What is lurking and how to deal with it
Members who log in regularly and (presumably) read posts but do not interact with community members lurk. In the past, it has been associated with free riding. For that reason, lurking still has a negative association for some people. In a community with more than 100 members, if everyone is posting and commenting every day, that would lead to information overload. Of course, you want this level of individual interaction for smaller communities.
Lurkers are people too: Rosie (of course!) writes a nuanced perspective of what lurkers are (readers, loyal customers, etc.) and provides ideas of how to deal with the situation. She goes beyond the 'hold regular events' and suggests ways to learn more about who they are. For example, provide options for contributing or varying the medium (text, audio, video) or the topic. The added benefit of changing the medium of contribution is that you acknowledge preferred communication styles: Writing is more demanding than talking for some people.
Learning who lurkers are is worthwhile. The problem with lurkers isn't (or shouldn't be) that they drag down your engagement metrics but that there is a segment in your community you don't know very well. The only thing you know is that (a) they get some value from the community (as they log in), and (b) they don't like or want to contribute actively. The above-linked article also includes suggestions for getting to know your lurkers better.
Rosie's post is an extension of an article on Guild (Why we need to ban the term lurker in community strategy. This article combines personal experience and experience with community management to explain why calling non-active members lurkers is the wrong word. It's a great read if you need to change your perspective on lurkers.
Finally, Community Fact #06 – How can I get lurkers to participate? and Simple Ways to Turn Community Lurkers into Active Contributors
suggest ideas on how you could reduce the number of lurkers. For example, you could create a multi-tier advocacy program to reduce lurking, create smaller groups where lurkers can feel safer 1, or provide easy to answer and off-topic questions. Some people will remain a lurker, while others are just waiting for you to open a door for them to contribute.
Learn more: Types of lurkers and can we measure them?
There are two types of active lurkers. Some people will read a post in community A and share it in community B (lurking propagator). Others will read a post and use the content to grow professionally or personally (lurking practitioner).
The problem with measuring who lurkers are and understanding their impact on a community is that they don't generate much data beyond logging in. Instead of action-oriented metrics (e.g., open, likes, posts), gathering lurker data is about understanding how to look for where data is not generated when it was expected to be.
- How many people are lurkers? Calculate the percentage to understand how big your problem is. Remember that community members log in regularly (daily/weekly/monthly). Don't forget to remove the people who are never logged in.
- How many days pass between the first log-in and the first post?
- When do people start lurking? Some people might lurk from day one. Others are first active and then become silent.
Lurkers will always be part of your community. You should keep this in mind when deciding what community metric to focus on. As you don't know exactly why someone is lurking (and people lurk for different reasons), it is hard to recommend the best way forward. An excellent place to start is to check your numbers (see the previous section) and your onboarding process. Get access to the deep dive for more measurement ideas.
1 By creating smaller groups and letting people know the group size, you can unconsciously increase the pressure to participate. If you are in a big group and there is the collective responsibility to act, people might just think "someone else will post something." This is called the bystander effect or diffusion of responsibility.