Saturday, May 4, 2013

Using Social Memory to Cure Lurkers

How to engage a community? As you grow your community you may find that it has lots of members but not a lot of activity. The term being bounced around in social science is called “Social Loafing” and it means that people online are using their anonymity to shy away from doing any activity at all. 

In doing research for our communities, we took a look at the latest academic papers about “Social Loafing” and by doing what academics call a Literary Review, we found that what we know as consultants is true. 

One of the most interesting findings of one of the studies about forum communities was that while infrequent posters were similar to posters with regard to trust in benevolence/integrity, lurkers were very different from both groups. 

Thus there may be a trust barrier to overcome with regard to this specific dimension of trust that is essential before a user will begin to post in the community.

Here we introduce what Kenwyn K. Smith  and David N. Berg call the Paradox of Disclosure, from their book Paradoxes of Group Life. The idea being that if you the community face / leader(s) are not willing to disclose who and why they lead a community, they probably shouldn’t expect others to on their own. 

So if no one knows who you are, that makes trusting an online stranger almost insurmountable. Activity on the site may continue, but the lurkers are only there because they “Trust” that there is activity, just not sure of who, what, and where these activities are.

An image of a boy watching a public park basketball game comes to mind. The boy watches, but does not engage. Whereas if the boy comes every week and watches, a familiarity may either encourage the players to ask if he wants to play, or he may ask himself. But in a virtual community were presence is anonymous this is impossible. 

The Social Loafer has a higher perceived risk of interaction, which is formulated by the spatial and temporal separation among the members of online communities. This separation forms an information asymmetry, which gives rise to the members’ perceived risk. 

Information Asymmetry is the inability of one individual to see that any other individuals have the same amount of information about each other. In the offline world, if two strangers walk into a room, if both are new to the room and each other, their information is symmetrical. A new member to a group may perceive risk as they do not know who anyone is, what social ties these individual have, their norms, values, and expectations. 

Therefore, a different tack must be taken. Each social community software platform has different options. In this article we will use Meetup dot com

Here are some of the tools we use to create more participants in our communities on Meetup:

First decrease Information Asymmetry.
  1. Post pictures of past events and future locations of events
  2. Speak into a camera and explain who you are and why a member should participate
  3. Post Maps and Directions to next event
  4. Post a list of things needed for event / meeting
  5. Post expectations of Meeting activity

Tip the Balance of Paradox of Disclosure.
  1. Post pictures of who the Leader(s) are are in multiple settings appropriate to the community
  2. Describe your Leader(s) expertise in leading the community
  3. Provide links to information and other groups you participate outside the particular community that support your passion for the community
  4. Be available online via email or forum

Decrease Spatial and Temporal separation.
  1. Create online Chat event for new Members to ask questions and chat with members
  2. Create smaller meetings of just “New Members” or create safe space for them prior to an event
  3. Create Teleconference via Skype or Phone

Target & Moderate Activity:
  1. Send emails to non-active members
  2. Create Narrative for non-active members

Finally, there will be new options in the future. Recent developments with Facebook and its Social Graph API, show that there will be opportunities to create a longer tail to our social memories. 

The consultants will discuss the implications more in a future post. But we include it here because Facebook is another tool to convert lurkers. 

Prior to Facebook, our social memory consisted of our cognitive abilities, our little black book, and maybe a photo album or shoebox.. 

But as Facebook increases its reach. Using it to share your Values and Norms as supported by your Facebook “Likes” becomes increasingly easier to do. By sharing this information via a link to your leader(s) social community profile, you provide a “longer tail” to the social memory of your community. 

This provides an opportunity for members with higher perceived levels of risk of engagement another way to learn what your values and activities are. So if I have a Coffee Party Meetup, having my profile linked to Huffington Post, is an opportunity to extend the long tail of my social memory to other platforms.. 

The implications of using various platforms to extend the long tail of social memories is enormous, suffice to say here, use other platforms, like Twitter or Facebook to create one. 


Mitigation of Social Loafing
Computers in Human Behavior
Volume 26, Issue 4, July 2010, Pages 768-777
Emerging and Scripted Roles in Computer-supported Collaborative Learning

Psychological Barriers: Lurker and Poster Motivation and Behavior in Online Communities," Communications of the Association for Information Systems: Vol. 18, Article 16.

Paradoxes of Group Life; Understanding Conflict, Paralysis, and Movement in Group Dynamics Wiley Press Smith / Berg