Turn that Lurker into a Poster in Your Online Community?
If your community has plenty of traffic, plenty of guests and perhaps enough registrations but no one seems to be posting, here are some ideas that might help get your lurkers out of the shadows and into the posting forums.
Make your site user friendly
Log out of your site and dump your cookies and take a good look at your site as a new visitor. Is the registration button easy to find? Is the "welcome" text friendly? Is there a clear message of what your website is all about? Is there an invitation to "Come on in and join us!" ?
Some forums have found success in altering the language of the registration process: Renaming the word: "Register" and replacing it with "Join!" has been a helpful and simple change.
Taking the time to insure that your site is welcoming, easy to navigate is the first step.
Create an introduction forum
This isn't original but it works especially if you invite them in the "welcome email" they receive when they register. Invite them to stop by and post a bit about themselves. Give them a few prompts in the description of the Introduction forum and/or in the registration email. Give them a reason to participate. A new member posting is an indication that your forums are open for other new members.
Be sure and respond to "HI" posts within a few hours. Letting those sit for days sends a message not only to this new member but to others who are contemplating their first post that you don't really care. Reply to their post and ask more questions. It doesn't take long and it worth the effort in creating a friendly beginning for a new member.
Instruct Mods to be Friendly
This is another no brainer but as simple as it is, forum mods may get the ho-hum when a new member appears from the shadows to post. Put this in your mod manual: Be friendly! Welcome new members! Encourage your moderators to pay attention. Don't overlook the opportunities to be a gracious host.
Teach your Members to be Friendly, too
Add it to your TOS, put it in your welcome email: Be friendly!
In one particularly large forum, the members and mods notice new members who will usually say: I've been lurking but had to register to post to this message. Members and mods all jump to the reply button with "Welcome!" smilies and friendly "howdy swapping". (Add "welcome" smilies and use them!)
If your community gets a few "friendly front-door welcomers", you'll soon find more and more members standing at the door to welcome new members. (If Wal-Mart can greet guests and customers at the front door, can't your community?)
The other lurkers will notice the party and want to join in too.
Create a Safe Community Environment
As simple as this sounds, far too many communities fail to understand that the simplest way to get lurkers to post is to ensure that chaos is not king of your community. Nothing will scare members away from the "Post" button faster than members wrecking havok in threads. If a fair TOS is present be sure and maintain it. Remember school settings where the bullies were in charge and the authorities did nothing to make things right for the rest of the students?
Don't be the community where lurkers may come for the wild entertainment but will rarely register and post for fear they will be attacked by other members. These kinds of communities should have a warning sign: "Enter at your own risk!" and it is the rare lurker who will risk it.
Use Conversation Starters
Brainstorm use of polls or simple questions that relate to your topic to get conversations started to draw the lurkers in to post. Imagine a social gathering where there are many people who don't know each other. A good host knows how to structure conversation at the dinner table or around the living room to include the many different people represented. Give thought to how to encourage your members to involve others in their conversations.
You can find books with conversation starters on a myriad of topics that might be helpful to you if you run out of ideas. Keep the book handy and when things slow down, start a new one.
Special Email Invitations
I know atleast one forum who sets a monthly cron to email members who have been visiting but not posting. The email has an invitation to these members to a particular hot topic thread to encourage the lurker to weigh in on weighty topics or a poll.
It could also include a message: "We've noticed that you registered but haven't posted yet and want to make sure that you aren't having technical difficulties. If there is anything we can do to help you, please let us know by emailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org."
Send a Forum Newsletter
A forum newsletter doesn't have to be a long, huge document but could contain a short personal message from the admin/owner with a few links to good threads in progress. It could have an article or news item included but mainly it is a friendly guide to some fun threads with an invitation to post.
Be sure and include an explanation that they are receiving the newsletter because they indicated in their user control panel they will receive email from the administration of your site and they can unsubscribe by changing the setting in their control panel. (Or however you handle subscriptions to your newsletters.)
Keep it Up!
Nothing speaks louder than consistency and persistence in maintaining your online community. And nothing is better than a safe, friendly community that welcomes new members with encouragement to join in.
Turning lurkers into posters will take some effort and energy but the rewards will be worth it. Lurkers turn into posters who encourage others to register and post in return. Your community will benefit from the fresh air and newness of new posters as your lurkers click that reply button to participate.
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