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
It’s meant to be a living document, so if you have any additions, please comment below!
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
With all this in mind… what can you do to turn some readers into contributors?
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.
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.
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.
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.
- “where are you located”,
- “what’s your favorite icecream”,
- “share a picture of your cat” etc.
- 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
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.