Sure, you might have a mega brand or the coolest niche community, but why are 90% of your online community members lurking and should you care?
So, if 90% of your community members lurk should you care? In my opinion, no you shouldn't care. The good news is that it isn't you. It just naturally happens in online communities just as it does at a cocktail party. Researcher Jakob Nielsen calls this “Participation Inequality“.
That said, you should understand why and develop a strategy for enticing your lurkers to participate over time. First, get familiar with analytics and understand how your lurkers behave. How often do they log in, how long do they stay, what do they download. After you understand who they are and how they behave you will be able to devise a plan to entice them to participate more over time. Here are some ideas from Jacob Neilson on how to encourage participation.
- Make it easier to contribute.The lower the overhead, the more people will jump through the hoop. For example, Netflix lets users rate movies by clicking a star rating, which is much easier than writing a natural-language review.
- Make participation a side effect. Even better, let users participate with zero effort by making their contributions a side effect of something else they're doing. For example, Amazon's "people who bought this book, bought these other books" recommendations are a side effect of people buying books. You don't have to do anything special to have your book preferences entered into the system. Will Hill coined the term read wear for this type of effect: the simple activity of reading (or using) something will "wear" it down and thus leave its marks — just like a cookbook will automatically fall open to the recipe you prepare the most.
- Edit, don't create. Let users build their contributions by modifying existing templates rather than creating complete entities from scratch. Editing a template is more enticing and has a gentler learning curve than facing the horror of a blank page. In avatar-based systems like Second Life, for example, most users modify standard-issue avatars rather than create their own.
- Reward — but don't over-reward — participants. Rewarding people for contributing will help motivate users who have lives outside the Internet, and thus will broaden your participant base. Although money is always good, you can also give contributors preferential treatment (such as discounts or advance notice of new stuff), or even just put gold stars on their profiles. But don't give too much to the most active participants, or you'll simply encourage them to dominate the system even more.
- Promote quality contributors.If you display all contributions equally, then people who post only when they have something important to say will be drowned out by the torrent of material from the hyperactive 1%. Instead, give extra prominence to good contributions and to contributions from people who've proven their value, as indicated by their reputation ranking.
Contact Lauren directly at ldelong@InnerCircleCommunities.com or 207.752.7298 to discuss your social media or online community needs. We look forward to hearing from you.
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