Project Management

To Ask, Answer or Observe...

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I have been following a fascinating conversation started by one of our highly active community members, Mr. Stephane Parent, on the topic of those who ask questions and those who answer them within the community.  He posited that both are valuable ways of contributing to the community, and asked his colleagues how they felt about the way that these two trends play out on

The discussion (linked here: has been energetic and responses from other members validate that, yes, both actions create a more healthy community environment.  Of course, one member also pointed out the very real “third trend”:  those who log in and neither ask, nor answer.

In responding to this “third trend”, several have mused that members who are not actively participating in such discussions are difficult to connect with and that it is hard to feel a sense of connectivity to a silent community segment. 

But does that mean that our silent members are not contributing to our community?  It may be easy to draw that conclusion, but I wouldn’t start sketching it too soon.

Most communities, both online and in-person, have what community managers often hear referred to as “lurkers”.  These individuals do not tend to voice their opinions, respond to questions, or ask them in the public forums.  They quietly log in or enter a room, listening to the conversations, picking up resources, watch presentations and make notes, and quietly leave.  They may go almost completely unnoticed, but they are still part of the community and most would tell you that they feel engaged by the community. 

There is actually a commonly understood ratio of community member “types”, particularly online, and it usually looks like this 1:9:90.  For every 100 members, you generally have 1 highly active contributor who tends to generate and lead activity within the community, about 9 frequent participators who respond to and interact with community activity, and about 90 members who quietly observe and rarely raise their voice.  This is not a hard and fast ratio, but there are always higher numbers of “lurkers” than there are active contributors, and we are no exception.

There may be many reasons that this happens – even within a community of peers, not everyone is comfortable asking a question in a public forum, particularly if you feel that you are surrounded by subject matter experts who may perceive the question to be “simple”.  And, no matter how long they may have been practicing within the profession, some members may not be confident that their experience translates to actual expertise.  Circumstances can impact responses, and the best practice that works 99% of the time for them in their situation, may not be at all effective in another. 

But our silent members are still here to learn from one another and, while they may not be very vocal in the public threads, that doesn’t mean they are not highly engaged within their own network.  Their contributions may not be visible to the community at large, but they may have immeasurable impact elsewhere. 

Consider the mentor who logs in and reads new content, follows discussions, and watches webinar presentations, and may be sharing all of this with a new practitioner in his or her company.  Or the PMO Director who is not very visible online, but brings a wealth of knowledge back from to her colleagues looking for tools and resources, helping develop his or her team and connect them with peers who can, in turn, help them develop themselves.  The consummate talent scout who is helping a chapter build out a local, industry focused program by reaching out to great speakers and authors.  And finally, some members may be facing very challenging issues which require discretion and cannot be addressed on a public forum – while these members may not post their questions on the discussion boards, they may be drawing upon their community network offline to seek help and talk through scenarios.

We may often tend to think of as our community, however, as the Community Engagement team, we prefer to think of it as the “home” for our community – because we know that the website is only one of many places that the professional project management community gathers.  And this means that community members may have different comfort levels, needs and modes of engagement in the different spaces where community meets, whether in the forums, in a virtual event, at a chapter meeting, or industry conference or even when they just decide to get together on their own. 

When you look at our community in this way, it might surprise you to learn just how chatty our “silent members” are in these other spaces, and how they are contributing in ways we don’t see online.

Posted by Danielle Ritter on: July 20, 2016 03:32 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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I feel honoured, Danielle, that my humble question should have sparked this commentary. I appreciate how you expanded on the subject and turned it into something worthy of pondering. Perhaps it will trigger new questions?

Great point of view that I tend to agree with. And, I love your ratio of 1:9:90 as a starting point to paint a picture of the community structure. I count myself somewhere between the 9 and the 90. I try to participate and contribute but I try to search for information that's already been generated before posting a question or opinion. And, on the rare occasion when I have asked a question, the responses tend to be too slow and not very useful information (for me.) That's probably because there are too many people like me (between the 9 and 90) and not enough of the 1's and 9's.

Thank YOU, Stephane, for starting a great discussion and recognizing your peers who have contributed to creating and maintaining a vibrant, professional community! It's easy to place value on member-created content that directly supports credential maintenance and tangible growth of the body of knowledge, but many underestimate the value of simply asking a question and starting an engaging conversation. We're lucky to have so many members who participate in the discussions and jump to respond to people's questions!

Sean - thanks for sharing your perspective, because you are certainly not alone. I, too, am a member of communities in which I find that many of my questions have already been answered, and the active contributors in these communities would likely consider me to be part of the 90, there. I can't take credit for that ratio - it's been out there in internet, social media and online community studies for years, and there are many community managers who strive to "shift the needle" and convert their 90's to 9's and their 9's to 1's, so that they have greater balance. However, I generally believe that if a community is truly vibrant and people are finding value that keeps them coming back, conversion isn't necessarily the ultimate goal - and if we're really providing a great community, we will always have more people coming through the door to take their place as a creator, participant, or observer. There is value in having all three types in a healthy community, so our goal is to make sure that there is enough value for them, wherever they are comfortable.

I normally do not respond to posts because I'm relatively new to project management as defined by PMI, so I'm one of the "lurkers." I use the posted questions and answers to learn and gather information.

Project has been providing a wealth of knowledge and resources and posts from experts professionals it is important that new members and comparative new comers to the profession gain confidence before they post/participate in blogs. I appreciate the topic creator for bringing this out in a nice and interesting fashion.

Great! I am really glad I have found this information

Great job you guys are doing here , i no am doing to learn a lot here.

excellent job guys

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