What a horrible name… lurkers! It carries all kinds of negative connotations from science fiction monsters to the stuff of nightmares where we think of spying and being followed by something or someone we don’t like. Of course I’m not using this term in these contexts so I better explain. I’m talking about communities and user participation, or more specifically about users who read and observe but rarely contribute to the conversations at all.
Community managers often think about user participation based on a 90:9:1 rule where 90% of users are referred to as lurkers who read all the activity but don’t contribute themselves, 9% contribute from time to time and 1% are pretty active and probably account for most of the contributions. I guess I can see why this negatively charged name is used, but in addition to being a horrible name it doesn’t really do justice to how important this group of community users are.
Why are they important? Well to understand this we first need to understand why they don’t contribute and the main reasons for this are often quoted as not having enough time and being worried that they’ll make themselves look silly or do something wrong in front of their peers. Maybe another reason would be if the community was difficult to use and it put people off. I think all these reasons are correct, but also think there’s another big reason and I’m guilty of this one too… just seeing the information as a resource to use to solve their own problems. I actually think this last reason is probably the main reason for the majority of the 90%. Yes, everyone is busy but if we’re really honest would we use any other time we have available to contribute? Maybe I’m cynical, but I think not. I think for people to contribute it requires a different mindset and the subject matter has to be something we’re very passionate about in terms of sharing and helping others. It also has to be something where, if you don’t have this passion to just help and the confidence in your own abilities to try and answer the question, then you have to be able to see a value for yourself and then you might give up your time to contribute. So if it was important for you to build an online reputation for being knowledgeable in a particular field for example then you would make the time and effort to contribute. I couldn’t put a finger on how this 90% would split down, but it’s really irrelevant for this article.
So with this in mind I’ll come back to why they are important… here’s a few reasons:
- they are all users of the communities products and gain value from reading the Q&A, articles and wikis
- they can all become advocates of the products in their own environments, so spread what they learn
- they might be encouraged to stay loyal customers and regularly upgrade and purchase new products
- they may attend events and be an active member of the community in other ways
- they may not be customers yet but they could be if they feel the community is thriving and helpful
I’m convinced… these lurkers, or perhaps listeners is a better word, are very important. But what I really want to know is…
…. how do you encourage more active participation?
This isn’t an easy one. I’ve been involved in community building in a small way for a few years now and like to think I have some small understanding of what will support the growth of a successful community and what won’t. But when it comes to getting more participation, history suggests the 90:9:1 is here to stay. So what can we do? What would make you want to participate more in an online community focused on trying to support you with your business needs and am I right in thinking you’ll only ever visit when you need help?
The usual stuff would be these sorts of things:
- make sure it’s simple… easy to join, straightforward navigation, finding the appropriate place to post quickly, email support, links from the product etc.
- encourage any question… you don’t have to be a genius to have something relevant to share. If you have a question then it’s likely someone somewhere will have the same one!
- offer rewards… identify the experts amongst your peers, identify the most helpful, prizes for active participation etc.
- support and promote those giving their time already… free business promotion
- provide a platform for users to share and publicise their own content… blogs, wikis, website feeds etc.
- regularly promote their existence… marketing emails, email signatures, a slot in every conference/webinar/event
- create an ideas platform as part of the community… a place for users to offer their suggestions on how the products could work better for them
What would drive you to use an online community more and not just use it as a resource to help you with no active participation yourself?
What could you do today?
Today there are places for users of all the SDL products to go. There are forums monitored by product managers, product experts, support teams… all free of charge. If you really want to make your voice heard and want to find the answer to a technical question, report a bug, suggest an enhancement, solicit help to solve a business problem etc. then I think the SDL Community is the place to do it. Anywhere else you will certainly find experienced and helpful people as well as some not so experienced or helpful, but maybe not people who are in a position to really influence the tools you’re using.
So maybe think about a couple of things today to support the community that can really do the most good to shape the products you use:
- Like a post or reply that helped you
- Respond and just say thanks
- Ask that question you thought was stupid… it won’t be!
- Share something you found that was helpful or interesting
- Tell SDL what you think of their products or service
Where is the community?
General link: https://community.sdl.com/
Trados related (aka Translation Productivity) : https://community.sdl.com/solutions/language/translationproductivity/ or the shortcut http://xl8.one
Developers (language related) : https://community.sdl.com/developers/language-developers/
There’s a lot more though… so take some time out and have a look. These links might also be useful to help you see what you can do in this community today:
Using the SDL Community (a multifarious article)
Community Conversations (an SDL group set up to help them shape the SDL Community the way you would like it)
It’s all free… it’s the best way to get in touch and make your voice heard. If you don’t want to use it or if you have something you think could be better post into the comments below or use the Community Conversations… it’s not going to get any better without you and it’s been created for you!! I’d like to hear from you and so would the broader SDL. Don’t just be a lurker… be a part of the ongoing improvements and help make things better for you.