Diving into a community head first can be intimidating for some people, even though it may be second nature to you and me.

Sometimes it’s much easier to stay in the background and lurk, enjoying the community with no real commitment.

It’s the lurkers sometimes, who contribute to that valuable “time spent” stat community managers often covet and it makes sense to consider lurkers when you’re developing features for a new online community.

I don’t believe that every action should require registration, and learned from experience that it can take a lurker up to six months to finally bite the bullet and jump on in. I specifically remember an e-mail from a member and a blog from another indicating that they’d both been hanging around for months.

By the time they did sign up, they knew which groups they wanted to join, which members they’d like to connect with and understood the community culture as well.  Lurkers are also less likely to create a new profile  and abandon it, never to return. They already view your community as a destination and that’s a beautiful thing.

By locking everything down, you don’t give people a chance to dabble, and sometimes you have to have a little taste before completely committing.

So as you think about ways to engage the community, do consider the lurkers. Include polls and other interactive features. Host live chats that allow guests to sign in, and publish snippets of your member newsletter in a blog post or forum so they can see what they’re missing.

This is an important audience, so be sure to show the lurkers a little love.

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