Why We Lurk

21 Reasons People Don’t Contribute on Social Media

Participation on most social media sites falls into the following categories: 90% of people lurk, 9% of people comment and 1% of people create content. Recent Forrester research reinforces this ratio.

While this great silent majority drives unique visitors and pageviews, many marketers want their audience to take the next step. To this end, it’s useful to understand why people lurk rather than actively participate on social media and other forms of marketing. Here are 21 reasons readers don’t act.

  1. Content is complete. As a result, readers don’t have anything to add to the conversation.
  2. It’s already been said. Someone else made the point first and better.
  3. No call-to-action (CTA). You’ve primed your audience but you haven’t asked them to do anything. Prospects need to be directed. Subtle hinting doesn’t work in marketing.
  4. WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) What’s the benefit for the user taking an action? Is it clear to the reader?
  5. They need help. Do you have a Help button, an FAQ section, chat, email or live customer service available for prospects that are confused and/or can’t use your system?
  6. No one wants to be first. An empty comment section or zero tweets can be a turnoff. By contrast, a high number of tweets, shares or comments will help you to attract more of the same.
  7. No one appears to be home. Is the content out of date? Does the format seem old fashioned? Bear in mind consumers are savvy about how your site or platform compares to your competitors and others
  8. Don’t make me think. The questions make the reader think so they put off answering.
  9. Action is too complex. Think about where the reader is when you want him to act. Do you want him to tweet an article with a simple click or do you want him to contribute a well thought out comment to your blog?
  10. Action requires too much work. This can encompass a variety of factors such as the form is too long.
  11. Action requires too much data. Are you asking readers for more personal information than they deem reasonable?
  12. Only provide one option. People like to have a choice in what they do.
  13. Too many options. By contrast, too many alternatives can result in inactivity since the reader needs to think too much about what to do. As a result, no decision is made.
  14. Time crunched. Your reader only has time to consume your content, often between other activities, and doesn’t have the time to respond.
  15. System doesn’t work. User inputs required information but the system doesn’t process it.
  16. Action is device specific. Can your audience respond via multiple devices including a computer, iPad, smartphone, etc.?
  17. Respondent wants to remain anonymous. Most forms require name and email.
  18. Readers are embarrassed about their writing and/or language skills. This is particularly important for forums and blog comments. No one wants to look stupid.
  19. Reader is apathetic. As a result, you can’t get him to do anything.
  20. Think they’ll be spammed. Respondents would like more information but believe that the company will keep sending them more promotional materials they don’t want.
  21. Money is involved, either directly or in the future. Reader is not ready to commit to a purchase.

As you can see, there are a variety of reasons that the bulk of your visitors don’t take the next step on your social media platform or other form of marketing.  To increase interactions, create effective calls-to-action that get your audience to overcome their inertia.

While you can’t eliminate all of these issues, you can reduce the barriers to action. It’s important to consider the factors that are most important to get your prospects to the next phase. Realize that what works may not be consistent across businesses.

If you have any other suggestions to add to this list, please include them in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Tip of my hat to the members of the #SMChat for inspiring me to think about why people lurk and how to rouse them to action.

Photo credit:  Faithful Chant via Flickr

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8 Responses to Why We Lurk

  1. Sanford Hall says:

    Superb, I will continue to follow you and learn as I conquer this new industry.

  2. Hi, Heidi – great breakdown of this issue.

    I would only add that this is not restricted to online activity. I’ve been working with groups for many years and this ratio holds. Without mandatory participation, most people just sit, watch, and hopefully soak up a few things.

    At least online, we don’t have to look out at the dis-engaged and silent multitude, as we try to get past the “eager beaver” few who talk and react. For a facilitator trying to engage the entire group, this can be very challenging.

    I suspect the reasons for non-participation are much the same as you have statedas well.

    Good post – you gained a subscriber:)


  3. Travis Smith says:

    Thanks for the great details! Looking forward to hearing more stuff about this!

  4. Hi Heidi

    Love this – would add a few more

    – Reader doesn’t want to over-influence the conversation – especially prevalent when dealing with internal corporate systems if, for example, a senior executive doesn’t want their rank to change the dynamics of the conversation taking place.

    also add to 18) – fear of ridicule if what they want to say is a little more “out there” – a crazy idea, a divergent thought – fear of negative judgement I guess might be a better way to put it

    Good stuff!

    • Heidi Cohen says:


      Good point about not wanting to over influence an internal conversation. If it’s an internal corporate communications platform, there should be a way to set a precedent for conversation without rank being an issue.

      I agree with you in terms of ridicule as a related reason for embarrassment. Of course, we could continue to add to this list with other similar issues such as being too introverted, etc.

      Please stop by again.

      Happy marketing,
      Heidi Cohen

  5. Stephanie says:

    Great post! I think I’ll refer back to your number one point, “content is complete” for this one. I’m sure there are many more reasons why people don’t participate, but these are the important ones. I agree I often feel like my audiences like to stay anonymous, but I can’t quite figure out why. It’s almost like they don’t want to own up to their opinions – positive or negative. But posting anonymously disables the opportunity to build an actual relationship. So, I guess I’m still trying to figure this out. What I do know is the mention of food – on topics that have nothing to do with food – typically get my followers talking. But, I can only try to relate recruitment to chocolate cake so many times.

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Stephanie–Thank you for joining the conversation. There are a lot of reasons that your audience may want to remain anonymous. One of them that I didn’t mention is the fact that people don’t want others to comment on their opinions. This can create a lot of attention that the writer might not be happy about. Further, given that you write, for a job site, your readers, especially if they are at work, may not want others to know that they’re checking what’s happening in the job market. In this case, I suggest using another indicator of content interest such as visits, print, email a friend, etc. If you really want to build relationships, allow readers to email mail you and use a third party email address dedicated for this purpose to protect your readers. I suggest using a gmail account that doesn’t reference your company or job search. For example, StephaniesColumnATThirdPartyEmailProviderDOTcom (Note: This is a made up address!) Please respond if you have any further questions. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen