Active Lurkers: How Idea Lovecats Demonstrate Engagement

by cv harquail on March 18, 2010

Many of us bloggers look at the disparity between the number of visitors to our blogs and the number of comments on our blogs, and weep shake our heads.

Why is the ratio of unique visitors to commenters 683 to 1? Or 389 to 5? Or 200 to 0?

What are those other 682, 384, or 200 readers doing? They are spending time on the page, you can tell from your analytics. But they aren’t commenting. They are ‘just lurking’.

passive lurkerWhy? Does your blog just suck disappoint? Fail to engage people? Chat with its own echo?

Blogs are supposed to generate conversations and communities, and in so doing change the world. Comments matter because they demonstrate that readers are engaging with the ideas you’re proposing on your blog.

Comments indicate engagement — but there are other ways to engage

When one of your blog posts triggers authentic engagement, commenters converse not just with you the blogger but also with each other, creating a community that uses your blog as a touchstone, a resource, a gathering place.

As any Problogger will tell you, there are many things you can do to increase the likelihood that people will comment on your blog posts. Be provocative, ask questions, reply to comments, follow up with emails, and so on. All good tactics.

But all the urging to pursue these tactics implies that there is something wrong about reading and not commenting. What if nothing is wrong? What if those readers are not “just lurking” but instead are engaged in ways that don’t include commenting?

These lurkers may be engaging with your ideas, but doing it somewhere else.

Lurkers may also be engaged, but in other ways

Science tells us that lurkers are not self-centered idea scavengers. Nor are they online introverts lacking in gumption.

Science also tells us that, while some lurkers ‘just lurk’ passively, other lurkers are active. Over half of lurkers take the information that they’ve gathered in one context and use it somewhere else.

These “active lurkers” take ideas from your blog and others, use them to improve their own practice, to establish relationships, and to contribute by sharing these ideas within their more local communities.

What Active Lurkers Do With Your Ideas

Active lurkers are busy creatures. They prowl about the blogosphere:

1. Lurking for practical use.
Your lurkers take ideas from your blog and others and apply them to their own personal work.

2. Lurking for propagation.
Your lurkers take ideas from your blog and share them with others in their ‘home’ communities.

3. Lurking for personal contact.
Your lurkers take ideas and insights from your blog and use them to establish relationships… maybe with you, maybe with other readers, maybe with followers on Twitter.

Lurkers are Idea Lovecats

All active lurkers have the potential to become what Tim Sanders calls ‘lovecats‘:  people who share knowledge freely and with good intent. With the right attitude, active lurking serves the individual, facilitates relationship building, and adds to group learning.

dale is lurking.jpgAll of this active lurking can benefit the community that your blog connects with, and the community that your blog readers participate in.

That gap between the number of the unique visitors and the number of unique comments on your blog may not be all negative.  This is especially true for those of us who blog not so much to generate conversation on our blogs, but more to get ideas out to people’s work groups and organizations.

Is there ever proof of Active Lurking?

My colleague PCM (who regularly talks with me about posts she likes but never comments on the blog itself) gave me an encouraging piece of info today. She told me that lately, when her tweens see someone in an atrocious outfit, they squeal “Get me Johnny Weir”.

Apparently my posts are having an impact at Glenfield Middle School. Not quite my target audience, but I’ll take it. Who knows where those lurkers will take these ideas next?

See Also:
Fix the Brand of Men’s Figure Skating: Send Out the Clowns, and get me Johnny Weir

Takahashi, M., Fujimoto, M. and Yamasaki, N., Active Lurking: Enhancing the Value of In-House Online Communities Through the Related Practices Around the Online Communities (April 1, 2007). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4646-07; CCI Working Paper No. 2007-006. Available at SSRN:

Takahashi, M., Fujimoto, M. and Yamasaki, N., The roles and effects of active lurking in in-house online communities (July 2005) Human-Computer Interaction International Conference

Thanks to Lindy Dreyer on Social Fish, for letting us know that March 19, 2010 “Love a Lurker Day“, and thus prompting this post.

Photos of Dale the Lazy Cat by Magh


Kami March 20, 2010 at 11:29 am

Well that explains alot. Like why I only have 8 comments on my last blog post. It’s because people are either considering how they punish their children or they’re plotting their own shoplifting extravanganza…(stealing is wrong, guys. C’ mon!) I have always been bothered by lurkers and therefore make every attempt to comment on the posts I read. Comments make me feel validated in my thoughts. But Twitter RTs don’t hurt either…but if lurkers are in fact engaging with my content in another way, that makes me happy too.

cv harquail March 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Well Kami, some of your posts are hard to comment on. Do you think I want to admit, even on a mom blog, when my kids are driving me *&$@#t? Also, for the funny ones, ROTFLMBFAO just doesn’t say enough. 🙂

Cali Yost March 20, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Hello, from one of your biggest fans…and confessed lurker of almost every post on your blog. Great post CV! I find this is true for my posts as well. In fact, some of the posts that get no comments, tweets, etc. prompted action and/or conversation that made some kind of difference but I only find out about much later or second hand. I love my lurkers–in fact, I lovingly imagine them out there every time I post. 🙂

cv harquail March 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Hey Cali-
You’re so right about the lag time… how many millions of times have I read something, moved on, and then 8 or 10 days later told someone about it! Not every post inspires a response, and that’s fine. As long as some of the posts inspire some rethinking, or reconnecting, we’re making a difference.
I see this on your Work-Life Fit blog too… that some of the most serious posts get fewer comments, and yet the influence accrues. A case in point, I think, is the post I wrote on myths about Work-Family and why it’s an issue for organizations that want to be authentic. You can see your impact on my thinking…. and yet I wrote it as though all those ideas were mine alone rather than a great confluence of input from you, Kami, and others. Somebody once told me that getting credit is less important than getting results, and (in every case where we aren’t being paid for individual performance) that’s good to remember.
Oh no, here comes the High School Musical rendition of ‘We’re all in this togeeeether….”

Miri March 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I admit it – I am a lurker and this posting made me think twice about it. I need to comment more! So many blogs provoke my thoughts and I don’t share that. Maybe lurkers feel their comments aren’t going to be original enough or thought-provoking? I have been “tweeting” posts that I think are great but I guess I should comment that I will tweet it so the blogger knows how their posting impacted me.

cv harquail March 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Miri, thanks for this comment! You remind me that I should probably comment on a larger portion of the posts that I tweet out to friends… I know that many of us track tweets to see if posts are having any resonance (treating a retweet as a signal of resonance), so those do matter.
And, I think all of us wonder if we have anything ‘worthy’ to say in a comment. … Personally, I’m happy with just a ‘rock on’ !

Miri March 22, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I will remember the value of a solid “rock on” in future 🙂

Mari C March 25, 2010 at 11:17 am

CV, I was thinking of this post (awake in the middle of the night) and decided to take a few minutes to respond today.
I follow 2 of your blogs; there is a huge difference in the number of postings in those two blogs. I think your other blog found a niche where there was a void – I think there are some copycats, but yours is still the original independent blog on the topic. It is also a blog followed by working moms. Sure some of the dads (2 to my count) chime in and it’s great, but really, it’s a group of women giving and receiving support.
This blog is a fantastic one, but it’s on the “work” side of the work/life balance and there are many “work” blogs out there. Working moms who are juggling their home and their careers probably don’t visit this blog AND COMMENT as religiously as your other blog. We’ve got an overload of information available to us and have to prioritize our time to meet our commitments.
But PLEASE, keep posting ideas that I can entertain in my downtime – that is from 1-3 am lying in bed. 🙂

Deirdre Reid June 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Ha! Over a year later and you’re still causing engagement! You are so right and I’ve got the proof in another tab. I’m writing a post that mentions seven other blog posts, maybe excessive now that I think about it, but I like sharing the love. I’m pretty sure I didn’t comment on any of these posts but here I am sharing them because I think they’re that good and will help my reader learn more about the topic.

I’m also thinking I missed I Love Lurkers Day this year. Need to blog about that next year! Thanks for @ing me!

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