There’s an old business adage that for everyone person who makes a public comment on the internet about your company, there are dozens — perhaps hundreds — more thinking about you but not commenting. That’s not a huge deal if you don’t worry too much about customer engagement (something you know we don’t recommend).
But what if you believe that your user base is a fountain of knowledge worth tapping into? How do you turn lurkers into participating members of your community?
Make the process user-friendly — Nothing turns away an enthusiastic contributor faster than a 29-step registration process just to leave some feedback or advice for another user. While it’s fine, and sometimes necessary, to require contributors to provide basic information in order to join conversations, you risk running off a lot of people by asking for details about their address, hair color, and whether they prefer cats or dogs.
Sure, the temptation is great to mine visitors to your site for information you can share with marketing and sales, but don’t do it. The goal is to make potential contributors feel valued for what they can offer your community, not your company’s bottom line.
Do an attitude check — Is your community approachable? Is it friendly and welcoming or filled with blowhards impressed with their own amazing skills? Even if your community members are made of glitter and unicorn fur, there are plenty of internet introverts out there who are intimidated by large communities with their own ways of doing things.
Some companies appoint established community members to be greeters or mentors who job it is to help newcomers get the lay of the land. The benefit here is three-fold. Helpful members appreciate it when their expertise is recognized, existing members have a reason to participate responsibly to get on the company’s radar, and new members see you care enough to make sure they feel welcome.
Incentivize the troops — Obviously, not every member can be a community leader so figure out other clever ways to encourage participation among users. The incentives you choose should be based on what drives your specific user base. In some cases, unlocking participation-based badges and avatars is motivation enough while the potential to earn discounts or tangible goods carry more weight in other communities. Gamification, incentives, and loyalty rewards are remarkably effective when they’re well matched with the users earning them.
Do nothing — This advice may seem counterintuitive, but it might be the right answer in some circumstances. Take, for example, the small startup with a team that’s already overextended. A few weeks after launch, the marketing team (or, more likely, the marketing person) notices site traffic is off the charts and starts brainstorming how to capture these visitors and hold them close for all eternity.
That’s a noble plan but probably not where your focus should be right then. As we’ve said before, become the authoritative voice in your industry and people will keep coming back. Offer the right answers at the right time, in the right place and you’ll solidify your place in their browser bookmarks. Spend time creating good content and building an excellent customer experience strategy so users want to be a part of your community. Once you’ve built a rock-solid base for them to stand on and a terrific product they’ll be proud to support, then you can figure out how to further encourage members to participate in your community.
We could spend days throwing around more ideas on how to lurkers into contributors but we’d rather hear from you. What’s worked for you? What didn’t? Share your thoughts in the comments.