There was a lot of talk at this year’s Open Nation about the number of lurkers in IdeaScale communities: those community members who sign on, create a profile and view pages, but then don’t take further action like suggesting ideas, reviewing ideas, refining ideas, etc.
For those of you familiar with the 90-9-1 rule of the internet, this makes a lot of sense; 1% of the participants in any digital system will be adding the most value, 9% adding some value and the other 90% are simply viewing the content and benefiting passively from the community. For those of you with lurkers in your community, this is definitely a common ratio and you’re not alone in wanting to empower more participation from those who sign on to your community and stay silent.
However, it was the speakers from the Queensland Police who stated that they see a lot of value even in their lurker participants. They told a story about an idea submitter who got into the elevator with a leader in their organization. During that elevator ride, the leader referenced the idea submitter’s idea, stated how they enjoyed it and said that they were working to make it reality. This from someone who had never made a statement on the platform. This anecdote leads to three truths about lurkers:
Lurkers can still learn. Part of the benefit of a crowdsourced innovation system is disseminating information to others in the network so that they can apply it elsewhere. Even if a lurker never submits an idea – they can still learn from the content submitted by others. Best practices get disseminated this way without lurkers needing to do a thing.
Lurkers provide value as an audience. For the idea submitter, this is part of the value: to be heard in front of an audience. If the lurkers weren’t on there to view content, it’s unlikely that the idea submitters would participate. We need our lurkers, because part of the value is the network.
Sometimes lurkers are still taking action. Just as the elevator story indicates – even if someone doesn’t update their innovation community, they might be thinking about or even taking action on ideas. Obviously, we want these conversations to be happening on a public platform so that others can see why something will move forward or why another idea stalls out, but this offline interaction is still valuable.
So even as you’re trying to activate more of your lurkers, remember that building community means making a space for people to hang out and consume great ideas even if they don’t have one to share right now.