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Measuring Online Community Success: Lurkers Deserve Your Love Too

By: Stephanie Pelch 04 Aug 2016










We Need To Start Thinking About Lurking Differently

The value of the Type B personality seems to be appreciated more than ever these days.

Back in 2012, Susan Cain gave a popular Ted Talk about the power of introverts and their importance in society. While it may not be entirely sound to equate personal introversion with a lack of contribution online, she touches on several points that can be applied to online communities. Specifically, how associations and community managers should update their thinking on lurkers and their role in communities. For example:

  • Lurkers feel most engaged when they're consuming information in low-key, information-rich environments.

  • Every user has a different level at which they feel comfortable participating, and forcing participation with rigid processes or clumsy messaging can be counterproductive to engagement.

  • Some users may be lurkers within the confines of your community itself, but be its biggest advocates in person and across other media. 

Let's take a look at the data behind internet participation and how to leverage it in ways to help your association reach its engagement goals. 

The 1% rule 

Online community leaders love quoting the 1% rule. 

Based on dozens of studies, the 1% rule outlines the "90-9-1" ratio of internet participation, being that 1% of users create content, 9% contribute to already existing content or discussions, and the large remainder, 90%, are lurkers. 

Basically, it's a rather creepy name for something that the strong majority of us are guilty of. 

As we sit around conference tables discussing online community management and referring to the lurkers as "they," in reality, "we" is a much more appropriate pronoun. By reminding ourselves how we behave as lurkers around the internet, we can gain perspective as community strategists. We should ask ourselves what content we value as lurkers, why we don't usually chime in, and what inspires us to do so on occasion.

The challenge: How to measure lurkers in ways that improve your community strategy?

It may seem like we're trying to conceive of ways to get feedback from a ghost. But the latest online community platforms have gifted us with tons of granular ways to measure activity should we be wise enough to apply them. 

uilding an audience and building a community are two different things. Sometimes, lurkers can make it hard to tell the difference. This is why identifying micro-engagements to measure lurkers is a crucial part of online community measurement. 

Micro-conversions for online communities: 

  • Event RSVPs
  • Article likes
  • Commenting
  • Comment or post likes
  • Email marketing click-throughs
  • User log-ins per week 
  • Visitor loyalty
  • Files downloaded
  • Connecting on social media
  • Time on site and/or page
  • RSS feed subscription
  • Joining sub-communities
  • Following topics 

If you're looking for the flash point of lurker engagement metrics, you need to come to the realization that one KPI is not going to be the catalyst of insight for all communities. Take time to talk about your lurkers and engagement metrics with your community manager and discuss different tools you can use to collect and data with your community platform company. You can use these measurements to analyze the type of content and media your users are absorbing the most value from and adjust your tactics


Certain features can also make creating and contributing content more enticing. For example: 

  • SSO (Single Sign-On is a feature that requires users to only log in once to access several applications or portals connected to your association)
  • Simple feedback interfaces for liking, commenting and sharing
  • Best usability practices users are familiar and comfortable with
  • Gamification features 
  • Customizable structure for sub-communities and niche environments that people feel more comfortable speaking up in 
  • Secure password and security parameters 
  • Screen name anonymity 

Community diversity and "embracing the lurk"

If you want your community to be a place of inclusivity and inspiration, make sure you're giving users clear guidance on community rules and culture, and most importantly, setting a welcoming and friendly tone with your onboarding and marketing content. 

Lurkers engage on their own unique level. As they constitute majority of people online, they obviously cannot be painted with one broad stroke, or even worse, ignored. Unassuming as they may be, they are the sponges and catalysts of online content and can bring invaluable insight to your association's community strategy. 

To learn more about community strategy for associations, download our eBook about setting goals and planning for your online community.



Stephanie Pelch

Written by Stephanie Pelch

04 Aug 2016 in engagement, online community

Staff Writer at rasa.io

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