Most communities have 90% of users who are lurkers - people who may consume things from the community, but who don't contribute. Through our yearly Tribalization of Business Study, we found that many companies who run communities consider this a problem (30% of respondents considered it an obstacle) - and that of course is a problem all by itself.
You see, not all lurkers are created equal.
While it is inevitable that larger communities will end up with 1% of their members being very active users who provide enough value for the 9% of somewhat active users, who together provide enough value for the 90% of lurkers, the largest form of participation in online communities happens to be active lurking, which according to an MIT research study can make up 40-50% of your community membership. Active lurkers are those that may take something from the community and pass it along to others using different channels - so they participate in your word of mouth. Active lurkers also include those people who may visit a customer support community and find a solution to their problem without contributing to the community. Those people derive a lot of value from that community interaction and so does your company since they do not clog up your customer call center. Active lurkers also include those who will contact the original poster through a different channel, like telephone, email, or perhaps a face to face meeting - in effect continuing the conversation outside of the visible public side of the community, but not outside of the community itself.
Thankfully we found that 18% of companies who participated in the 2nd Annual Tribalization of Business are starting to track lurker metrics. It's not easy to measure the impact of active lurkers, but without some sort of measure about their activity, you could miss a lot of the value that they bring to your Hyper-Social processes - especially in a world where the customer lifetime value is directly proportional with word of mouth activities.
When you think about communities, you need to think about the tribes and their members first, not just one of the public places (the online community forum) where they can interact with other tribe members. They will inevitably interact in multiple places, both virtual and physical.
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