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.).
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.
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