’t give any CSS tips. I can’t code. So I’m writing more or less just meta’ish content, some times even on topic. That happends because here is room for me. If here house rules would be similar than in StackOverflow I would be 100% pure lurker and there would be no chance to convert me to even semi-active writer.

Global forums have another speed bump and it is language barrier. As everyone sees, at least native english speakers, I just don’t care how badly I misuse prepositions or doing grammatical errors[1] but it is just me. Others can be very shy using strange language, even with translators, and they will choose to keep theirs fingers out of keyboard.

  1. english is an awful language; Yoda was 1000 years old jedimaster, but even he couldn’t learn english ↩︎


I don’t think you should take all the blame. :slight_smile: One of the things that came up when we were discussing whether ‘lurkers’ should be included as a term or if we should try and retire it altogether was that it’s such a recognisable term, and leaving it out may make this guide (and the accompanying blog) less discoverable, and therefore less useful.

Personally though, I think if we can move away from the term and reframe the dynamic I’d be much happier. :slight_smile:


That would be a good response. What I was trying to point out is that there’s an aspect of forum culture that discourages posting.

At its worst, people who are new to a forum’s domain are considered to be “newbies.” A typical response to their questions is essentially “RTFM.” So one thing that may discourage people from posting in a community is fear of being shot down for asking “dumb” questions. At its best, this harsh aspect of forum culture encourages people to think before posting a question.

There’s a similar issue with posting replies. If someone’s replies are repeatedly ignored, or answered in a highly critical manner, they’re likely to stop posting on the forum. I know this from personal experience. On a music related forum, a reply I was especially proud of was criticized by one of a forum’s prominent members. After having posted daily for a year, I never posted again. 10 years later, I still go back to the forum from time to time when I think it might have information I’m looking for. I’m not saying my reaction was rational - just that it’s easy to forget that people have varying levels of sensitivity. One bad experience can turn a super-user into a lurker.

Possibly this issue is something to be especially aware of in the age of AI. The other day I was feeling impatient and Googled “how many cm is 104hp?” The top response on Google took me to a forum thread where the reply was just a link to another thread on that forum. The first response in that thread told me to do some math, the second response told me to “Google it.” So I fired up ChatGPT. It was happy to answer the question. If online communities want to attract active users, they need to be aware that they’re now competing with friendly bots that are often able to answer basic questions related to a forum’s domain.

I don’t :slight_smile: I was just remembering how that term got introduced into the Discourse lexicon.


I’d be interested to know what’s in those icebreaker threads.

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Several follow the same theme - name a place starting with the next letter of the alphabet. Name a vegetable, TV show etc. Pictures & ‘cheating’ are rife / encouraged. When took part I used to try to find entries containing a z or x or w.

They do provide a low friction, lo barrier that gives opportunity for edit, give recv likes etc


Hi bas

I’m replying in email because I never earned that badge on any discourse forum so I’m using this as a learning op. not obvious how to do things like quote - the normal UI coding for me reduces fluency

I pretty much agreed with everything in your first post, AND more so with your reply. I definitely agree it’s a balancing act.
A constant theme for me is that the culture we live in dictates the words and mental models that we use as a result constrain our thinking. Then others reading have a different understanding.
You’re ref to “holding back” may have been an example of a ‘loaded’ sentence with connotations you did not mean.

I definitely didn’t notice your qualification of lurker on subsequent uses. This may be because I use speech marks (") to quote something said by others whereas to signal that a word or phrase should be interpreted differently from normal I would use a single quote (').
This may be something that was in vogue when I was taught English, it may be something that varies by nationality etc. It’s a potential disconnect.

You say this is equal to real life and I agree but in face to face life there is fluidity established through personal choices & feedback cycles whereas here we are constrained by the software that has design paradigms embedded in the operation that came from those mental models and constrained by our vocabulary when one is trying to create a certain environment

So it’s a good point you make about trust level 2 only being achievable with posting! Maybe there should be more than one route to TL2 (&3) because currently the bias would say ** it’s a numbers game not quality!!** there maybe users who never publish who gain enormous value but they give back elsewhere outside a forum - but that must be undetectable and unrewardable?

Some users may generate a small number of highly valuable posts. Uses that generate lots of posts with no valid content might be a positive for community sustainment?

Isn’t there something in the mechanics of ignoring or blocking a member to flag to admin if enough people block them? Maybe they should be an equivalent for ratio of posts to likes? That would have to be 'moderated’ by an average of how generous people are with giving likes (I’m sure we all know people who never give any!)

Re the poss post/ topic on “core of balancing…” would you like to Collab on an attempt?

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Those are often interesting points that lack data to back up claims. It surely is very difficult to gather reliable data, but a lot of people have opinions (myself included) purely based on feelings or experiences that can’t or shouldn’t be stretched up to be considered as “true”.
I’ve said or thought many things that I claimed or was persuaded were true until I figured out there weren’t, or I changed my mind after some experience (which doesn’t mean I went from wrong to right; it could be the opposite). :smile:
Notice how my last sentence is a good example of the first one. :stuck_out_tongue:

About your quote, simon, I recognize some carefulness in your wording, though, and you state it’s one aspect of (implicitly) many others. :+1:

Also, as a reader only on many community platforms, where I sometimes communicate exclusively by PMs, I dislike the term “lurker” very much. Not posting doesn’t mean you’re not producing content that will benefit the forum. For example, you can share the content you learned on a forum with another community and link back to the forum. Or just talk about the forum. Or just use the knowledge you gathered to use them in whatever project you have.

It’s in the evening and I’m very tired so I hope my post makes sense.