Social Media Lurkers: Who Are They & What’s Their Impact?

Todd Kunsman

Marketing Team Lead

13 minute read

The holy grail of social media success is engagement. You know, when someone has liked a post, commented on it, or even re-shared it and clicked to read more. 

It’s also a key component to a successful employee advocacy program, if you have one (which you should).

Strong social media engagement on company posts, employee content, or your own social posts is also a positive sign that your content is interesting, relevant, and sparking conversation. 

However, there are many people who are consuming your content or watching from afar, though you’d never know it. These are what we dub “social media lurkers.”

Because of this, it’s important to not always let social media engagement numbers dictate how and what you post. Let’s dive into more about social media lurkers below.

 

What’s a Social Media Lurker?

A social media lurker is someone who’s active on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, but instead of participating or engaging with others, they just consume information and scroll through their content feeds. 

Typically, these social media users passively view texts, images, and videos or visit other people’s profiles on some recurring basis.

However, posting, commenting, or liking other people’s content is rare or not done at all.

 

Is Lurking on Social Media Bad?

Lurking on social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing — unless, of course, it turns into an unhealthy obsession or “stalking” people on social media.

In the context of business, people who consume content but aren’t active participants are still good for business. 

Most companies have people who “lurk” without interacting or engaging directly with the content from brand social accounts, ads, or their employees. These are people who like to read, process and research information, which can still contribute to trust in the brand, interest in working for the organization, or even becoming a customer. 

For employees who lurk on social media, this behavior can indicate that they’re learning from others.

Often, I don’t like or comment on content that I’m learning about. I may not have an opinion on the topic yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find the content educational or entertaining. 

After all, putting yourself out there on social channels can be fear-inducing or make you feel like you don’t have much to contribute. It’s a natural feeling, which I’ll explore more in a later section. 

And you aren’t alone in that thought. Have you heard of the 1%, 9%, 90% rule? I actually covered it in my why employee advocacy programs fail post, but I’ll add some context here too.

 
 

What Percentage of Social Media Users are Lurkers?

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • 1% are the content creators
  • 9% are the engagers
  • 90% are the consumers

This means that for every person creating content, about nine people engage — comment, reshare, or like — with it, and around 90 other people just consume it.

Read more about this research from the Nielsen Norman Group.

 

Why Do People Rarely Engage Or Post Social Content?

You can typically expect 90-99% of people to be social media lurkers, passively consuming and watching their feeds instead of posting or engaging directly. 

Oof. That can be tough when you have ROI to report and need to determine how content resonates with your audience. Fear not — it’s not always a sign that your content isn’t valuable or positively impacting your brand.

   

But overall, why do so many people rarely engage or post content on social media channels they’re members of?

 

They’re scared to put themselves out there.

Naturally, putting yourself out there for potentially thousands of people to see is…well…scary!

It can be intimidating and anxiety-inducing to contribute in such a public format. 

Even the most confident person in the world can feel nervous about being a content creator on social media. You can easily get in your own head and experience self-doubt.

“What if no one cares what I’m posting about?” “What if people start to ‘troll’ my content?” 

It can be a barrier that blocks you from ever posting or even just commenting and engaging with others online. 

 

They doubt they can make a valuable contribution.

Many people don’t want to post on social media unless they have something valuable to share.

The problem is that many people assume their knowledge isn’t good enough when, in reality, it most certainly is! 

Of course, if you’re interested in topics others are sharing and you only just started learning the ropes of social media, it’s okay to not engage in conversation. After all, it takes time to get comfortable online.

But often people can be hesitant to weigh in even on subjects they know extremely well.

 

They have a fear of commitment.

Like all things in life, people need to commit to an effort for results to happen. In social media, it’s no different. Certainly, one of your social posts could go viral, but it’s not as common as some like to hope. 

But posting and engaging on social content can seem time-consuming, generating fear of commitment.

“Will posting and commenting help me or provide value to others? What if I spend all this time on it and don’t get anything out of it?” 

Most people become social media lurkers because they’re interested in social, but they’re not sure if they want to be fully invested. And that’s perfectly okay, because they may still consume and take action later on. 

 

They have imposter syndrome.

The words “thought leader” and “influencer” can be cringeworthy terms to many creators.

For one, far too many people claim to be these things, and even the ones who truly are influencers and creators can suffer from imposter syndrome. 

According to VeryWellMind, “impostor syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.”

Many people don’t see themselves as experts in their fields or think their audience cares about what they post. However, the reality is that there are people who look up to those individuals and find value in their knowledge. 

It doesn’t matter if you have 300 people in your social networks or 10,000 — people will still find value in what you share.

 

Does Lack of Engagement Mean Your Content Doesn’t Resonate?

Like I mentioned at the beginning, the holy grail to many social media marketers is engagement. 

Are people liking, commenting, and starting conversations about what I post? How many views, clicks, video plays am I getting? 

Engagement on your content can be an excellent indicator that people find value in your content. It’s perfectly fine to monitor this, especially if you run social media accounts or have an employee advocacy platform. 

However, you can get too caught up in the engagement game. You might start tracking to “hack” algorithms or change your strategy completely even though there’s nothing wrong with your content or strategy. 

Remember, the majority of people — about 90% — are social media lurkers and will consume your content without taking a single action. 

However, we’ve seen and heard many examples of people posting content that doesn’t get a lot of engagement, but later, buyers say that content impacted their purchasing decisions.

The moral of the story here is that engagement shouldn’t be the determining factor in whether your posts are effective.

   

Using Employee Advocacy To Better Enable Social Content

One of the easiest ways to help people get over their fear of sharing on social media — and to get creators, consumers, and engagers interacting in a central location — is through employee advocacy. 

It’s a rallying point for your people to be connected, informed, and engaged, and it lowers some of the barriers that can prevent people from participating on social media.

You can’t force people to share or create, but you can certainly make the process less intimidating — and even enjoyable. 

Remember: 

  • Even if your employees share content and you don’t see much engagement on their posts, it doesn’t automatically mean their networks don’t consume those posts or that their audience isn’t influenced by them.
  • Not all your employees will share or create content. But even those social media lurkers in your program — or those who only occasionally engage — are still part of your company community. These are people who cheer others on and are better aligned with overall business goals because of their lurking.

Final Thoughts on Social Media Lurkers

Whether you’re a social media lurker yourself or you’re simply curious about those who are, the bottom line here is that lurkers who consume social content are still valuable. 

If you’re creating and sharing great content — or your employees are — lurkers are reading those posts and gaining more trust in your brand. And they may very well one day purchase your product or service because of it.

Plus, they might share about your company and its content by telling others about it or posting about it in other online communities.

Eventually, your posts might even convert social media lurkers into consistent engagers because of the connection they build with your content.


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