How PR pros should account for social media ‘lurkers’

These valuable social media users might be avoiding your best efforts to measure campaigns. Here’s why you shouldn’t ignore them in your online strategy.

Tracking the effectiveness of social media has caused many a marketer to shake his or her head in frustration. How can you prove a tactic is effective so that clients will see the value?

While much has been written about measuring social media engagement, perhaps the most significant benefit of social media platforms comes from the views that aren’t tracked. These engagements can be called “lurker” views. Lurkers are the common term for users who see and read your content without “liking” it, commenting on it or sharing it.

While that can be frustrating, its benefit still needs to be taken into account—because the lurkers might be the ones buying your products or services.

Why should we care about social media lurkers?

“Lurker numbers are huge,” says Arik Hanson, principal, ACH Communications. “Lurkers represent the most sizable, and potentially profitable, segment of our social audiences.”

Research shows that while lurkers make up more than half of a company’s social media audience, they account for only 5% of the data captured by social media analytics. This might mean that looking at social media analytics alone can be limiting.

“There are powerful business opportunities in social media stalkers,” says Mark Schaefer, author of Marketing Rebellion. He refers to this as the “thunderous value of zero engagement.”

“Sometimes I find that ‘lurker views’ end up being the most valuable,” said Dennis Shiao, marketing consultant.

If that’s true, then why do many marketers measure the effectiveness of social media based on engagement? Schaefer says that while there’s no reliable research tying social media engagement to tangible financial benefits, “We sort of ‘feel’ it makes a difference—more engagement is better.”

But is it?

Nielsen published an often-cited 90-9-1 rule of engagement,” Schaefer says. “It said you can expect a community or network to have 90 percent of its members lurking/reading, 9 percent contributing and 1 percent creating. Other research shows that an established and well-managed community can break down into 50 percent lurkers, 23 percent contributors, and 27 percent creators.”

If only a small percentage of your audience is engaging with your brand, is that the best way to measure the effectiveness of your social media? “Having an effective social media presence is critically important to your business even if you have no engagement whatsoever,” Schaefer concludes.

“Remember that lurkers provide lots of value just by showing up and consuming your social media and content marketing,” says Heidi Cohen, marketer, author and speaker.

How do lurkers impact your organization?

Now that you understand how valuable social media lurkers can be, here are some real-world examples of how they can boost your bottom line.

I have a client in the manufacturing industry who asked me to begin managing social media for them just over a year ago. Though I can measure if the number of followers has increased or interactions have multiplied, the client says he can’t necessarily track the value of it—but he knows it’s working for them.

When he’s talking to the executive he reports to, that leader mentions that he sees the posts, and seeing them, even though he’s not interacting with them in any way, helps him understand that the company is doing things. It has momentum. The posts help this company—out of the many companies the parent company owns—stand out.

That’s valuable, because the more it can rise to the top and be noticed by the parent company, the more successful it will be.

Then there’s my business. I can’t count the number of times I’ve run into a colleague at an event or have been chatting with someone online, and they’ll say something like, “Oh, I see your content everywhere.”

Sometimes, it goes like this: “I follow you on Twitter and read your articles all the time—could you do some writing for us?” Another comment might be: “I see your LinkedIn posts, and we could really use some help with our PR. Can we talk?”

Now, I know they haven’t “liked” my content or commented on it – but they are noticing it, reading it and, in some cases, hiring me to work on projects.

Is there a way to track lurker views?

Keep a record of the anecdotal information. Every time someone mentions they saw one of your posts, write it down. Keep track of which platform, what they remember seeing and what action they took, if any. Over time, you might be able to track the value of lurkers.

“They’re tough to quantify, and it’s next to impossible to explain to CMOs and SVPs the long-term business impact these lurkers can have,” Hanson says. “But, just because these lurkers aren’t engaging, doesn’t mean they’re not buying.”

Don’t discount this silent audience. Remember to embrace your lurkers.

How are you accounting for lurkers in your social media strategy, PR Daily readers?

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer at Garrett Public Relations. Follow her on Twitter @PRisUs or connect with her on LinkedIn. A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.

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