The Joy of Lurking

I confess that I am a big-time online lurker. For me, it is a form of entertainment. A way to wind down and escape from a hectic life. It first began with The Knot, an online community for wedding planning. I initially participated to get information on local wedding vendors but it totally sucked me in! I found myself logging on a few times a day for a few reasons: to see if people answered the few questions I had, to read up on any negative reviews about my chosen wedding vendors and most importantly, to catch up on the drama.

This community was comprised of bridezillas—women obsessed with their wedding with a strong desire to make their wedding as perfect as any wedding can be. Thus making the Knot the perfect storm for online fights  and trolls. An online troll is an anonymous user who aggravates the others with meanness and hate (Gil, n.d.).

Christine and Mark's wedding in 2004.

Thanks to an idea found on the Knot, our family and friends threw rose petals at us instead of blowing bubbles.

I was only engaged for a year so right after my wedding, I graduated to The Nest, another online community for newlyweds. Why was I so intrigued by this community message board? How were the marketing strategies implemented on these boards keeping me engaged? The creators of these boards clearly understood Jakob Nielsen’s “Participation Inequality” theory which states that in online social groups, some users participate more than others. The Knot and Nest utilized tactics to keep the audience engaged (which I will detail below).  But first, here is an explanation of the 90-9-1 rule of online participation as it related to these boards:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute). You can see how many people have responded to a post and how many have viewed a post. For instance, a post can easily have 453 views but only two people would post a reply—a huge amount of lurkers.  Arguments were the most popular posts. People would argue about non-wedding or newlywed related topics like politics or if your toddler should drink juice!
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time. There are some that posted maybe once a day or maybe a few times a week. These users on these boards were innocuous, usually seeking advice. However, by only posting periodically, their posts would not garner a lot of replies.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.  A few users would post every hour, on the hour, asking questions or making mundane updates about their lives. I wondered how some of these ladies functioned on a daily basis based on their questions (e.g. should I go to the grocery store? Why would you ask on online community comprised mostly of people you don’t know if you should buy eggs?).  (Nielsen, 2006).

From a marketing standpoint, it is important that the creators of these boards realized the importance of Participation Inequality to keep the boards alive and serve all members of the online community (contributors and lurkers). Contributors could post easily and quickly and lurkers could access the boards freely. You did not have to post to view the boards. By ensuring that these boards were engaging for all, it supported the tenet that markets are conversations, allowing people to speak to each other as humans.  Participants had the freedom to speak honeslty and review vendors without interference. The conversation was natural. If a wedding vendor was bad, it was posted. If the vendor was good, it was posted. (Levine, Locke, McKee, Searls, & Weinberger, 2009, p. xv).

Realizing that not all participation is equal, these boards implemented the following for contributors and lurkers:

  • Make it easier to contribute.  There was a reply button for each post. You didn’t have to say a lot but it was there for a quick response.
  • Make participation a side effect. At one time, user posts were tied to social media. Your post could quickly be broadcast on Facebook or Twitter. People got up in arms about this because they felt it was an invasion of their privacy (hello, you’re posting on a public community board) so this practice was terminated.
  • Edit, don’t create. For example, the Knot contained templated bios that users could populate with images to showcase wedding-related items to other members. Users posted images of dresses, centerpieces, invitations, etc. It gave users the opportunity to share ideas without having to build their own website and gave lurkers the ability to collect ideas without posting.
  • Reward — but don’t over-reward — participants. Posters acquire points for the posts they read and created. Content creators gathered more points.  Points were payment for participation and were used as a competitive tool amongst users. The points were not worth anything but contributors could brag about how many points they had on the boards.
  • 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%. You can view posts by popularity or most recent.  This served lurkers and contributors because if you only visited the boards periodically, you could see the most recent so you could catch up. However, if you were a contributor and wanted to make your voice known on a more popular post, you could sort through the popular posts and comment away. (Nielsen, 2006).

As time went on, no longer a bridezilla or newlywed any longer, I graduated to lurking on Facebook. Now that I am a mother, I can truly appreciate the various toddler pooh-pooh-on-the-potty status updates.

References

Gil, P. (n.d.). What is an internet ‘troll’? How should I deal with trolls? About.com. Retrieved from http://netforbeginners.about.com/od/weirdwebculture/f/what-is-an-internet-troll.htm

Levine, R., Locke, C., McKee, J., Searls, D., & Weinberger, D. (2009). The cluetrain manifesto: the end of business as usual (10th anniversary ed). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Nielsen, J. (2006). Participation inequality, encouraging more users to contribute. Useit.com. Retrieved from http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html

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5 thoughts on “The Joy of Lurking

  1. So in all your time on those communities you never posted a comment or into one of the forums? Or you just did but it was very sparingly? I know lurking exists, I’m just still shocked by how predominant it is in social media. I know for me I don’t always comment on something unless I feel strongly one way or another about the subject, but I may press the “Like” button on Facebook if it makes me smile or if it is a position I agree on. Do you think having the option of the “Like” button keeps people from contributing in a meaningful way? A friend of mine from high school recently posted this on Facebook,”I think I may invest in purchasing some real-life “Like” buttons. That way I can give them to people to cut them off as a way of saying “What you’re saying is cool and all and I know you find this important, but I really don’t feel invested in this topic enough to pretend to care or contribute to the conversation right now.” I think his comment has a lot of validity to the lack of participation in social media, but I don’t think removing the “Like” button on Facebook would engage that many more people to stop lurking and stop commenting. Radice discusses that it is important for lurkers to comment to show that they care about the content they are reading (Radice, n.d.). I find it ironic that she addresses valid ways to get lurkers involved but there are no comments on this particular article, which makes me wonder is it even possible to coax lurkers out of the shadows?

    References

    Radice, R. (n.d.) How to stop lurking and get in the conversation. Retrieved from http://rebekahradice.com/how-to-stop-lurking-and-get-in-the-conversation/

  2. I’m introverted by nature. It seems like I lurk in real life, quietly listening to other people’s points of view and taking my time to formulate responses, if any; so, lurking online feels very comfortable. But, I’m always bothered by it. I feel like I should respond more. After all, why should only 10% of the online population be in control of voiced opinions? I think this is the challenge that Marketers face when they are trying to engage their users and measure the success of an online campaign. How do you find a way to hear the voice of the lurker?

    Perhaps we shouldn’t worry about the Lurkers. Perhaps the voice of the community extroverts can be used as a temperature gauge. If a topic is important enough, or the site entertaining/rewarding enough, then those who have something to say will be inspired to do so (Berthlaume, 2012).

    For instance, my employer recently implemented a social media style corporate wellness program, Keas. For some reason, the content of the site and the way it is delivered causes me to have lots of things to post and talk about. On the Keas site, I am no longer a lurker. I enjoy getting feedback about health questions that I post and commiserating with colleagues about dreary 5K results. What I’ve determined is that each Social Media site, or site with online participation, will create its own culture and develop it’s own voice of engaged users. Based on this, I believe that marketing efforts just need to focus on their mission and create ways for two-way communication to occur. The measurements are a bit more organic and speculative than quantitative. But, the interactions may be just as valuable as hard metrics, if not more so.

    References
    Berthlaume, D. (2012). Don’t Fear Scary Internet Faces, A Community Managers Guide. Retrieved from http://www.cmswire.com/cms/customer-experience/dont-fear-scary-internet-faces-a-community-managers-guide-017394.php

    Dancy, J. (2012). The Many Faces of the Internet [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.flowtown.com/blog/the-many-faces-of-the-internet-user?display=wide

    Keas. (2012). Corporate Wellness Program. Retrieved from http://keas.com/tour/

    Lantz, J. (2012). Lurk No More! We Want You To… Swish Appeal. Retrieved from http://www.swishappeal.com/2012/9/27/3418348/lurk-no-more-we-want-you-to

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