Most of Your Online Audience is Invisible

Are you ignoring two-thirds of your online audience because they seem to be ignoring you?

While it might seem counter intuitive, your social media strategy should take into account that about two-thirds of social media users aren’t sharing much, but taking in quite a bit.

At mesh conference yesterday, Andrew Reid and Alexandra Samuel shared insights from the world’s largest study of social media usage for the first time ever. The study which had 55,000 respondents from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, who use one or more social media tools, revealed that a majority of users aren’t sharing, but lurking on Facebook and Twitter. To give perspective on the unprecedented number of respondents, the average Pew Research Centre study has about 2,500 respondents.

A lurker is someone who logs into social media platforms, but does not post, comment or share content very often. On Facebook, 68% of users fall into the definition of lurker and Twitter isn’t much better with 61% of users.

On Facebook, one third of users post 1-4 times a week, one third post less than once a week and one-third have posted fewer than ten times in the past year, even though all of these users are regularly  logging in. Out of the lurkers surveyed, 87% login to Facebook at least once a week, 70% login more than three times a week, 57% are on the platform every day and one-third of the lurker audience checks Facebook multiple times a day!

These online behaviours also reflect real world habits and personal attitudes. In workplace decisions, Twitter lurkers tend to be less influential with only 32% reported to influence budget decisions compared to 61% of sharers. The same goes for equipment purchasing decision with 35% of lurkers having an influence compared to 65% of sharers. 

When study participants were asked if they like to be the most fashionable in a room, a higher number of sharers on both Facebook and Twitter said yes. This also helps explain why 2/3 of Twitter sharers are supreme shoppers who seek premium brands, versus only 1/3 of lurkers, and why twice as many lurkers as sharers are get in, get out reluctant shoppers.

So what does this all mean when creating a social media strategy?  Lurkers cannot be ignored because even though it might feel like it, they aren’t ignoring you. While the heart of social media campaigns and measures of campaign success have typically focused on driving the amount of shares, mentions, comments and re-tweets, this doesn’t take into account two-thirds of those consuming content online. Strategists need to recognize two distinctly different audiences when it comes to content consumption.

Can lurkers be converted to become sharers? “Based on the data we have looked at, sharers and lurkers are such different types of people that I don’t think that lurkers can become sharers that easily,” said Samuel.

Reid and Samuel did provide an example of how you can appeal to the way both sharers and lurkers consume content online. For sharers, contests and questions work well because they incentivize sharing behaviours, whereas posting coupon codes and useful information appeals to the behaviours of lurkers who simply want to consume without comment.

To really understand your audience and customer, Samuel and Reid said there are four keys things to look at to gain a holistic picture of your customer: monitoring, analytics, transaction data and survey data.

Samuel wrapped up the presentation by saying they are only in the early stages of combing through and compiling all of the data they have collected in their research, and that more insights are expected in the months ahead.