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Engaging silent lurkers in online brand communities

As organizations build their digital presence through online brand communities, audience engagement has become a widely used business and marketing metric. The first step to foster community engagement is getting to know different types of online behavior, including the lurking type.

Published : 06.06.2024

There are different types of online users depending on how often people produce content and how often they read it. Accordingly, users can be classified as Posters (Super frequent, Frequent, Infrequent) or Lurkers (Frequent, Infrequent) ​(Giermindl 2018)​.

Lurkers are silent readers within online communities, usually representing the majority. Anyone has the right to lurk, in other words exclusively consume online content without actively contributing through posting or commenting. This behavior is also sometimes referred to as silent reading.

Seeing lurkers as a non-valuable or negative part of the community is shifting towards understanding that their behavior is normal. Such community members can also be seen as positive and valuable assets. The group of Frequent Lurkers, for example, never post but often read content. The group of Infrequent Posters post rarely (less than once a month), but they are still creating some content. Such classifications are not fixed, and can be used to illustrate community members’ behavior for business, marketing, and research purposes.

Reasons for staying silent online

As the lurking majority of online community members carries an importance, it is beneficial to try to identify their motivations and needs to find ways to activate their participation in the community. According to the study carried out as part of the research collaboration of an international project at Haaga-Helia, common barriers that stop less active community members from being more active can include the following:

  • Fear of online harassment
  • Sense of not being able to create real impact
  • Fear of giving bad advice
  • Decision to stay politically neutral
  • Decision to keep one’s own thoughts and emotions to oneself

Other reasons for lurking may relate to technical usability challenges, security concerns, a discouraging community atmosphere, and some selected personal traits (Sun, Rau & Ma 2014).

Fostering the engagement of less active brand community members

Our study shows that lurkers need not be convinced of the importance and value of the given brand community, as they feel part of it. Lurkers have characteristics related to social identity and member loyalty that are very similar to those of posters. The difference is that they just prefer to stay silent online, while browsing through content. Lurkers are watching and reading content daily, and they may discuss it with friends and family or perform some other relevant and active steps. They may advocate and promote content offline or via other communication channels that are not tracked.

Potential facilitation strategies to foster lurkers’ engagement must derive from the motivations and reasons behind lurking (Preece, Nonnecke & Andrews 2004; Giermindl 2018; Sun et al. 2014). When people believe that they can contribute to societally important changes, they are more inclined to participate, especially if they have knowledge of successful and inspiring examples. Sharing community involvement success stories could therefore be beneficial for increasing community engagement and active participation. Other potential strategies include ways to make community environments psychologically safe, technically secure, user-friendly, and entertaining (creative and fun).

Research, Development, Innovation, and Learning

Natalia Iudakova’s Master Thesis Online Brand Communities: Drivers and Barriers of Participation (2024) was written as part of the research collaboration of an international project consortium coordinated by Haaga-Helia. The thesis report and key results were used as support for grant writing.


Giermindl, L. 2018. How Do They Differ? Analyzing the Motivations of Posters and Lurkers for Participation in Enterprise Social Networks. JITTA, 19(2).

Preece, J., Nonnecke, B., & Andrews, D. 2004. The Top Five Reasons for Lurking: Improving Community Experiences for Everyone. Computers in Human Behavior, 20(2), 201–223.

Sun, N., Rau, P. P. L., & Ma, L. 2014. Understanding Lurkers in Online Communities: A Literature Review. Computers in Human Behavior, 38, 110–117.

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