In his evergreen 2006 article about user participation on online communities, Jakob Nielsen theorized that 90% of participants are non-contributing lurkers, 9% contribute now and then, and 1% of users are active, as popularly illustrated with this pyramid:
I believed that lurkers don’t like the stigma and want to be shown the way. You proved this true one year ago when I asked you to de-lurk and share something about yourself both for me and other readers and lurkers. You came out in droves and, as proven by Erica and Liz earlier this month, you continue to come out and add comments. Earlier this week, you also came out to share your thoughts why you like to read other people’s comments.
By increasing your social participation, you climb the ladder from spectator to critic, as shown in this Forrester Research illustration:
Hindsight may be 20-20, but your collective de-lurking and commenting actions in recent months tell me that you want to participate but sometimes need, if not like, to be prodded. Is this a fair assumption? Would you be more apt to categorize yourself as a commenter than a lurker, or as a sporadic commenter at best?
I decided to go with my gut. In support of the line in my blog disclaimer, “A valid email address is required so I can follow-up with you if necessary,” and as a means to increase blog engagement with you, I experimented with a new prodding tactic last night and emailed everyone who hadn’t commented here in 180 days.
You can thank (or blame) WordPress plugin developer Ajith Edassery for his invention called Contact Commenters, which was the impetus for a customized albeit automated email message sent via my blog server to about 800 people.
The plugin, once installed and activated, enabled me to choose one of several options:
I chose the option to search those commenters who hadn’t added anything here in six months or longer.
Moments after selecting the appropriate radio button, I was presented with a two-side screen. One side showed me a scrolling list of all the matching email addresses, of which I deleted a bunch of duplicates and obvious fake email addresses. These were populated by the “email address” you typed when adding a comment. The other side showed me how I could fill-in a subject, a sender name and email address, and a generic message field.
I opted to send the messages individually, rather than as a bulk BCC, writing:
John Smith —
Happy belated new year to you and yours!
My apologies in advance for what appears to be a generic email message, but in testing a wordpress plugin that shares statistics about blog comments here at http://ariwriter.com, I noticed you’ve been lurking for some time.
As such, I wanted to send a quick note in the hopes that maybe my blog disappeared off your RSS or email radar, and/or to answer any questions you may have.
Perusing through the initial 30 responses over the past few hours, some admit they remain lurkers and others wrote life’s gotten busy for them and will visit when they have a chance. Many wrote they already read my blog and didn’t need an email, though appreciated it. A few criticized me for spamming them, and one so far told me not to send such a message again. The wide majority of responses I received (all of whom I have since replied back, more personally) noted they admired my reaching out, even if it was automated.
If nothing else, this direct marketing tactic showed me that email is holy ground compared to the secular act of visiting a blog. My rationale for using the plugin to email such a large number of people stems from the fact those 800 people are not in the 90% of spectators but in the 9 percent level. Can you truly blame me for hoping you would want to shift from the 9% to the more active 1% of critics and creators?