Categories: community, contribution, influence, member, participation
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 ProjectManagement.com.
The discussion (linked here: http://www.projectmanagement.com/discussion-topic/39289/Question-or-Answer-) 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 ProjectManagement.com 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 ProjectManagement.com 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.