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Why Your Social Media Strategy Needs Lurkers
By: Christine Geraci
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When I hear about "lurkers," less-than-savory activity usually comes to mind. You know, lots of back alleys, dark shadows, and peep-holes with bloodshot eyes viewing things they shouldn't. Within social media, lurking conjures a similar sense of foreboding for one's algorithmic bottom line: The less active you are, the less likely you'll be noticed, the fewer followers you'll attract, etc. 
Funny thing is, residents of North America and Europe don't seem to care. This post, which appeared on The Globe And Mail's website Jan. 5, details the findings of a study conducted by Forrester Research that showed the vast majority of people in those regions (about 70%) act more like spectators on social sites such as Facebook, preferring to simply consume information posted by others rather than actually join in the conversation. 
This isn't good news for companies trying to get noticed on Facebook, since the social network's algorithm is designed to bury posts with little interaction (especially now that Timeline for business pages is in full effect). And as the post points out, it's not really good news for Facebook's plan to drive profits based on user interactions when the  company goes public.
Lurking sure gets a bad rap — and rightfully so, in most cases. But in social media, lurkers deserve a little more respect. In fact, I would go so far as to say that any good social media strategy thinks very seriously about them.
It is the lurker, after all, that keeps us on our respective social media A-games.
When you look at statistics for your websites, blogs, and social channels, you can determine pretty quickly the size of your active audience, and whether or not it's growing or shrinking. Your passive audience, however, is much trickier to determine, with clues to its size lying somewhere in the numbers for unique visitors, hits, back-links, potential tweet audiences, and friends of fans. It's tempting to slack when your subscriber list has been stuck in the single digits for weeks, or when crickets chirp no matter what you post on your Facebook timeline.
But just because no one is talking, it doesn't mean no one is listening. 
When I worked as a newspaper reporter, the editor of the largest newspaper in my region's market once told me to assume that every sold newspaper would be shared at least once with someone who hadn't paid for a copy. So, if the newspaper's paid subscription tally was 70,000 daily, then it was the reporter's job to write stories as if they would be read by 140,000 people. 
Sure, you're going to work hard and stay on your A-game when you know your story's potential audience is 70,000. But wouldn't you work that much harder if your audience was double that?
The same logic can and should be applied to the content you serve up on websites, blogs, and social channels, whether your active audience is 5 million strong, or 5 (not including your mother).  
How many times have you heard someone mention something they saw on Facebook in offline conversation? Just because they aren't engaging online, it doesn't mean they aren't noticing, retaining, and talking elsewhere.
So how do you design a social media strategy with the lurker in mind?
For starters, be consistently good. Offer quality, offer usefulness, offer your personal best. Every. Single. Time. This is key to turning lurkers into engaged online community members. You won't get them all. But if you get a few, on a consistent basis, that will speak volumes about your content. 
How else do you try to reach out to the lurkers in your online audience?

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About the Author
Christine Geraci is the Social Media/Promotions Specialist at MVP Health Care in Schenectady, NY. Connect with her on Twitter @christinegeraci.
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