Do you know someone, perhaps a next door neighbor who spends time at home peeping out of the window, from behind the curtains, spying on other people; being careful to see without being seen? Lurkers are much like that curious neighbor except they are online. They spend considerable time observing the content on blogs, in chat rooms, and other social networking sites, but they never make a contribution or interact.
Facebook lurkers are probably the coyest. They read our posts. They look at our pictures. They sit for hours in front of their computer monitor or stare at their smartphone, studying our pages with the focus of a senior writing a dissertation, but they never share, comment, or “like” anything.
Some of you lurkers are reading this right now. Oh yes, I am calling you out. Your mission is not as much to keep up with what’s scrolling in a newsfeed as it is to spy on family and friends with whom you – for whatever reason – want to avoid actual contact. You didn’t think the rest of us knew, did you?
Take a friend of mine. To protect her privacy, I’ll call her Lizzy. Lizzy had been telling me for the longest time that she did not like Facebook and had no intention of ever getting on the site. Then, about a year ago, she signed up and friended a few of our mutual friends and me. We were happy that she joined the us in the online community. But since then we seldom hear from her.
Lizzy, you are probably reading this right now and asking yourself, “Is she talking about me?” Yes, Lizzy, you are a lurker.
Here’s a tip for Lizzy and all Facebook lurkers. Sometimes a little green light will appear beside the name of friends whose names appear in a column on the right side of the screen, in what I call the active and last time active list. (You can close your mouth now and remove that surprised look from your face.) The green light isn’t the only giveaway. If you are a real-life friend instead of a virtual friend, then we know each other fairly well. We likely have had face-to-face conversations. So, even when the green light isn’t on, we frequent users sense your presence. We can almost hear you breathing.
Sometimes when we see evidence that lurkers are lurking, we inbox you or send an IM, but you don’t reply because you know that would confirm your presence.
I recently saw a satirical poster listing the side effects of lurking. It read, “May cause anger, jealousy, heartbreak, and insecurity.” Take that as a warning. Understand that lurking could be detrimental to your mental health, especially when you have a desire to get involved, but choose to hold back.
CMO Ted Rubin advises us to, “Embrace social lurkers.” They make up a large proportion of all users in online communities. You might also be interesting to know that many active participants think that lurkers are selfish people who take without giving. I’m just saying.
Lurkers, what makes you uncomfortable about joining us? Do you fear being judged for expressing your honest opinion? Are you concerned that you might occasionally write something that will make you appear to be an egotist or worse – a bumbling idiot? Don’t worry. That sometimes happens to the rest and best of us. You’ll fit right in. In that respect, there isn’t much difference in the online world from the physical world. Won’t you come out of the lurker’s closet?
Surely, you’ve been spying on, err, I mean studying us long enough to know the routine, but if you need a nudge here’s what you do. Share something from your newsfeed, comment on an item that someone posted or start a thought-provoking message thread. Better yet, post a flattering photo of yourself (but nothing risqué enough to make a blind man blush.) And remember that anything placed on Facebook is up for grabs. It may be shared, copied, and will circulate in cyberspace forever. So come on board. Start clicking, sharing, liking and …
Wait a minute!!! Hold it. Do not click that block button.