Lurker behaviour and the engagement challenge


(Sarah Hawk) #1

Lurker behaviour has always interested me. I understand some aspects of it, like people that are new to a community, or a subject, and are unsure that they have something of value to offer. Other aspects puzzle me.

I have a question for @JoeBuhlig, @Doug_Agee, @Erik_Martin, @Lucas, @ccdw and @Bas_van_Leeuwen. In the past 3 hours, all of you have visited the community part of this site (as opposed to the blog) but have not engaged. None of those visits were the result of an email that was recently sent. All of you are respected community professionals with valuable experience, so don’t fit into the ‘newbie’ lurker category.

What motivating factor drove those visits? Were you looking for information? Is checking for new posts part of your daily routine? If there were posts that resonated with you, would you have engaged?

Does anyone else have insights? Do you track lurker visits to your community? Do you place value in them?


We need to change our behaviour here at Experts
Measuring reading engagement with the Discourse Data Explorer plugin
(Gear Buzz) #2

High value

They click on ads and react to affiliate income links.

This keeps the lights on.

Lots of them that I meet at events say “people already ask the questions I want to ask - so I just read”


We need to change our behaviour here at Experts
(Bas van Leeuwen) #3

Ha, big sister is watching us.

In my case it was simple: I just landed after a week of Sprint/holiday and it was late, wanted to check if I should respond to something (I’ve disabled most of the discourse notifications). Nothing that needed my attention, so I left.

Checking new posts is a daily routine for me; the site is part of the (multiple times) daily route across the internet; I love to read, it’s my way of relaxing in between tasks :blush:


(Lucas Borja Peinado) #4

I’m a lurker on reddit, and I’ve found myself promoting reddit off-line, telling people how I read this or that on the platform. I take away value from it, but I’m not necessarily drawn to collecting ‘karma’ or keeping up with the fast paced responses. If not for their participation lurkers may be delivering value in ways that can’t necessarily be measured.


(christopher w) #5

One of the problems I see is that online audience participation tools are still in their infancy and don’t allow me to communicate using nuances available to me IRL. Even a simple ACK as described here would help:

https://meta.discourse.org/t/do-you-like-it-or-do-you-just-ack/40328

I also believe that written contributions need to add to what’s already there - similar to William Goldman’s script writing principles - if it isn’t adding something, then don’t say it.

So if I don’t think I can contribute beyond what’s already there - and I don’t want to like something, then, in lieu of other participation tools, I read.


We need to change our behaviour here at Experts
(JoeBuhlig) #6

There are a handful of things going on in my case. This is quite long but I hope it gives some insight.

First, I’m still a bit new to leading a community. I have two and both are less than two months old. So I don’t have a ton of experience to draw from… technically. I’ve had a blog and fairly active community of followers via Twitter (I admit that it’s a lot different) for a couple years so I’m not new to engaging online. So I don’t think I completely fit into the “newbie” category.

Second, I do participate quite a bit in other forums. Take the Meta site for Discourse as an example. I have an extensive developer background and have started building plugins for Discourse. So I have technical questions and suggestions to make it better. Using that background, I can help others who are working on the same so I engage. I don’t have the fear of saying something wrong that prevents some folks from posting.

Third, I have a tendency to pause before I step in. That’s partly why I didn’t respond right away when you hunted me down last night. :wink: (I’m glad you did because I’ve been wondering about lurkers on my own sites but haven’t taken the time to think it through.) I wrote and launched a book last fall and that showed me the value of waiting to respond to questions. It gives me time to think it through and give a thorough response. My gut reactions leave holes in the rationale and I want things to be clear, so I wait. That often means the question is answered before I can respond and it no longer applies.

Fourth, my business is online. As most of you know, you can blow a lot of time posting and responding to questions and mentions. I could spend my whole day doing nothing else. But my time is better served recording podcasts and writing articles, books, or code. That means I’ve had to limit the number of places I put my time. I have a list of forums I participate in my bookmarks that are listed in the order of importance to me. Of course, my own are at the top. Those are followed by a couple product community that drive long-term (indirect) sales for me. Those two groups are touched daily for obvious reasons. But those are followed by sites I enjoy but only get to every two or three days. For me, FeverBee lands here. So there is a time element involved.

Last, I think Chris nails it:

Put all this together. I’m a bit new, not afraid to post, want to post a quality response, have limited time, and want the response to genuinely add to the discussion. That means, in the case of FeverBee, that I tend to hang out quite a bit, but hesitate when posting… for now. As I transition form some of my development builds in the next six months and lean more towards community growth and creating online content for those platforms, I would expect FeverBee to transition to one of the communities that I spend time with daily.


We need to change our behaviour here at Experts
(Sarah Hawk) #7

This makes sense to a degree. Research and general reading.

[quote=“Lucas, post:4, topic:2183”]
If not for their participation lurkers may be delivering value in ways that can’t necessarily be measured.
[/quote] No doubt about it – especially on monetized sites. I think the crux of the issue is that we were ‘brought up’ as CMs to value vanity stats, which always included no of posts and never no of daily visits. Part of the reason that I started this thread is because I wonder if that should change. Should ‘active visitors’ include people that visit at least once a week, regardless of whether they interact. What are your thoughts on that @Bas_van_Leeuwen?

[quote=“ccdw, post:5, topic:2183”]
…don’t allow me to communicate using nuances available to me IRL. Even a simple ACK as described here would help:
[/quote] My initial reaction to this was ‘does a like really mean that you like something these days though, or is it simply acknowledgement?’ but there must definitely be something there because Facebook have just changed their ‘like’ to a ‘reaction’. (Not that Facebook is definitive of life, but I assume there is research behind the change.)[quote=“JoeBuhlig, post:6, topic:2183”]

(I’m glad you did because I’ve been wondering about lurkers on my own sites but haven’t taken the time to think it through.)
[/quote] I think everyone does, but without actually hitting people up publicly (I’ve tried personal emailing but it feels stalkerish and confrontational) it’s hard data to gather. So I took the plunge, and I’m glad I did too, because these responses are all gold. Thanks guys. :slightly_smiling:


(JoeBuhlig) #8

You also have me checking back more frequently now. :wink:


(Sarah Hawk) #9

Excellent outcome all round then!

How are things going with your new communities? Any challenges?


(Alessio Fattorini) #10

I fully identify with those thoughts :slight_smile:


(JoeBuhlig) #11

One is taking off quite well. It’s tied to my blog comment structure. The other is a bit slow in gaining users. But that just means I need to nail down my influencers and deliver value so I can attract more people. All things I picked while lurking here. :slightly_smiling:


(Doug Agee) #12

Nice one @HAWK. Adding public shaming to my bag of tricks.

I was actually working on Module 3 yesterday and clicked on the Training Homeroom forum to check the latests posts. I didn’t really have anything to move the conversations forward, but I believe I clicked on a few hearts (likes) while I was in there.

I have added community participation to my weekly schedule and I am testing RescueTime this week to better manage my daily activities with the goal of being more disciplined about participating in awesome communities like FeverBee.

Like a few others, the whole management aspect of community is new to me. I may hesitate to add or reply unless I feel my contribution is brilliant. I place high value on the FB community and look forward to giving more than I take.


We need to change our behaviour here at Experts
(Sarah Hawk) #13

Harsh but fair. In my defence, how can I change behaviour unless I understand it? :wink:

So this is something I can work on. We need to establish a new social norm that means that no one feels that they don’t have something valuable to contribute. That a contribution has value even if it’s not brilliant (or perfect, or whatever).

How can we encourage people to share their opinions and ideas, even if they are new to this game? Often people seeing things with fresh eyes often have the best ideas.


(Doug Agee) #14

No defense necessary. I appreciate the nudge to my change behavior and contribute. Clearly I was lurking. Lurking is a coachable behavior that has great opportunity for a manager.

Utilizing automation rules helps in reminding folks who have contributed to continue doing so. This is a little easier since there is somewhat of an established relationship. However, your question is fascinating in that we want to draw lurkers out into the open and show them it is a warm and friendly place and they are needed.

That is a great goal. I have had some success with an onboarding campaign for new community members, but the mindset for the campaign is - we know the members will want to contribute, let’s show them how. Perhaps the mindset to establish a new social norm should be - our community members are as diverse in skills and talents as they are in reasons for joining our online community. Your contribution is valuable and helps grow the community.

Perhaps gentle reminders, like yours @HAWK, along the way would serve us better than a one time welcome letter that establishes the pulse of the community. You know, kind of the way your community public radio does.


(Sarah Hawk) #15

You’re right. I know some Higher Logic users get great results with their ‘We Miss You’ rule. Unfortunately we don’t have built in automation, so we’d have to do something tricky with the Mailchimp API and our Discourse stats, if that’s even possible.

[quote=“Doug_Agee, post:14, topic:2183”]
I have had some success with an onboarding campaign for new community members, but the mindset for the campaign is - we know the members will want to contribute, let’s show them how.
[/quote] I love this. I’d love to hear more about what works with your campaign. I’ve actually started a new topic about it here. I also love your take on a new mindset regarding the diversity of skills – would you mind dropping that into the new thread too? I think it might trigger ideas in others.

Thanks for your insight. :slightly_smiling:


(Bas van Leeuwen) #16

Hmm, interesting one. It is an interesting statistic, but I see several issues.

  1. I don’t think most platforms allow you to measure this. I know most of the recent ones do, but it falls apart when you’re using something like Facebook groups. So it’s not universally available.
  2. I wouldn’t want to complicate the metric. Users-who-have-posted-in-the-last-twenty-eight-days is long enough as it is.

I think it might be a secondary KPI though. Let me mull it over and see if we can come up with something brilliant :slightly_smiling:


(Bo McGuffee) #17

The following has primarily to do with people who continually lurk.

Part of the challenge might be that people naturally “belong” to groups at various levels. As people are able to connect and belong at a level that is appropriate for them, then they find the experience rewarding and they continue to engage at that level. However, when pressures increase to belong at a deeper level (which is uncomfortable), then the experience becomes aversive. Reinforced behavior will continue, and an aversive experience will tend to push people away.

The understanding I work with is based on Joe Myers The Search to Belong (which is targeted toward churches). Basically, there are four levels of belonging: public, social, personal, and intimate. Not everyone needs to be moved toward greater intimacy. Rather, the task is to find out how to help people settle in the most appropriate level of connection for them and make that as rewarding as it can be.

So, perhaps rather than trying to get people to continually post, the goal should be to separate and respect the various levels of belonging. If we can identify the levels and strengthen those experiences, we might also be able to find ways to make belonging at the various levels productive for the business. If lurkers are just going to lurk, then it may be best just to allow and encourage them to belong at that distinct level with no further expectation. At least their eyes are on the action, and maybe the action can somehow be turned into a lure for doing something (even if it isn’t post).


(Sarah Hawk) #18

Wise words. If only there was a way to distinguish between those that are comfortable with (and derive value from) perpetual lurking, and those that would like to engage further but are finding a barrier to entry.


(Bo McGuffee) #19

Why not create an onboarding process that walks new members through all the stages of belonging and see where they stop?

I’m proposing one in the form of a tutorial for our deal site that will take members through the following steps after forum-specific sign up.

  1. Create custom views
  2. Subscribe to some content
  3. Flag PM spam
  4. Vote
  5. Send PMs
  6. Post a reply to a welcome thread
  7. Post a non-deal topic
  8. Share a deal with friends off-site
  9. Post a deal.

I know it’s a lot of steps, but it’s meant to be incremental. Each step effectively asks the member if they are comfortable moving toward the center of community. In fact, the first two step don’t require any interaction with another person.

Btw, since I have yet to implement this, I don’t know how well it works.


(Sarah Hawk) #20

I’ll be really interested to hear how this goes.

I have reservations about doing it here, because there is a large sector of our audience that ARE well experienced in this game and that level of hand holding might be off putting.